How to Communicate with Autistic People

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Autistic people are as varied in their communication styles as anyone else, so there’s generally no one right “answer” to how to communicate with them. However, keeping a few points about autistic individuals in mind, and above all treating everyone you talk to with respect, can help.

Steps

1 Find out what you have in common. Sharing interests can be a powerful communication tool.

  • See if you have interests in common, especially special interests. Many autistic people are used to others being unenthusiastic about their passions, so if you share the same passion and talk about it with them, it can feel truly magical.
Talk where there are minimal distractions or sources of stress around the individual. Try to avoid flashing lights, annoying/distracting/distressing sounds, crowds, etc. There is nothing wrong with asking an autistic person about their needs so that you can accommodate them.

Do not pressure them to make eye contact with you. It is extremely uncomfortable for most autistic people to look at people in the face for extended periods of time, if at all, and it disrupts their focus. It’s usually best to ignore the idea of eye contact. Just because they are not looking at your eyes does not mean they are not listening to you.

Be aware that many people on the spectrum may miss nonverbal cues, like body language and facial expressions. This means they may not understand what you are thinking or feeling at any given time.

  • If you think they’re missing a cue, it’s best to be clear: “I have to go” or “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
  • Be prepared to explain figures of speech. For example, when a man told his autistic daughter that he had hooked up her computer to the TV outside, she looked out the window, became very distressed, and exclaimed “There’s no TV outside!” The father then explained that he meant outside her room, not outdoors.
  • Autistic people also may not understand what the purpose of a particular communication is if you don’t explain it to them.
5 Avoid touching them without warning. Due to sensory differences, autistic people can feel startled and upset by unexpected touch. Let them initiate the touch, or let them see it coming so they have a chance to decline if they can’t handle it today.

Don’t pressure your friend to be different. Autism, and the things that come with it (stimming, special interests, etc.) are a part of who they are. Trying to stamp these out will only hurt their sense of self. Accept them as they are and treat them with respect. It will mean a lot to them.

Don’t expect to meet in groups. Many autistic people prefer to interact one-on-one, because they feel they can have more meaningful conversations.

 

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