Communication: Autism and Asperger's Syndrome
Imagine living in a world, where everybody speaks a foreign language to you. And no matter how you gesture, no matter what words you utter or signals you send you, you’re misunderstood. This is what life can be like for individuals with autism.
Asperger’s Syndrome a form of autism; it is on what is known as the autistic spectrum, as autism can manifest itself in so many different ways. People with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome have a different communication system that can cause difficulties with others. These difficulties are one of the defining aspects of autism. It’s not necessarily a different way of speaking, but a whole different means of expression. This is because language is not definitively verbal, but encompasses different modes of sending, receiving, interpreting and conveying messages.
Communication TechniquesMost people have a few different ways of communicating with other people. These types of communication are loosely categorised as non-social, social and expressive. You might automatically assume that communication and language means linguistics, or spoken communication. Whilst this way of communicating offers an incredibly diverse, efficient way of communicating, it is only part of the story. Also consider that we make communicative interactions in a number of ways, using modes of communication that include: body language, gestures, pictures and symbols, and facial expressions. This adds up to a more complete picture, helping us and the ‘message receiver’ to undertake a meaningful interaction.
People with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to have good or excellent structural linguistic skills. They are often pedantic, and can fixate on certain subject matter, becoming almost fanatical or obsessive with collecting information and objects associated with the subject. This can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Difficulties in CommunicationThey often struggle in social interactions, as they may have difficulty in reading or predicting situations or outcomes of what they say. Their grasp of emotions is confused, and they often find that they can’t interpret the emotions and subtle subtext of what is being signalled, whether verbally or non-verbally. It is very difficult, therefore, to collate years of social interacting and to learn from experience.
The result is that people with Asperger’s may be socially awkward and find making meaningful relationships extremely difficult, given their struggle with comprehending social etiquette. For instance, they may not understand how to dress appropriately or other social rule such as posture, eye contact, personal space and speech.
Their difficulties are compounded by the fact that these social interactions are constantly changing and adapting. This can lead to loss of confidence and isolation, as well as experiencing psychiatric illnesses from depression through to schizophrenia in some cases.
Some people with Asperger’s Syndrome may well be aware of their difficulties and try to adapt, with varied ‘success’. This is because they lack the cognitive intuition to be able to adapt, empathise and comprehend others.
Overcoming Communication BarriersThere have been moves in recent years towards social inclusion for those with learning difficulties. This is no exception for people on the Autistic Spectrum.
Each person with autism has a unique brain system that develops at different rates to others. They form their own internal language (non-verbal) or cognitive process, so thinking and ‘speaking’ (even those that are mute) in a completely new way. This varies from person to person, and it is thought that by meeting them halfway – by attempting to learn their language – breakthroughs in social interactions and inclusion can be attempted. By using their language to help them comprehend our language, they can learn how to link their first innate language with ‘our’ secondary language.
This language may be a series of verbal and non-verbal symbols and signs that don’t coincide with conventional ways to interact. For instance, a simple tap or clenching of hands might relay an emotion, but is not necessarily picked up or misinterpreted by the ‘reader’. By breaking down these modes of communication, a link can be established and built upon.
The learning styles embarked upon will vary greatly from individual to individual. There are a plethora of approaches, from speech and language therapy, music therapy, counselling or behavioural intervention. The approach is decided through interaction and assessment with qualified professionals. Self-advocacy is being championed more and more, with many people with Asperger’s taking an active role in improving their quality of life and realising their potential within society.