Communicating with the Autistic Adult

Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have communication issues when dealing with the general public.  It is helpful to understand what the autistic individual  experiences and feels in order to effectively interact with them in personal, social and work environments.

Autism creates a personality that is both logical and literal.  To speak of things in too metaphysical a sense will only confuse someone with ASD.  Explaining concepts in as orderly and realistically a manner as possible will facilitate communication.

The ASD person also generally has difficulty reading body language and picking up on the visual cues of others.  Whereas it may be obvious to the rest of the office, for example, that Joe in Sales should be handled with kid gloves due to his bad mood today, the ASD employee would probably need this explained to him or her.  Conversely, autistic people generally get rather introverted when they are depressed or in a bad mood.  Neurotypical people around them must be aware of such mood changes and react accordingly.

Another aspect of the ASD experience concerns how they handle criticism.  If it is given respectfully and with clear and logical explanations for improvement, it will be met well, and the relationship will continue on an even and pleasant plane. However, if it is given in a confrontation manner, there may be problems.

Often unable to stand up for themselves, the autistic adult may just absorb the criticism with seemingly little response; however, the astute observer will notice tics such as plucking motions (picking at the hands or clothing), facial tics, or different body postures.  These are all visual cues that the ASD person is reacting to the confrontation internally rather than verbally or physically, as a neuro-typical person might.  In addition, they might dwell on the confrontation, often replaying it over and over again in their minds. This creates a friend, co-worker or employee who is tense, nervous and may be unable to move past the criticism.

Building confidence in the autistic adult will therefore help communication, particularly in a work environment.  There are two areas in which a little foreknowledge will help make the most of the work relationship between the autistic worker and his employer:  High pressure situations and high expectation levels.

In high pressure situations, it is important to know that autistic people have a methodology that may not always be compatible with tight deadlines.  It is generally not easy for them to “switch gears,” preferring to stay on task until it is completed.  This gives them a sense of accomplishment, which is important for their confidence-building.  It follows, then, that multi-tasking is stressful and typically unsuccessful for them.

Setting high expectations is not impossible, but should take into consideration that autistic people work best when their input into the situation is respected.  Allow them to be a part of the goal setting, if possible.  They also need organization.  Both their performance and the quality of their work will be enhanced by allowing them some say in the setup of their workload and the management of their methods.

Neurotypical people communicate most effectively with ASD people when they realize that autism presents certain challenges which are easily accommodated with understanding and awareness.  If the friend, co-worker or employer takes the time to learn about the autistic personality, they will not only be a more effective communicator, but will enjoy a richer relationship with a person who, but for the way they process information, is just like everyone else.

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