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#115 – Strengthening Social Connections and Discovering Attunement with Ted Brodkin and Ashley Pallathra

Have you ever finished a conversation and immediately realized you didn’t remember anything the other person said? Do you sometimes feel as though you have fallen between the cracks of your own thoughts and you can’t seem to focus long enough to connect with others? You’re not alone. Edward S. (“Ted”) Brodkin, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist, author, and director of the Adult Autism Spectrum Program at Penn Medicine and Ashley A. Pallathra, M.A., a clinical researcher, therapist, author, and doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina, join this episode to discuss how we can improve social connectedness and find attunement.

During the episode, the pair share where they met and began their collaboration on the study of connectedness, and walk us through what goes into a neuroscience research study. They also share details from their conducted study on developing a program for adults in the spectrum regarding social functioning, share the framework of their book Missing Each Other: How To Cultivate Meaningful Connections, and define attunement along with its four key elements. Furthermore, Dr. Brodkin and Ashley talk through the importance of listening to yourself and your needs in retirement, summarize mutual responsiveness, and unveil their advice for people going through the transition of leaving the workforce.

Watch the full video!

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Read Show Notes From This Episode (click to expand and read notes from the full interview)
    • Social connection is really complicated but they want to make it a little more understandable, break it down, and talk about how we can all get better at it. (They noticed through autism that even people without it don’t know how to connect)
      Wes says, we used to always think “you’re either a great connector or not” but Ted and Ashley are proving that wrong.
      On the spectrum obstacles: It’s very diverse. Ashley: “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve only met one person with autism.”
      Two big obstacles that we all have. Ted: attunement. The ability to be attuned to yourself and another person despite all the twists and turns of interaction. Complicated quality and the essence of this whole thing. This extends even to basketball players on the court together.
      4 Parts
      Relaxed Awareness (Being able to be in tune with both yourself and the other person. Both a mind and body situation. In a transition to retirement. Your mind has been fully focused on grinding and working and the transition can be huge. You have to take stock in yourself. Exercises about mindful awareness. Come up with something simple you can practice yourself. Build up on that. Be able to take that skill with you in conversation. Number one step is to take stock. Wes did that on those recent zoom calls he mentioned. Wes thinks this part is maybe the harder part. Ashley says her parents retired in late 50s, early 60s. She said it was daunting. They had been working so hard and they had a lot of stress but that fills your brain with ‘shouldn’t I be stressed? I need another project. I don’t know how to relax.’ It’s a transition. One of the first things to do is learn how to develop self compassion. Wes asked what that means.

      Listening (Wes showed them that he has over 43,000 emails in his inbox. It can be hard to keep from being distracted and listening to someone else. But like working out, see how long you can do it. A minute? Longer? Ted said with retirement, the idea of taking stock – listen to yourself – I’m a unique person, what do I need in retirement to make it happy for me? Wes brings up core pursuits. Wes says it doesn’t matter what they are, as long as you have them. However, the most popular one to show up for HROBs is by volunteering. Ashley says people are always evolving.

      Understanding (Processing the listening)

      Mutual Responsiveness (the active component. What you do with the other person. Ted says an analogy he uses is dancing with someone. Sometimes Ted comes home at. the end of the day and asks how the day was and they just say “Fine.” But if he can meet them where they are – they want to play with a ball – they can do (47:15) – he can get them to start talking. (Similar to Carl Honore’s message about reading to his son) Staying with the flow. Stay with them. Like if you’re dancing with them.
      What is your goal? Is throwing down your hat and getting mad going to help you get to that goal? And this brings us back to relaxed awareness. (51:53). Attunement doesn’t mean you have to be happy-go-lucky. You can be well attuned in an argument. Wes says “I’m totally attuned but I totally disagree.” Ashley says as long as respect is there. Wes brings up how Congress doesn’t listen to each other. Imagine if they did.
      Learning to play basketball from the beginning. Not going to become Michael Jordan immediately. You learn to dribble, then pass, then shoot. Put it all together. (Ryan: maybe talk about that story of Phil Jackson giving teammate BJ Armstrong a book about genius so he could try to understand Michael Jordan?)
      Emotional intelligence is part of attunement.
      Conversation or as fluid as 2 people dancing – following one another in a magical, beautiful way. Doesn’t happen all the time but it’s a muscle that you can develop and grow. (Wes jumped in with an example about having 2 conference calls. First group had 30 people and the second group had 10 people. So Wes says he was probably less relaxed at the first one, less relaxed. The next day he did the same presentation with less people. More relaxed, Less people. Felt like a magical flow. He walked away thinking it was one of the best hour interactions he’d ever had on zoom even thought it was an identical presentation. He was totally in tune with everyone. We laughed and said “how do I do that every time?”
      Wes brings up the Dalai Lama. Ted says they start the book with a story about the Dalai Lama. Someone asked if they’d seen the Dalai Lama perform a miracle. The wife said “Yeah plenty. He meets with tons of people and he always gives each person his complete attention. It’s miraculous.”
      Ted says none of us are going to be perfect at this all of the time. But we have “moments” where we feel like we really get each other. That can be transformative.
      Wes asks how we get better at social attunement and how do we apply that to people who are trying to stop working full time. (we’re trying to help people a million people retire sooner)
      Ted: when people look back at their lives they wish they had focused more on interaction. So when they retire they will benefit from investing more into the quality of relationships. Wes says yes, it’s easier for him to work all the time and always be productive and providing for the family. But one thing is own research taught him is that he tries not to look at these relationships as an absolute must. Relationships are the most important. (Wes says these podcasts are maybe just a way to help him live a better life)
      Ashley parting thought: for those transitioning to retirement. If we know something from research is that we are terrible estimators about how we will feel in the future. We overestimate how negative that experience might be. And we underestimate how happy we might be with this new change.

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