Chapter 6 – Autism Communication
Now that we have learned that autism creates havoc with verbal speech and the communication between the brain and how speech is produced, we now have to look at how autism affects body language. Body language is the second form of communication that humans use to express their wants and emotions. As with speech, the autistic child has difficulty or no skill at all deciphering what a person is saying with facial expressions or body language. If you want someone to come closer, you wave to them. If you want somebody to know you’re angry, you usually have a scowl on your face. If you are sad or happy, you can see the emotion in your facial expression and how you move your body.
The autistic child does not have an understanding or either body language of facial expression. They are in a world that is centered in themselves and the nuances of a gesture or hand motion is lost to them. Most autistic children have a hard time making eye contact during conversation. If the adult speaking or working with them does have this knowledge of no eye contact, it can be very for that adult to understand what is happening. It can be frustrating for both the adult and the child when that simple knowledge can save a lot of grief. The child may be listening to you and maybe even understand what you have said, but there attention and focus looks like it is on something else.
The autistic child may not even be looking at what you are thinking they are looking at. Eye contact is a simple human reaction to communication and that reaction within them does not exist. Even the simple activity of pointing to something you want can be lost in translation to the untrained parent or teacher. If the child is pointing at a cookie, the cookie may not be the object of his or her desire. The cookie is a symbol that may represent that they are hungry or it may be so abstract that the shape of the cookie, round, is the same shape as the toilet and they need to use the restroom. Even color may be an indication of a connection between a want and an abstract idea. It takes time and observation and a lot of out of the box thinking to link the communication patterns of an autistic individual.
The autistic child will have trouble associating your voice and your words in exactly what you want from them. Even their own name may not be recognizable to them, and the response to your words may be slow or may not be attended to at all. For this reason, some autistic children who have not been diagnosed yet will have a diagnosis of a hearing problem. This is not the case. The child just does not know to respond to your words, and if they respond it may not be in the manner that the parent or other adult is accustomed to.
The use of grammar in a sentence for mild autistic child is again a problem. Personal pronouns and verb agreement sometimes do not meet what the adult wants the child to say. You may say, ‘it is your birthday today,’ and the child will repeat the entire sentence back to you without changing the your to my. First, second, and third person is not always used correctly or will not be used at all. Some autistic children will be stuck on one view of person and will use it in every context. It takes patience and time to be able to build a communication process, and even with both the autistic child may never be able to communicate their needs.