Healthy Living

Autism Communication: 7 Tips on How Talk To Someone on The Spectrum

You may be able to tell when someone has Autism, but it's often difficult to know how to communicate. Neurotypical people form conclusions based on subtle emotional cues given by who's around. If you notice that the person you're talking to isn't doing that, there's a chance you might be talking to someone with autism. Consider this your all-inclusive guide for how neurotypicals can relate to those of us who live with autism!

Communicating can be one of the biggest challenges for people with autism — and it can also be daunting for people who have never known anyone on the spectrum and are neurotypical. Luckily, there are a few helpful autism communication strategies to make communication more comfortable for everyone involved.

To engage in conversation with someone on the spectrum, neurotypicals (someone not affected with a developmental disorder and especially autism spectrum disorder) often need to shift their expectations and their approach to communication, which is why familiarizing yourself with a few autism communication tools could be a good start.

When someone with Autism is processing social cues, they may miss something or say something by accident that comes off mean, stupid, or downright offensive. People with autism have trouble processing subtle facial cues well and often get confused by inflection.

7  Tips For A Neurotypical When Communicating with Someone Autistic

Be Sensitive to Differences (and Listen!)

People on the spectrum often do not express themselves the same way neurotypicals do, which can sometimes come off as rude, selfish or lacking empathy. “You need to be sensitive to the fact that they’re doing the best they can, just as you’re doing the best you can,” Lisa Goring, vice president of family services at the advocacy group Autism Speaks tells U.S. News. “There’s no reason they need to be the only one to change.”

Avoid questioning someone with Autism’s capability, and instead, focus on reassurance and optimism. A compliment or any words of encouragement can set up the framework for a lasting friendship.

autism communicating
Being an active listener helps! This is because someone neurotypical will probably notice the misunderstanding before someone with autism. Clarify what you’re trying to say if responses don’t match what you mean.

Skip the Small Talk

Talking to someone with Autism? Skip the small talk. The concept of small talk is of no particular concern to someone with autism and that they often struggle to engage in it. However, bring up a subject close to their heart and you will find that it is almost impossible to draw the conversation to a close.

Try to accept that it will be a struggle for them to hold their concentration when discussing things that do not capture their attention.

People on the spectrum are not generally very good at polite conversation or small talk, but they often welcome personal questions. People on the spectrum enjoy connection just like everyone else!

If you see stimming, ask if they need anything

Stimming is a term for the self-soothing, repetitive body movements which autistic people do in response to over-stimulation or emotional stress. Some examples of common ‘stims’ are head nodding, rocking back-and-forth motions, hand flapping, and arm and leg rubbing.

You might notice someone with Autism stimming. This happens due to an overload of emotion or sensory stimuli. It isn’t always bad, and it isn’t always good.

Most people with autism have a constant free floating physical anxiety even when they are in a good mood, and stimming helps them keep that under control.  If you notice that we’re moving around more than usual, go ahead and ask us if we need anything.

Another helpful tip to ease stimming when you see it would be to turn down lights and any excess noise.

Be clear in your explanations 

2011 Notre Dame study found that when it comes to autism communication strategies, those with autism not only struggle with varying inflection and tone in their own speech, but they also struggle to catch on to the meaning of tone in others. “It’s not that they have trouble producing changes in tone of voice. It’s that they have problems understanding it and how it’s meaningfully used,” explains study researcher Joshua Diehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the university.

Be Aware of Overload

When overstimulated, some people on the spectrum may self-stimulate, also known as “stimming”, which can include flapping the hands, wiggling the knees and spinning in a chair, according to the Autism Research Institute. Just as neurotypical people bite their nails or tap their feet out of habit when nervous, people with autism often stim to help themselves to manage anxiety, fear, anger, excitement, anticipation, and other strong emotions. They also stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input (too much noise, light, heat, etc.).

People with autism may experience avalanche-style misunderstandings, which hinders the formation and maintenance of lasting relationships and can make for a very lonely life if people aren’t willing to help them develop their social skills.

Stick to Words

Those with autism typically have difficulty when it comes to deciphering what a person is saying with facial expressions or body language, says a study from the University of Cambridge Autism Research Center. “We found that, on average, young people with autism are a bit less accurate at recognizing all expressions, not just the subtle ones,” lead author Sarah Griffiths tells the Daily Mail.

If someone with Autism is being offensive, tell them

Tell them if they are bothering you. 

Cultivating social skills is imperative to bridge the gap of misunderstandings between a neurotypical and someone with Autism. People with autism aren’t born with these skills like everyone else. A good amount of people with autism don’t have any former education on social etiquette or coping mechanisms. And not having any background of this kind of stuff instinctively makes forming connections more difficult!