Communication is when one person sends a message to another. Interaction is when two people respond to each other – it’s a two way street. We all know about it, and have been thought the etiquettes of communication. But when we find someone, not following the societal pre-defined etiquettes, we find it humiliating as well as the other person rude. That ‘rude’ person may be an autistic and they are not doing it on purpose, it’s just how their mind work.
Before we get into that, let’s go deeper into how is communication developed in autistic people
The development of communication
For an ordinary child, early in their development, they show a particular social reciprocity in their conversation. At 8 months, babies begin to point to things. So older children as young as one year can already communicate without speaking. This is after practicing for months easy communication (body language), that they discover the language ‘difficult’ (verbal communication where we cannot see the words, they are short-lived, and that opens many possibilities). One can, in fact, compare the word to a small island that appears suddenly in a non-verbal communication ocean.
However, the major problem for people with autism is not the absence of speech but the difficult development of their communication. They have the words, but often use them without understanding the exact meaning. Which is, for example, the case in the echolalia where the child repeats word for word, like a parrot what he heard without knowing its meaning.
A special way of communicating
In children with autism, problems can appear very early. Some moms complain that their baby often cry and seems inconsolable. Other mothers say their infant hardly makes eye contact and only laughs when he sees the light on the ceiling. Other babies still appear abnormally quiet, and always seem happy. Failure to indicate when something is wrong and not to cry when hungry or when the diaper is soiled may indicate a communication problem. It is not for nothing that some parents worry that their baby is deaf. Children who do not have autism feel intuitively that their mother will comfort them when they cry. Children with autism do not always discover for themselves that they can manipulate their environment through communication.
The biggest problem in people with autism is not how, but the why of communication. We communicate to ask for things, information or attention, to give a comment or information or to talk about our feelings. Our communication has a specific function.
For these people, who can also be very verbal, these functions are problematic. For example, they learned to name all kinds of images that have a rich vocabulary, but don’t know what to do. They can see the image of an apple and say “apple”, but do not know how to ask for an apple.
The context is another problem that children with autism encounter with language. They can use certain words, images or objects in the home but not at school or vice versa. In an environment where autism is not well understood, we quickly think these kids ‘can’t. These children, in fact, have particular problems of generalization that are attributed to their way of thinking. They do not spontaneously generalize as do children who do not have autism.
Most people with autism have difficulty interacting with others. They find it difficult to respond to others with initiating interactions, or with using interaction to show people things or to be sociable. They can only directly tell you what they think, without understanding the complexities of the expression in context.