Reminder (This post covers how to communicate with moderately or severely affected people, as they tend to struggle more than mildly impaired people. But this should be adjusted to the person you’re talking to)
- Introduce yourself as you would do to anyone, and offer a handshake. Don’t fret if it’s denied. Remember that touch can be difficult for some people with autism. (You can try a high five?🌝)
- Beware of communication difficulties. The person might stutter, talk slower or not answer immediately. Stuttering can be hard to stand at first, but give them time. Let them see they can be comfortable with you and this could reduce it a bit. If you already know the person is a stutter, don’t finish their sentences for them.
If they talk slower, just give them time. If you think you can’t make it or get angry because of this, rethink if you are actually willing to talk to them. What you can do is talk a bit slower yourself.
If they don’t answer immediately, they may be “startled” by you, specially if it’s the first time you’re talking to them. Calm down and patiently wait for their answer. If they seem not to understand, offer repeating your question/statement.
- Tell them about your hobbies. Maybe they have some special interest you can both relate to. You guys might have more in common than you think!
If you ask them about their hobbies, two different things may happen
A. The person tells you what they like and no more.
B. The person starts telling you facts. This is called infodumping. Be patient. Obsessions are common among autistic people. If they don’t seem aware of talking about it too much, nicely say “I’ve enjoyed talking about insert interest. But, can we talk about it later?”
- Be clear and straight with speech.
Don’t use figurative language, or sarcasm, if you know that the person is not going to get it. Keep in mind, that some autistc people are very comfortable with sarcasm and may even use it themselves.
- Don’t get mad if they don’t look at you straight in the eye. This symptom is one of the most common. Not looking straight to your face doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention. This might be just too much to handle.
- Ask for their needs, if you consider it necessary. For example, if you’re in a crowded place you can ask “Hey, there’s a lot of people here. Would you like to go somewhere where it’s more peaceful?” We will surely feel very grateful. The answer might be yes, or no. Try to adapt.
- Be ready for meltdowns. These may not happen at all, but better safe than sorry. These are episodes of great anxiety, and loss of control caused by anything. It’s almost impossible to know the exact cause of a meltdown. Of course, if you’re in a crowded place and the person has a meltdown, the reason is clear.
Keep calm, and unless you know this person well, call for help. Teachers, parents, whoever. You should not ask questions, these won’t be answered and may add more anxiety. If the person is safe and doesn’t have self-harming tendencies, let them get everything out. Try to go to a place where sensory stimuli is not overloading. If you’re home, go to their/your room and wait till the person calms down.
Remember that recovering from a meltdown is difficult, and someone who was highly verbal may loose their speech for a while.