Cross Neurotype Communication

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Full article:

Nothing about us without us
Who: Wilczynski
Where: Autism Advocate Feature
Published: 2010
Title: Learning Each Other’s Language: Strategies to Improve Communication between Neurotypical and Individual on the Autism Spectrum

Tips for Neurotypical People about Communicating with Autistic people

This author is neurotypical and describes tips for communicating across neurotypes based upon her experiences with her friend “Mary*” who is autistic & a professor. Mary also provides some tips.

*Mary is a pseudonym


Mutual Respect

Autistic people often find social rules confusing, and can speak in ways which seem disrespectful, such as by asking intimate or intrusive questions. Autistic people are often just trying to understand a NT decision making process and aren’t intending to be disrespectful. NT people should be certain that disrespect was meant before reacting.

Equally, NT people should ensure that they aren’t talking down to autistic people by treating them like children or by assuming they cannot understand complex issues.


Trust is Built on Truth

NT people lie all the time, especially “lies of omission”, like “little white lies”. NT people expect for this to occur and account for it in their communication. Autistic people do not. Mary considers all lies to be a violation of trust.

When talking to autistic people, either give the clearest explanation possible without subtext, or say “I’m not comfortable answering that question”.
Don’t violate the others’ trust with a lie.


Verify & Clarify

NT people speak using idioms and abstractions, and rely heavily on subtext and on non-verbal communication, often without even realising they are doing it. It’s really important to monitor your speech patterns for these things when talking to autistic people.

Verify that what you meant to say has been understood, and clarify your intent if it has not.


Alternative & Augmentative Communication

Not all autistic people speak; some communicate using speech-generating devices or other types of communication. You should not assume that they are not capable of interaction, and you should interact with the individual themselves, rather than speaking to their family or their support. You should interact with them with the same principles of mutual respect, trust/honest, and verify/clarify.

It is important not to make people feel dehumanised.


Mary’s tips for communicating with autistic people:

Get to know us as individuals. We are not all the same.

We are intensely creative & we love details. Talk to us about our interests.

Do not mistake our naivete for being childlike. We can be very emotionally deep and mature. Don’t patronise us or treat
us like children.


Mary’s tips for communicating with autistic people:

Many of us are distrustful or frightened of people in positions of authority, because we have been harshly judged in the past. We aren’t prejudging you, we just need some time to trust you.

Make it clear what the rules are and
be consistent.

Presume honesty. Most of us are completely honest. Don’t misconstrue anxiety as dishonesty.

We like logical explanations. Try giving us the details first and the bigger picture second.


Mary’s tips for communicating with autistic people:

Don’t be offended when we answer your questions literally. If you feel hurt, please know that we did not mean to be hurtful. We were just answering the question presented to us.

Tell us if we are making you uncomfortable. We often can’t tell what you are feeling unless you tell us about it.

Define things logically and factually, not in terms of social constructs. Don’t be annoyed if we ask for verification & clarity frequently.

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