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Autism Awareness - Communication 3/3

Okay, so today is all about Autism and communication.

I’m mildly optimistic that this won’t be terribly long, because in parts one and two, I have addressed non verbal cues, social cues, and meltdown behaviour.

In children autism is often indicated by a verbal delay, but from my experience, this isn’t always a strong indicator. I know many autistic children who have hit every milestone or even been way early on them.

What I have experienced, and which is also an indicator, for High Functioning Autism (formerly called Aspergers) is the ‘mini professor’ type of speaking. A vocabulary and turn of phrase usually attributed to adults.

For those further onto the ‘spectrum’ verbal communication may be non-existent (known as non-verbal), or may they may exhibit something called ‘selective mutism’. This means they choose or are unable to communicate verbally in certain situations.

If you are with someone who is non-verbal, or has selective mutism, never for a moment think they aren’t communicating. As a wise speech and language therapist friend said to me, ‘everyone is communicating all the time, whether they are speaking or not.’

It seems so obvious, but certainly my clients will tell you that I often notice to them a look that’s flashed across their face, the jiggle of their leg, their crossed arms, even a smile or a giggle, and ask what is happening in that moment.

Those non-verbal cues clients give me are telling me that there’s something they’re not saying. And often what they’re not saying is really really important.

So when you meet someone who has difficulty communicating verbally, look at the bigger picture and try and notice what they’re not saying. Remember the bit about stimming? Well, if you notice someone using a stim, perhaps they’re feeling anxious and need the environment or conversation to change.

Yesterday I explained that autistic people struggle with social filters and that when we give an instruction, we need to strip away all the unnecessary detail so they can process it better.

This also applies when we ask questions or are in conversation with them. Autists sometimes have difficulty processing information in order to give the necessary response, and neuro typical people often make the mistake of thinking they haven’t understood, so either repeat the question, or pose a different question, unwittingly doubling the task of processing, and overwhelming the autist with too much information to filter through.

To help someone with this, you can just wait. Allow them time to filter and process so they can answer. Get comfortable with the silence, and give them space. It’s such a little thing, but it will reduce the chance of meltdown and overwhelm.

Another co morbid trait is something called Echolalia. This is were someone repeats words from another person or a programme or film, by way of contributing to a conversation. It’s thought to be a coping mechanism and another way of communicating. Specifically to communicate intent to converse/contribute, or just because the repetition of the word or prhase makes the autist feel better, much like a stim.

So there we go. Some traits of autism explained. What’s most interesting for me is that they are presented so differently in each Autist, and just because we know one autist, it doesn’t mean we know them all.

Next week, I’m going to continue this series, looking at how to be a friend to a parent of an autistic child, the differences between girls and boys in autism,

Have a great weekend everyone, see you on Sunday for some self care


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