Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | April 17, 2012

It’s not that Autistic people are bad communicators…

I have a new theory. Well, hypothesis, really. Not even that. Just a fun thought…

A friend of mine (not diagnosed as “Autistic” but definitely one of those people I feel instantly at ease around) recently left a comment on a blog I follow, in which she made the statement:

“And it still blows my mind how many people think auties and aspies are less empathetic. If anything, the ones I’ve met care more about other people’s feelings than the average NT, and better still, they’ll /ask/ me what they can do to help when I’m upset, rather than assuming.”

Yep, that sounds about right. I can’t stand it when a friend of mine is upset. But I also know I can’t read their mind. So I’ll ask them if I can do anything and/or if they need any help, etc. I don’t make any assumptions about what they need or don’t need. I don’t project my own self onto them and say “that’s what I would want so that must be what they need”. I simply note that they are upset, and then do my best to help them however they are able to communicate their needs. And if I do make an assumption, which I will do sometimes if they are unable to communicate directly, and I am WRONG about that assumption, I back off. I don’t try to force whatever it is on them. This goes for when they are not upset as well.

And it got me thinking…

It’s not that Autistic people are bad communicators.

It’s that NTs (or non-Autistics) are bad listeners.

Think about it… they have sub-par hearing (compared to our extreme senses), so they don’t hear everything that’s happening around them. Plus, they have to rely on nonverbal signals and other unrelated things like facial expressions to try to figure out what’s being said straight out to them! In plain, simple, unembellished, logical language! And even then they don’t really understand what is being communicated to them, so they make assumptions and generalizations, which can often be wrong (not always, of course). The logic of Non-Autistic communication does not make any sense to me.

This is all in good fun, of course. But it is food for thought. It really is like Autistics and Non-Autistics speak totally different languages. One is more direct and straightforward, while the other relies more on unspoken rules and motions. I know which one I prefer. 🙂

Happy Tuesday! 🙂


  1. Like!

  2. I agree it feels like different languages. I tend to be indirect because I don’t like to feel like I’m being pushy and sometimes when my Aspie partner says something, it feels like he’s implying something when he isn’t. On the other hand it often feels like he isn’t listening, because he doesn’t reciprocate in the conversation like I expect and often monologues. It often surprises me when I find that he heard everything I said because he doesn’t show it in the way I expect. We really need a translation device 🙂

  3. this is a fascinating one for me. Since I have twins one NT, one aspie I have watched this in them with much fascination. If I hurt myself or something and get upset the NT will immediately rush over and snuggle me and say comforting phrases, I can only imagine he does this because I have modeled it for him or reinforce it in some way. I must admit, while I am generally not interested in being hugged if I am upset I do like it from my boys. My aspie on the other hand will at first ignore me and look very uncomfortable and then after things calm down he will go and get me lots of things he thinks I will like, like a drink or the Ipad. Both are so sweet because I recognize what they are trying to do and I love that they want to take care of me and make sure i am ok. But, I also know how my aspie’s initial response (when i know he is just over whelmed by me being upset and trying to process it all) will come across as uncaring to others as he grows and he will need to learn to do what you have done above and explain to people where he is coming from.

  4. It’s that NTs (or non-Autistics) are bad listeners.

    I think that is extremely stereotyping. I like the first half of your post, but there is no reason to lump everybody else together and say that they all operate the same way. That’s just stereotyping and conceals the real situation rather than helping to clarify it.

    • I agree that it is stereotyping. I should have said so explicitly. The intention of this post wasn’t to be serious and lump (read: This is all in good fun) but rather to point out that not all communication deficits are always one-sided.

      • That is a good point, and I agree with that:-)

  5. This is wonderful! I once had a disagreement with my husband, Richard. He looked at me and said, “Well, it’s clear you don’t agree with me.” “But I didn’t say anything!” I said. “You didn’t have to. I could tell.” Even though he was right that time, there are plenty of other times when he and I make assumptions from the other’s facial expression that are absolutely wrong and it gets us in trouble. Projecting ones feelings, thoughts, history (something we NTs are very good at) puts us in tricky territory. We are right often enough that we feel it’s a valid way of being, but we are also wrong enough times that we should doubt ourselves more often. Listening and directly asking what is needed is full-proof for everyone!

  6. My love is communication in all it’s wondrous forms wether it is verbal or non verbal; simple or complex. And I speculate on meaning from what I hear, see, smell, feel, or sense.
    The steady thrum of wheels turning on pavement tell me a vehicle is travelling north on the A1. The pulsating aurua aurua aurua aurua is the down stairs refrigerator.
    The blackbird cocks it’s head and listens for the burrowing worm.
    It’s all listening and I do not need to speak as I will not change the patterns played in my head. I could yell at the bird to scare it off and save a worm– but I could easily just wave my arms up and down and the bird would fly away. (That I wouldn’t do as I have a fondness for birds.)
    Dealing with animals is easy. Honest and true to patterns easily observed if one takes the time to listen.
    Communication between Aspie’s stems from listening, assessing, and formulating Course of action or inaction.
    My friend told me that he had a rough day at work. I listened (56 minutes and 43 seconds) and then he said, “enough of that, we are planning our bike- for-charity trip for next year. It will be 6 days . . .”. He listed every town we’d travel through, which paths were best, where we would stop, what maps were needed. Then asked about how to get sponsorship. I said I’d research. And then realised my next course of action. He wanted to be Aspie fun and was looking for permission. He was drumming his fingers and wanted an Aspie dance (frowned upon by most Carers). I knew the words to make him switch modes to the inane: “we could get named sponsor shirts and call ourselves the Biking Shamus!”. Inside joke but it is grand to see unadulterated laughter and dancing and flapping of the arms and drumming of the fingers. Bad day erased for the moment. We’d return to it at a later time.

    Oops gone on too long, I get wordy, and carried away. Enjoyed your supposings.

  7. Like! I feel like other people expect me to be a mindreader. “Do you want to put away the dishes?” Actually means “Please put away the dishes.” Well, why didn’t you SAY so??? Hmmm???? The answer to the first is “No, I don’t want to put away the dishes. ” But I figured that was what was meant so I did. But seriously say what you mean, mean what you say. It’s so much simpler right?

  8. What a delightful theory! You made me smile….and think! 🙂

  9. I am extremely empathetic. I cry for other people more than they cry for themselves when they tell me something sad sometimes. But that’s all I can do. I have no idea what to say to them; I don’t know if I should hug them or wipe their tears or pat their head. I am left feeling uncomfortable because I don’t know what to do and I feel like the other person is probably uncomfortable because I don’t try to comfort them.
    There are times when I am mean and don’t care about someone’s feelings or even think something mean about someone driving down the road beside me, like “Why is that person smiling like that? Don’t they know how dumb they look?” but then I get depressed for myself being mean and such a bad person then think “Awe, but they’re a person, too.”

    • Thanks for the fantastic comment! 🙂 I totally understand that “I have *no* idea what to say or do for this person” feeling… And judging people silently, then recognizing it and stopping? I think that’s totally not being mean. That’s recognizing that you have differences from that person, noting that you don’t understand their expressions, then moving on… if you stopped to tell them they looked dumb, then that would be a problem. But recognizing in yourself that it is your thought process, seems perfectly reasonable. 🙂

  10. Wow. This is a very interesting point of view. I agree with you because most of the time I am misunderstood isn’t because I didn’t say what I was feeling, it was because what I was said was taken to mean something besides *exactly* what I said. I’m not one to tap dance around what I mean. I’ll just blurt it out (which gets me the reputation of being bitchy because I don’t generally filter it into a nicer format first). I wish more people were like that because then no one would be left wondering what was *really* going on.

    • I agree – Even among NTs, people misinterpret body-language *all* the time. I actually read a book that created a language that all emotions and body language was conveyed through a set of hand-signals with the left hand. The face and body remained unexpressive while talking. Now THAT’S my kind of language. 🙂

  11. I love this idea. I’ve always been good at languages and about talking with other people in their language. It’s what I think has helped me understand my autistic son. One time I interpreted what my then 3-yr old son wanted (his speech was unintelligible) and a family member said, “You can’t possibly understand what he’s saying.”

    It’s not the *words*, not the language. It’s the ability to “tune in” to someone, to spend time with them, the desire to figure out how *they* communicate, not how we *think* they should communicate.

  12. Love this post. Is what I said to my son after he said there was bad communication on his DofE trip – I told him they just assume he will know/understand stuff just because others might.

    • Thanks for your comment 🙂 It really is two different languages, isn’t it?

  13. Love, love your theory/hypothesis! Being an NT and having an ASD son…you hit the nail on the head. 😀

    • 🙂 Thanks for the comment! definitely a ‘hypothesis’ – I’m a scientist – “theory” doesn’t even begin to fit my speculations. 😛

  14. That sort of is my style, too. It is odd for me because this is against the norm for most of my OT peers. That said, they are surprised to find that if they come to me, I can be just as competent in listening to them and provide advice.

    If it’s my advice, I think what you are doing is OK. If you are in the position where you are trying to help someone, do whatever you can (as long as you know your limits) to help them. If you do this well, this can be a way to get friends or keep a friendship.

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