How to Avoid Miscommunication when You're Autistic

Three Methods:Speaking WellListening WellUnderstanding Each Other

Autistic people (including people with Asperger Syndrome and PDD-NOS) can have a hard time picking up on social cues and understanding emotional things, and this could lead to miscommunication. Here are some ways to avoid miscommunication in your relationships.

Method 1
Speaking Well

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    Aim for clarity in your own speech. Another major part of communication of course, is speaking. Good communication comes from clear intent of what you want to communicate to them. Be clear in yourself what you want to get across. Is it some information? Some experience you had? Some feeling you have? Some opinion? Do you want to invite them or just tell them something? You may just want to have a friendly chat. So, your intention is to communicate that you are interested in who they are and you want them to know who you are. Know what you want to communicate.
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    Say what you want to communicate, and ask them what they think about that. That way, you should be able to gauge if they have understood you or not. Speak directly and give some reasons or background. If they don't get it, you can say, "Actually, I mean...." and explain in a different way. Then, give some more reasons, to help them understand. Communication is about building a bridge from you to them.
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    Use body language that lets non-autistics know that you are listening. Non-autistic people have slightly different body language, and recognizing the cultural difference can help you understand how to show respect to them. Here are some things non-autistics see as signs of attention:
    • Looking in their direction (especially at their face)
    • Pointing your body towards them
    • Keeping your stims subtle (tapping toes, twisting fingers, squeezing stim toy)
    • Not looking at distractions
    • Conversely, if you want to hint that you're done with the conversation, do the opposite.
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    Take your time. You don't need to speak up the instant that they are done talking, nor do you need to say everything in one go. Take pauses, and let the conversation slow down. Give your conversation partner a chance to finish their thoughts, and then they will most likely let them finish yours.
    • Pauses can help let your message sink in. If you find yourself talking too quickly, stop and take a deep breath. Then let it out and continue.

Method 2
Listening Well

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    Pay full attention to your conversation partner. Focus on what they are saying, not on what you are going to say to them. Your first goal is to understand their point of view.
    • If you need to stim in order to pay attention, find a helpful and non-distracting stim. Bouncing your foot, fiddling with jewelry, squeezing a stim toy, et cetera, are all helpful stims.
    • If the environment is distracting, say so. Ask if you could move to a quieter place, so you can listen better.
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    Try to understand the other person. One part of communication is listening. Listen closely to what the person is saying. Pretend you are them, and think how you would see the situation if you were them. Nonverbal. These include emotions, how a person really feels about a topic, sarcasm, wishes, jokes, seriousness, etc. How would you feel if you were in their situation?
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    Ask for clarification. It's absolutely okay to ask people to clarify, and they usually prefer that you'd ask rather than you'd guess and get things mixed up. You can use scripts such as...
    • "Did you mean...?"
    • "How do you feel about that?"
    • "Do you really mean it or are you just joking?"
    • "Are you really serious, because it's hard for me to tell."
    • When in doubt, ask, instead of assuming.
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    Paraphrase back to them. Say things like, "So, I hear you saying that...." or, "I think you mean..., right?" See what they say in return. You are being like a detective, gathering clues about what they're telling you and what they're feeling, to make sure your impressions match the other person's intention, to make sure you understand them.
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    Keep an eye on their body language. Notice what direction they are looking, if their body seems "open" or "closed," how straight their posture is, and how this compares to their "normal" baseline. This can hint at what they are feeling inside.
    • Reading faces and body language is a skill. You can learn and work on it.
    • This is harder for some people than others. If keeping track of it is distracting or overwhelming, refocus on the content of their words.

Method 3
Understanding Each Other

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    Be aware that everyone has a unique way of seeing the world. You might have to explain to them how you see things, and why you have a certain feeling or opinion, so they can understand. So, take some time to reflect on why you think or feel a certain way. Or why that person might like to do a certain thing, or be interested in a certain topic.
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    Consider disclosing your autism, or saying you have social difficulties. If you don't feel comfortable sharing your disability, you can still explain that you have trouble with a specific thing. Most non-autistic people are familiar with the idea of social challenges or awkwardness and view it as a normal and reasonable thing to accommodate.
    • "I have a hard time reading people. If I'm doing anything that upsets or bothers you, please tell me, so that I can stop."
    • "I have a bit of trouble understanding sarcasm and jokes. If I look confused or am asking you odd questions, that's why."
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    Look for patterns in people's requests. For example, if your boyfriend doesn't like it when you show him a newt, a lizard, and a praying mantis you caught, it may mean that he doesn't like to look at creepy crawlies at all. Consider the idea of a pattern, and feel free to ask if you are unsure.
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    Aim for absolute clarity around boundaries. If someone is uncomfortable with something, or if you are uncomfortable with something, there needs to be a clear understanding. If someone expresses a boundary, listen closely and ask for clarification as needed. If you are uncomfortable with something, say so, so that the other person knows to respect that.
    • "So it bothers you to be hugged from behind? Okay, I won't do that anymore."
    • "I want to make sure we're clear: do you always dislike it when I put my arm around you, or is it only in certain situations?"
    • "Please don't jump out and try to startle me like that. It really upsets me."
    • "I really dislike being kissed on the cheek or forehead. Maybe you could hug me instead, or kiss the top of my head?"
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    Remind yourself of their thoughts, opinions, and preferences. It can be difficult to keep track of different people's different perspectives. You can improve your memory by summarizing the conversation in your head, after it happens.
    • For example, tell yourself "Diamond said she was looking forward to visiting Europe with her mom. Germany is her favorite country, because she speaks the language, and she wants to see France too."

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Autism Spectrum | Conversation Skills