Conversing with Adults on the Autism Spectrum
Synopsis: How to communicate effectively with adults on the autism spectrum including courtesies to enhance level of comfort and understanding between you and another. Do not make assumptions about a person's cognitive skills. An individual's disability may be more language-based and not related to their ability to comprehend the content of the conversation. Autism is a spectrum disorder, defined by certain behaviors which come in combinations and in degrees of intensity that vary in each child and adult affected.
Even the most well-intentioned and informed adults can flounder when it comes to communicating effectively with peers, co-workers, classmates, or gym buddies on the autism spectrum. While no two individuals with autism have the same language and social skills, there a few basic courtesies that you can extend to enhance the level of comfort and understanding between you and another.
Autism is defined as a complex, lifelong condition that affects individuals from all walks of life, as well as their families, friends and caregivers. Autism is a spectrum disorder, defined by certain behaviors which come in combinations and in degrees of intensity that vary in each child and adult affected. Many individuals with ASD have trouble communicating with others or difficulty with regular social interactions. Other signs include a tendency toward repetitive behaviors, and unusual or severely limited activities and interests. ASD develops differently from person to person, and the effects can range from relatively mild to debilitating. Unlike some conditions, there is no "typical" person with ASD.
Colleagues Scott Chausse , M.Ed., Director of Vocational Services at the Todd Fournier Center for Employment Training and Community Inclusion in Massachusetts, and Teka J. Harris , M.A., BCBA, Clinical Director for the May Center for Adult Services in Western Massachusetts, team up to share five universal tips to keep communication respectful and productive for all parties.
- 1 - Address him or her as you would an adult, not a child.
Do not make assumptions about a person's cognitive skills. An individual's disability may be more language-based and not related to their ability to comprehend the content of the conversation. In other words, a person may understand every word you say, but may have difficulty responding verbally.
- 2 - Avoid using words or phrases that are too familiar or personal.
For example, terms like "honey," "sweetie," "cute," and "adorable," even when intended as endearments, can come across as demeaning or disrespectful to any person, but particularly to someone working to establish his or her independence.
- 3 - Say what you mean.
When interacting with an adult with autism, be literal - clear and concise. Avoid the use of slang, nuance, and sarcasm. These forms of communication may be confusing and not easily understood.
- 4 - When asking a question, wait for a response.
If someone doesn't respond immediately to your question, do not assume they haven't heard or understood you. Just like typical adults, individuals on the autism spectrum sometimes need a little more time to absorb and process information before giving you their response.
- 5 - Don't speak as if the person is not in the room.
You may find yourself in a group setting that includes someone on the autism spectrum. As in any other social situation, do not talk about the person as if he or she is not in the room. In a group setting with family members, caregivers, teachers, or others, it is easy to be drawn into this trap. Model the appropriate behavior; this will help inform others on how to be more supportive of adults with autism in these kinds of situations.
The May Institute
Founded in 1955, May Institute has its roots in a family's vision of enabling children with disabilities to lead the fullest lives possible. Today, May Institute provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral healthcare services to individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities, brain injury, mental illness, and behavioral health needs. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit www.mayinstitute.org
This peer reviewed publication pertaining to our Autism Information section was selected for circulation by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "Conversing with Adults on the Autism Spectrum" was originally written by May Institute, and submitted for publishing on 2013/04/22 (Edit Update: 2023/06/15). Should you require further information or clarification, May Institute can be contacted at the mayinstitute.org website. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.
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Cite This Page (APA): May Institute. (2013, April 22). Conversing with Adults on the Autism Spectrum. Disabled World. Retrieved February 26, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/health/neurology/autism/conversing.php
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