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5 Ways Individuals with Autism Communicate

Even verbally fluent individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have unique methods of communication; below, we’ve compiled five of the most common ways individuals with autism communicate. We tend to think of communication as a language-based tool, however, a large portion of communication is non-linguistic, relying on body-language, gestures, and tone of voice. Let’s take a look at these communication methods–bearing in mind that we’ll primarily be discussing the social communication skills present in high-functioning individuals with ASD.

1. Non-Verbal Communication

Many people affected by ASD develop little in the way of language skills, relying instead on non-verbal communication techniques. These include a wide range of behaviors, such as using:

  • Gestures
  • Pictures or drawings
  • Crying and other emotive sounds
  • Physically directing someone’s hand to an object they want

While this can cause communication difficulties, parents and caregivers often become quite adept at reading these non-linguistic communications through context clues and repetition. For more information on non-verbal communication, the U.K.-based National Autistic Society has a wealth of information.

2. Echolalia

Echolalia refers to the repetition of phrases that people have heard, perhaps in a favorite movie or television program. These phrases may or may not “fit” the context in which they are spoken, however, they typically do point to something concrete. Parents of autistic children are encouraged to watch the programs in which these phrases are spoken to attempt to figure out what their child might be trying to communicate when they use particular phrases.

3. Focusing on the Literal Meanings of Words

Individuals with some form of ASD typically have trouble understanding idiomatic language and metaphors. Another implication of this trait is a difficulty understanding jokes and humor, which often rely on a sarcastic tone to convey the speaker’s true meaning. A hallmark of the ways individuals with autism communicate is focusing on the “key words” of a sentence. One of the best ways to accommodate this communication style is to speak in simple, plain sentences without idioms or figures of speech that hide the “true message” you’re trying to convey.

4. Moving from Topic to Topic

One difficulty individuals with autism find with communication is the ability to “stay on topic.” Because their minds are moving very quickly and processing many stimuli, their thoughts may seem disorganized or unfocused. However, this usually isn’t the case–unless an ASD individual has expressed the desire to stop talking about a given topic (in which case, you should definitely move on), they’re usually open to revisiting previous conversation topics.

5. Speaking with no Eye Contact

The last tool we’ll look at in the 5 ways individuals with autism communicate is the fact that often they will speak with you, but will not make eye contact. People affected by this condition are highly attuned to sensory details, and looking into someone’s eyes can cause an overload of information. Some may prefer to speak with their eyes shut entirely, so as to focus only on the stimuli provided by the conversation. Understanding and accommodating this variety of communication is key to building better communication with ASD individuals.

Related Resource: Top 20 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

We’ve aimed to highlight some of the most common communication traits of individuals with autism. For a more extensive list and other information about ASD, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism’s website is a fantastic resource. We hope our list of the ways individuals with autism communicate has expanded your understanding of these unique communication methods.