The Oxford English Dictionary provides the following definition :-
(1) The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium;
- This includes social contact
(2) The means of sending or receiving information, such as telephone lines or computers.
Now, generally people assume that a person, with autism is ‘high functioning’ because they can communicate in what is considered to be a ‘neurotypical fashion’, i.e. we verbalise in a manner which is comprehensible to a world in which is predominantly neurotypical.
Is this always the case and the triad of impairments states that anyone on the autistic spectrum is likely to encounter difficulty in one of three areas (to a greater or lesser extent), these being communication, social interaction and repetitive and, or obsessive behaviour. *
Now, personally I spend a lot of time communicating with others. I have been in several professions which rely upon my ability to converse with others or to communicate in some other form. I spent years working in law and insurance, drafting correspondence and making representations in public. I also teach. I write a blog, I keep social media accounts and I’ve recently taken to presenting a current affairs show on local television.
So do I actually struggle with communication?
Historically, my fine motor skills were later to develop than my speech, some will say that I’ve not stopped talking since. Yes, I can talk, but not always effectively. I’m fine with imparting information but I don’t always notice when the recipient has got bored of my talking. It’s not always a two-way process for me.
Further to this. Whilst I am generally considered to be an extrovert, I’m not convinced that I am. I dread meeting new people, unless I know that I have something in common with them and that I can be introduced into the group. I also look and plan a mental escape route: for years I ran club nights and music events with great success and I enjoyed do so. I also spoke to a lot of people, as was necessary for the role to be successful. However, I provided invisible safe zones for myself, behind the DJ booth or outside smoking (I quit 5 years ago and the thing I miss most is that it gave me a chance to go and stand somewhere quiet for a few minutes, either alone or in singular company).
Basically, looking back on my life, I’ve always talked, a lot, but interaction with others is a learned behaviour. It’s not natural for me. I also suspect that this can be said of many of us on the spectrum; in order to survive, we have had to develop skills which are abnormal to us.
Now, this brings me onto the issue of those who are non-verbal. This presents differing challenges. For someone who verbalises, it can be difficult when my verbal communication breaks down; which does happen. Under points of incredible stress, I can simply forget how to string a sentence together, or forget basic vocabulary. I don’t speak sign (although I did once learn traffic directions in BSL) or MAKATON so this makes life harder at these points. The only solution I currently have is to bluster it out. This may mean that I simply say the first things I can and that they may not actually make any sense.
I would be very much interested in hearing from others who have similar experiences and how they create coping strategies.
*Once again, I make the disclaimer that I am not a medical professional, nor a qualified expert on the subject of autism. I have completed some academic studies and I’ve lived as an expert on myself of my personality traits and restrictions for a lifetime and consider that I know how the condition personally affects me. Everyone one is different, although common traits exist or there would not have been enough evidence to diagnose anyone.