Carlyle, I was wondering how autism affects your communication…

Yes, folks, ask me a question here, on FB, by email, or even in person, and it might be the title of my next blog post. This question comes from my friend Rebecca. What’s funny is that I was already thinking of this topic when she asked.

Communication issues vary throughout the autism spectrum, but even at the higher-functioning end there are still struggles. Kanner’s syndrome (classic autism) typically includes delayed speech development, but those with Asperger’s syndrome learn to speak at the same time as their peers, if not earlier. Children with Aspergers syndrome are likely to develop a strong vocabulary early, especially in their areas of interest. Children with hyperlexia may even take it a step further. Hyperlexia is sometimes affectionately known as “walking dictionary syndrome.” When I was diagnosed, my autism specialist noted that I have hyperlexic tendencies. I actually read dictionaries as a child and still enjoy reading technical manuals.

I would like to start by discussing my writing, as this may help some of you better understand my blog. I sometimes joke that I understand connotation only as another word in the dictionary. The joke isn’t far from the truth. I know what the dictionary definition of connotation is, and I understand that some words evoke emotional reactions in some people, but I generally don’t follow the process by which that occurs. As a result, I tend to select words based on denotation without regard for connotation. This means that you don’t have to read between the lines because I don’t write there. You can take my words at face value, and I consider it fair to ask me to define my terms. In terms of writing, the problem comes when others read something that isn’t there, which brings a story to mind…

When I was working on a help desk for a previous employer, I received a help request by email that made no sense to me. I responded: “I’m afraid I don’t understand your complaint. Could you please elaborate?” I thought I did pretty good job at writing a polite request for clarification, but the customer disagreed. My boss came to me an hour later to ask why I called the customer a whiner. After some discussion, he told me that the offending word was “complaint.” To me, a complaint is a declaration of a condition that causes distress (and that’s more or less what you will find in the dictionary), which is what the customer’s email was. I never said she was a whiner, so the whole thing was a surprise to me.

Face to face communication can get a bit more complicated. I still select my words based on denotation without regard for connotation, but that’s only the beginning. Face to face communication includes body language and facial expressions. The diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome include “marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction.” It is easily possible for me to miss or misunderstand non-verbal signals. It is also very likely that others will misunderstand my non-verbal signals, especially when I’m highly stressed, frustrated, or overloaded. Sadly, this means that, at the times I may need help or understanding the most, I am most likely to be misunderstood. I’ve been told that I seem threatening when frustrated. My size and appearance probably contribute to that, but I wouldn’t hurt anyone intentionally.

It has been a long day, so I think I’m going to end here. I am quite certain I’ll pick this topic up again, as it is a core issue with Asperger’s syndrome.

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8 Comments

Filed under About Asperger's Syndrome, Communication

8 responses to “Carlyle, I was wondering how autism affects your communication…

  1. Phil

    Bravo! Well written! Articulate. Pray many will be blessed by your insights and sharing your heart.

  2. Kristen

    As Carlyle’s wife I have actually received an email from a woman stating she would pray for me since it appeared to her that I had a dangerous husband. Although I appreciate her prayers, they were spent on something that was never an issue. She had an encounter in public where Carlyle felt attacked and had no way out. He was so frustrated, he yelled “stop”. Which is exactly what he needed. He needed everyone to stop talking at once and he needed time in order to process the events. She accused him of being violent. She doesn’t know him and I can assure you I do not live in fear and he has never laid a hand on me or our daughter that wasn’t affectionate. This is just another real life example of how communication affects those on the spectrum. I pray for patience and understanding of those around us. Assumptions almost always hurt someone in the end.

  3. Nichole M

    I understand this completly!!! I used to read encyclopedias when I was in elementry school. I also used to use words that were way over the heads of kids my age. My Teacher in 2nd grade once told my Mom that I confused her with all the big words I used when describing things and she often had to look up words after a conversation with me. 🙂

  4. Gloria Smith

    I’ve know Carlyle for twenty years. Before and after his Autism diagnosis. We were pen pals for many years. And I never realized that what he wrote was what he ment. So there were a few misunderstandings. Mostly me reading more into what was ment then what was written. But I was young I had always heard that guys never told the truth. So ya I mistakenly added my own assumptions. And while it never hurt the friendship. It did keep us from truly understanding one another. I was a very Shy teenager. And the only reasons I became friends with Carlyle was because I felt that he was safe and would never hurt me. Now I a very happy to learn how AS affects and has affected him. And how I can best be his friend and what that takes. Because friendship like any relationship is worth working for.

  5. Jeremy

    Carlyle-

    Thanks for sharing this. Sometimes (in communication) it seems like folks with ASD are the ones who are actually free.

    • That can certainly be the case when they receive timely and effective treatment. My autism specialist told me once that people with Asperger’s often become better communicators than neurotypicals because they make a conscious effort to learn once they begin to understand their struggles. That said, I still trip over words and can lose my words at times. Fortunately, the latter is rare, but it tends to happen when I need to communicate, like when I’m frustrated.

  6. Gustavo Lopez

    Thank you for Sharing your thoughts and for giving me a better idea of autism….I have a nephe that has autism and I love him with all my heart, thank you again for sharing, Gustavo López

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