Autism and Communication

People wonder how I can be autistic when I can communicate so well since “difficulty with communication” is a core trait of autism.

To explain this, I would like to specify four different aspects of communication:
  1. Speech - The ability to speak
  2. Language - The ability to understand and use words in a meaningful way to communicate
  3. Nonverbal Communication - The ability to understand and use nonverbal language (body language, facial expressions) to communicate
  4. Social Communication - The ability to understand and use verbal and nonverbal communication in a socially appropriate manner

Autistic people may have difficulty with one, two, three or all four aspects of communication.

I, personally, don’t have difficulty with speech and language. I am able to speak fluently and use language effectively to communicate. However, I have a significant difficulty with nonverbal and social communication.

What does this mean?

This means that I find it difficult to:
  1. Read body language and facial expressions (nonverbal communication)
  2. Understand social rules and expectations (social communication)

How does this affect me?

1. Nonverbal communication: I have to rely wholly on what a person is saying to me because I cannot read their body language and facial expressions. Because of this -
  • I cannot make out if a person is being sincere or not
  • I cannot make out if a person means what he says or not
  • I cannot make out if a person has good or bad intentions
  • I cannot make out if a person is making fun of me or not
  • I take everything literally and at face value
These are a few examples.

2. Social communication: I may behave in socially inappropriate ways as I don’t understand unwritten social rules and expectations. Because of this -
  • I don’t know what is expected of me in social situations
  • I don’t understand social hierarchies and cliques
  • I don’t understand social gameplay
  • I am unable to “put on a face” and role play
  • I behave in the same way with everyone
These are a few examples.

How does this affect my relationships?

People find me -
  • Unfriendly or over-friendly
  • Flirtatious or inappropriate
  • Rude and/or disrespectful
  • Disinterested and/or aloof
  • Confrontational and/or argumentative
  • Judgemental and/or bossy
  • Snobby and/or stand-offish
  • Unpredictable and/or moody
  • Emotional and sensitive
  • Na├»ve and foolish

Because of these difficulties, I experience extreme anxiety when dealing with people and have to limit social interactions because I find them overwhelming and exhausting, even though I like them.

How you can help:
  1. Communicate directly, clearly, precisely and concisely
  2. Don’t force autistics to exchange pleasantries
  3. Don’t engage in small talk
  4. Don’t beat around the bush
  5. Get to the point and stick to it
  6. Say what you mean and mean what you say
  7. If you’re not sure about something, ask, don’t assume
  8. If you ask a question, give us time to think and respond
  9. When you share information, give us time to absorb it
  10. Don’t use hints, taunts, jokes, sarcasm

Love,
Preeti

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