Communicating with autistic people
In light of April & autism acceptance month I thought I’d make a post about how autistic people communicate, because understanding and accepting our communication styles is one of the most important parts of autism acceptance. The things listed here are from my own experience and from information I have gathered from talking to other autistic people, it is by no means exhaustive. If you want to add something on I have missed feel free :+)
- Lack of eye contact doesn’t mean we aren’t engaged, oftentimes maintaining eye contact is actually more distracting than not.
- Our body language is different. Trying to assume how we feel from your knowledge of body language will often lead you to wrong conclusions.
- Our tone does not always indicate our feelings, it’s often more telling to listen to the words we are saying themselves then try to guess what our tone means
- We will likely have difficulty reading your body language and tone. The subtleties of communication don’t come easy to us, if you want us to understand what you are feeling or offer support it is most useful to communicate your feelings thoughts and needs directly.
- Things we say may come off as rude or overly blunt, even if it is not intended this way.
- We have varying degrees of understanding sarcasm. Some of us struggle to understand any of it, some of us actively understand and employ it and everything in between. We are also prone to literal-mindedness in general meaning we may have trouble with taking other forms of jokes or figurative speech literally.
- Our communication abilities often vary with things like stress and sensory input. For example, under little stress or a good amount of sensory input I can communicate enough to explain detailed thoughts as in this post, form sentences and employ tone and cadence to my speech. At varying levels of sensory input I may begin to speak in monotone, take several minutes to put together a single sentence, or be unable to access most of my vocabulary aside from sounds and simple words like “yes” and “no”.
- It is very common for autistic people to empathize by comparing similar experiences. (for example: person a: “My dog got sick, I’m worried about him.” autistic person: “Oh, my cat got sick last year too.”) People who do not empathize like this often see it as ‘one-upmanship’ when the intent is only to empathize or express sympathy.
- We may interrupt you before you’re done speaking. It’s very common for autistic people to have difficulty telling when other people are finished speaking. If we interrupt you it is almost never out of rudeness but we genuinely cannot tell when is the right time to speak.
- We may occasionally take over the conversation especially with info-dumping. When I info-dump I’m very excited and I feel like I can barely keep the information I want to talk about down. Being so excited, I tend to ramble for a long time, elaborating unimportant details as I am unaware to whether the listener is bored or even listening. I’m not saying you have to stay completely engaged and remember every detail but at very least don’t get angry with an autistic person for their infodumping.
- A lot of autistic people also have auditory processing problems. This means that what you say might not register for a few moments or you might have to repeat yourself. Please be patient with somebody who has poor auditory processing, as it’s not really something we can help.
- If you are asking the autistic person to do a task or activity of any sort (giving them directions to somewhere, asking them to come to a party, asking them to help you fold your laundry) we usually need very clear and precise instructions or plans.
These are all common parts of autistic communication styles but it’s important to remember not every autistic person is the same or will have all of these traits. We are as varied in personality, thoughts, and behaviors as allistic people, but we are tied together by shared experiences. Being aware of these traits and unlearning them as inherently bad communication styles is helpful to autistic people as a whole, but if there’s a specific autistic person in your life you want to better communicate with, the best thing you can do is ask them how you can do that and honestly discuss differences in communication and needs to best understand each other.