Autism and Communication Challenges

People on the autism spectrum often have communication challenges. Without a meaningful way to communicate autistic individuals may have no way to let others know what they need. As a result, they may scream, tantrum or just grab what they want. It is vital for the quality of life, future independence, and stress level of individuals and families that autistic people are taught a meaningful form of communication.

Can you imagine if you were hungry, thirsty or tired and you had no way to communicate how you were feeling to the people around you? You would probably feel frustrated maybe even angry. For many people with autism communication difficulties are a common part of life. It can be tremendously frustrating for the autistic person and the people trying to support them.

Communication difficulties can show up in several ways and varies for each individual. Areas of communication difficulty include:

Verbalizing: some children with autism are non-verbal and never learn to vocalize. It is imperative for these children that they are given alternative forms of communication.

Expressive language difficulties. These children have difficulty expressing themselves. This can be due to a limited vocabulary, difficulty understanding verbs along with a variety of other factors.

Receptive language difficulties: Autistic people may have varying degrees of difficulty understanding what people are saying to them. Note this is not a hearing problem but more of an understanding problem.

Pragmatic or Social Language: For most on the autism spectrum understanding social language, holding a conversation, understanding body language, tone of voice and unspoken visual cues can be very difficult. Some high functioning autistic children may seem to have only slight delays in language, but problems holding a conversation. They can carry on a monologue on a favorite subject, without giving their partner a chance to enter the conversation.

Autistic children may interpret language in a very literal manner. They may have difficulty understanding sarcasm. Thus if someone tells them sarcastically, “that’s just great” they may interpret the comment literally and take it as a compliment.

Further complicating communication is an autistics child’s unusual body language, facial expressions, and movements. These gestures rarely match what they are saying. For example, an autistic child may be paying attention to a speaker but they are not making eye contact, or their body may be angled away from the speaker.

Finally many autistic children have an unusual vocal tone. They may speak in a flat robotic or pedantic manner, use a high-pitched voice, or talk in a sing-song manner.

Some children, especially those with Asperger’s Syndrome may speak like little adults never learning to communicate with their peers or pick up on social slang.

As people on the autism spectrum grow older, they can become sensitive to frequently misunderstanding people and being misunderstood. It’s important that they have a supportive environment to work through these misunderstandings and that they receive coaching to help them socially.