Can’t Say What I Want to Say: Autism and Communication

Kids with autism always get the bad rap for being mischievous when others see the screaming, hitting, self-abuse, stimming, and even biting.

I understand where this is coming from. We all have a past, different thresholds of personalities and experiences we can handle, and can only walk in the shoes of some many other individuals. Yet here’s what makes us the same. This site supports the belief that both neurotypes and autistic individuals are human. Both react to painful and uncomfortable situations. As a result, we should all treat each other with equality and respect. All that’s different is with autistic individuals, certain types of conflict can be too much to handle. The abnormal and unconventional reactions to some situations happen without any way to explain what’s going on.

For some parents, it’s hard to explain to friends why they themselves are bitten and punched daily. Everyone else sees poor behaviour or that children purposely act like “mini-megalomaniacs.” Retail workers misjudge kids who scream at the top of their lungs. They wonder if certain kids are just greedy. Most of the time, kids with autism can’t say what they want to say. In reality, they can’t handle all the activity that triggers a sensory overload. A single mother had a son who had a meltdown the first day waiting for his school bus. A neighbour asked if he was okay. In that situation, picking him up or holding him would have made the meltdown worse. His mother would have to let him lay on the ground until he was calm again. Those neighbours probably thought this single mother would beat the tar out of him. Before 2000, kids are spanked and kicked out of public places because of a lack of awareness. It’s still shameful for a child to act out now. With an extra chore of having to explain what’s going on, even with the slow rise of autism awareness, I’m wondering when enough will be enough to pinpoint a solution.

One the other side, some parents are able to use moments, with temper tantrums and meltdowns, to spread awareness of autism or Aspergers. I’m fortunate to have been able to speak at three. I started learning grammar at eight. I would journal a lot to practice being a better writer and communicator. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be not to be able to communicate certain wants and needs verbally.

I’ve also encountered teachers who enjoy working with older autistic high school students. They have found that with their other co-workers and other educators, there’s an agreement that the students who have autism are among the most appealing to work with. So there are people who understand this thing called autism. There are also people who thankfully don’t draw narrow conclusions about certain behaviours.

Behaviours, good or bad, are a form of communication. There’s a stereotype that autistic people are naughty by nature. This is false even though there are exceptions. Often, if an autistic individual acts out inappropriately, they can’t communicate their wants and needs properly. We need to understand why those who struggle with autism react the way they do. This is difficult because each person is different. Even those who can talk have problems with communication because of social contexts they can’t understand.

A person with autism who is non-verbal is like a foreigner who doesn’t speak English in an English speaking town. This person would also lack the ability to form tangible words in other languages. To add onto this “language barrier,” there is the lack of awareness of what is socially awkward around neurotypes. When the autistic individual needs to get a message out, they will do whatever it takes to get your message across, even if it means causing a scene. They don’t want to cause trouble, but they don’t know how to share their needs.

There has to be solution to help those with autism communication properly. It doesn’t help getting angry, raising voices, and restraining someone who simply needs assistance for something simple such as going to a bathroom. It can be as simple as teaching them to write on a pen and paper, installing a text to speech plugin or app on an electronic device they own, or giving cue cards with common statements in case they need to urgently say something.

Remember, assumptions are the mother of all screw-ups. Judging an autistic individual by their failure to communicate only makes it worse in their fight to survive in a neurotypical planet. This is the case both online and in person. Although in some cases, if someone with autism has a hard time learning to communicate even in teaching, there are other issues to deal with as well.

I know the harsh reality of how it is since I struggle with Aspergers daily. Let’s try to understand each-other. Let’s learn what works and what doesn’t to communicate with each-other. And above all, if possible, let’s look at our own struggles before assisting another with theirs.