The Difficulties of Communicating

This post is written by our second guest blogger, Jeremy Sicile-Kira.  Jeremy wrote this for his college newspaper, the Chariot,  and it was  published in August 2011. You can read more of Jeremy’s writing on his new website (soon to be expanded) or follow him on twitter at @Jeremyisms.

Having autism has deterred me from communicating with neurotypicals. Neurotypicals are people not like me; people who have what are considered normal behaviors. Their sensory processing is functional  so they can see, hear and feel normally.  Because I have sensory processing challenges, I can’t feel or see the physical space I am in.  I can’t see and hear at the same time so I don’t look at people when I am listening to them. People may assume because of this that  I am not listening or not interested, but that is not the case. As well, I can get  overwhelmed in noisy environments because of  my sensitive  auditory processing challenges. For me calling a person on the phone is no  easy matter because  the ability to talk is not a strong  ability I have. This is due to motor challenges. It takes great muscle control to speak. While  autism affects my ability to speak it has not hindered my ability to think.

Being  nonverbal has it’s advantages. For example people will stop talking if you don’t respond which is great when you don’t feel like listening. At least I have a good excuse. Kidding aside, I have great technology and support staff to help me communicate. But by the time my poor finger has typed a response, often the conversation in a group setting has moved on.

Sometimes I dread being in public places. While many people are understanding, some  frankly act weird. Like those that treat me like a train wreck: they dreadfully watch but are frankly happy it’s not happening to them, this life of having a disability. Getting a lot of attention can be awesome for the autistic community in general, but sadly if you ask autism advocates most  will tell you that not all press is good press. The  reality  is that most of us  would rather be unnoticeable than be noticed just for our autism.

Although I have challenges that make it difficult to communicate, I am very interested in getting to know my fellow students. Bravely feel free to talk to me when you see me. Just be patient while waiting for a response.

How can we help our children and teens with autism make friends?

From the neurotypical person’s  point of view, it seems as if children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum are not interested in having friends.   They do not show the same type of social cues or social behaviors and body language that indicates to others that  they want to have a relationship. The adults I have interviewed make it clear they enjoy having relationships, including those who are mostly non-verbal such as Sue Rubin (“Autism is a World”).  My son Jeremy often communicates about wanting to have friends.  However, understanding the concept of  different types of relationships and knowing the appropriate behaviors and conversations expected from the neurotypical viewpoint, does not come naturally, and can be magnified for those who are non-verbal.

Ways in which it is difficult for them to make friends:

  • Many children on the spectrum are good at playing alongside, but not with, peers. They may be fascinated with a toy, but not play with it in the way it is meant to be played with, which means that peers may not connect with him.
  • Games are difficult. They need to learn turn taking and waiting.
  • They may be very interested in certain objects or past times that are not usual for the developmental level
  • They have a hard time making eye contact (as discussed elsewhere), and for many neurotypicals, eye contact is important and if you do not make eye contact then you appear rude or shifty.
  • Children and  teens may have poor social skills.
  • They are not good at picking up on non-verbal communication skills, such as social cues and body language, and this makes it hard for establishing a relationship. Those who are non-verbal may have communication systems that are limited and unfamiliar to neurotypicals.
  • Many who are verbal are not good at social chit chat and are frankly not interested in it because they don’t get the point of it. Often they have difficulties starting and ending conversations, or only want to speak on topics they are passionate about.

In my next post I will discuss  tips on how you can help your child  learn skills that will help him / her  have meaningful friendships.

For more information and autism parenting tips on teens and relationships, read my book Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, or sign up for my course on Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum.