Updated: May 7, 2022
Communicate successfully with No words, no speech, and no ability to communicate typically.
Communication is a huge barrier for many Autistic people, even if they are considered fluent speakers.
The words to express our exact thoughts just aren’t there. It can take a few days to know how to put into words what we need to say. Obviously too long for a general conversation.
Those who have difficulty with speaking found they can communicate best with Augmented Alternative Communication (AAC).
AAC Helps Us Communicate Our Concerns.
At work, I have a script for my entire day. It is planned, pre-written, and practiced so that it is executed well with no mistakes.
“Brain fog! Where did my words go? They just vanished!” Most of us often say when stumbling through a conversation.
Illness and emotional shutdowns stop the ability to speak, just like a glitch when a computer slows down or goes offline for a time. The Nervous System gets overloaded and needs a break to release overwhelm built up.
Speech is unreliable for me. I need a script in front of me to read.
I use AAC for the majority of social and general communication. At work, I use my script for the day and have backup communication, which is my AAC. This works well.
It is easier for me to type rather than to use a single finger to touch each letter on my phone. I am a good typist. It also helps calm overwhelm.
My ability to use just one finger to text doesn’t work well. It’s hard to do finger-pointing action. I can for a little bit, then it becomes problematic.
My motion slows and gets uncontrollable. My single finger just won’t cooperate with my brain. Maybe because it takes longer to spell out a word with one finger than it does to use all of your fingers.
Eye Contact & Looking Away to Comprehend and Listen:
“Are you listening?” people often ask me.
I can’t look at someone when they are speaking to me.
I listen and understand others best when I turn my head away. It allows me to focus on what the person is saying.
Autistic people like me often struggle to follow a conversation. They look down at the ground when listening or turn their head away.
People believe I’m not listening if I’m not looking directly at them. People tend to think I’m rude.
When I turn my head away to listen, that is my best way to hear and understand others.
If a person insists I look at them, I have to blur my vision and direct my eyes towards a facial feature like their mouth or forehead. It is difficult for me.
I only can handle brief moments of looking at someone in the face and especially the eyes.
Back and Forth Communication (Reciprocity):
What to say and when to say it is such a challenge. The more experiences you have in life, the more capable you are of communication. Some of the tricks I have learned, and use are:
Always say hi.
Try to keep the other person talking and take an active listening approach.
I use statements like - “That is interesting. Tell me more about that.”
I know I can’t handle a social conversation for very long. I have about a 10-minute capacity, and that’s as an active listener. I avoid situations that will be lengthy in communication.
AAC is a better tool for me to use in a social conversation than speech. I can think and communicate well with AAC. My brain and the speech process do not seem to have the best connection. It’s like having a loose wire connection or something. Speech is not a reliable tool for me.
Instead, I use a text-to-speech app, writing, American Sign Language (ASL), and a script.
Notice body language. If a person is moving away from you, it’s time to end communication. If they are not moving away from you, then you can continue.
Be mindful about your special topics of interest. Don’t be the one with verbal diarrhea. This takes away from a social conversation. Only talk a bit about your favorite subject when invited to do so. Take turns. Keep it a limited communication. To be polite and less intrusive, always ask for permission to continue.
The best place to share your favorite special topics is with groups who also share your same interest.
Suppose your communication struggles are due to motor skills. People have found communicating with large motor skills successful.
The method uses a spelling board by touching each letter with a pointer or finger to spell out words.
If that is not an option, people have found eye gaze using assistive technology or a manual eye gazing chart and a partner who will help you with the communication.
Learn more about AAC use from AAC users, join the “Ask Me, I’m an AAC User” Facebook group. A beautiful Netflix movie called “The Reason I Jump” shows how a simple alphabet chart enabled freedom of speech for those on the Autism Spectrum.
If you want more information on communication strategies, you can find them here.
If you are interested in learning American Sign Language, I am learning from 3 different online places. I am also starting my own Sign Language practice for fun if you would like to join that course. It is in development, so watch for updates for when it is ready.
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Crane, Sam. “A Voice for All: Why I'm Fighting to Help Autistic Students Access the Form of Communication That Works Best for Them.” Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 23 Apr. 2021, autisticadvocacy.org/2016/05/a-voice-for-all-why-im-fighting-to-help-autistic-students-access-the-form-of-communication-that-works-best-for-them/.
“Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, www.asha.org/njc/aac/.
(FTM) My Transition from Female to Male. https://byronsalter.blogspot.com/
Armstrong, Alastair. “You Can’t Win Anything with Kids.” Prep School, no. 98, John Catt Educational Limited, July 2020, p. 16.
Power Rack Strength | Operation 6%. https://www.powerrackstrength.com/operation-6/
American Sign Language | Saddleback College. https://www.saddleback.edu/hs/american-sign-language