Communication is an example of a dynamic process that transpires between people. If we make ourselves understood and obtain what we wanted, we have been effective at communicating our thoughts. Effective communication makes you feel competent. You learn many things about yourself in the way others talk to you. Through communication you get to understand what is happening in your surroundings as well as the role you may be playing in it. In addition, you learn proper norms and values through communication. However, think what would happen if you joined into the conversation of a group of individuals speaking in a foreign language. Very soon you would find yourself left out. If people don’t understand you, are you incompetent? Or would it make you feel that way even if you are quite competent in many other things? Autistic individuals have problems in communication and many times they feel that people around them are speaking in a foreign language.
Communication is not a simple matter. For me, how I convey certain information may depend on the environmental context and the cultural background of those participating. Although communication seems to flow smoothly I often find myself making it more difficult than it should be by trying to predict what the other person is thinking and how he/she will react. As a typical neurotypical if I am not understood, I will go into denial; it is always the other person’s fault. My mind is hardwired to always enhance my superiority. This self-serving egocentrism biases my world-view. It has been the bane of my existence or more appropriately the bane of my wife’s existence. To top it all, I am a low-effort decision maker, meaning, I tend to readily take decisions drawing from whatever information makes sense to me -notwithstanding the opinion or experience of those around me. I have a neurotypical thought pattern (see http://bit.ly/1yFJJ5O) geared towards making the world around me consistent with my thought process. Contrary to the thought process of an autistic individual my mind is made so as to ignore continuity errors and enhance my cognitive bias. I see what I need to see to confirm my suppositions and I use any and every type of shortcut in reaching my decisions. This way of thinking, although not necessarily appropriate, serves to calm me down.
The previously discussed pattern of thought and communication is not necessarily available to many autistic individuals. Instead of being hardwired to enhance their self-worth, they seem ready to claim any deficit in communication as their fault. I have previously told the story of The Cocktail Party, a play by TS Elliot. In the play the following dialogue transpires between a patient and a psychiatrist: “I must tell you that I should really like to think there’s something wrong with me- Because, if there isn’t, then there’s something wrong with the world itself-and that’s much more frightening! That would be terrible. So I’d rather believe there is something wrong with me, that could be put right.” Well, maybe there is something wrong in the way many people perceive autistic individuals. As I tell many of those participating in our clinical trials, give yourself a break!
I have been to many sessions where speech pathologists try to teach communication skills to autistic individuals. They do a wonderful job with standardized test to focus on particular problems and help individuals improve their verbal fluency. Treatment for them is individualized and every patient is different. Some of the best ideas I have seen, in a somewhat succinct form, to improve communication are given below. I should emphasize that this pertains for those whose major deficits is within the social area. My grandson, for example, will never be able to speak. Soft tissue x-rays of his neck have shown a displaced larynx, something that I have witnessed in other non-verbal autistic individuals.
The best way to make a child learn is by stressing that communication is a type of game where words, and the ideas they convey, are flung back and forth in-between contestants. It feels good to play the game. Some of the rules for playing this game are as follows:
1) In this game, like others, you have to take turns. People are given the opportunity to talk and express their views in roughly similar amounts of time. Talking far too long may be seen as attempt to monopolize the conversation.
2) If somebody asks you a question in a few words, you also answer with a few words. Question: How are you? Answer: I am well. Thank you. How about yourself? If you were to answer with a long drawn out reply or divert the conversation to your favorite subject, this would be considered improper.
3) You respond to questions in the same mood they are provided. Somebody making a joke requires a light answer. Somebody making a serious statement requires a serious answer.
4) Solving the puzzle in terms of communication means talking about what has been brought up in the conversation; talking about things we have in common.
5) Sport psychologists usually advice using your imagination to review or even increase your preparation for an event. Prepare yourself by imagining different scenarios: how to start a conversation, what to expect? Imagine cartoons made by line drawings. Fill in the balloons on top of the heads of the characters (i.e., ideas) with your thoughts. People prepare for emergencies before they actually happen. They develop routines for the same and practice until they learn to respond as a gut reaction. This type of forethought is useful for communication and other aspects of life. Rehearse with family and friends. Always remember that in order to make things clear to others you have to start by making things clear to yourself.
6) Too many patterns within a conversation may make you confused. Pay attention primarily to those that make sense to you from previous experience.
7) Accept the fact that everyone have biases and may not respond in the way you would like them to. Talk to family members or friends to see if you are reacting or interpreting things properly. Don’t jump to conclusion about people.
8) Sometimes it is worth talking to yourself and interpreting the behaviors of others this way.
9) Accept you limitations. It is not always possible to understand what the other person is thinking or feeling. Be humble and ask questions.
10) If you can’t read a person, don’t assume things as facts. Don’t assume that all of your beliefs are true or that the same should be obvious to other people.
Above all, a single bad moment does not mean a pattern of defeats. “This always happens to me!” is a phrase to be avoided. Learn to let things go. Treat yourself as a friend.