Saturday 20 June 2015

Three Sorts of Communication Systems - Autism, Sign Language, 'Normal'.

Learn Autism: One of an occasional series for surprised passers-by.

Sometimes, I find professionals and parents who are trying to 'fix' their autistic young person's social skills.
They will tell the young person that they are...
Not making enough eye contact
Not smiling appropriately
Not asking the right social questions
Not displaying an upright and alert body posture
Not taking turns in conversation
Not using the right body language
Flapping their hands or rocking inappropriately
Not staying at social events for long enough.

And they then try to 'fix' each one of these things. Various methods are sometimes used, including persuasion, blackmail, punishment, rewards, isolation, having sensory-and-routine-need items taken away.

OK. Let's stop right there.

Let's try another example. Suppose you have a new friend who is Deaf. They use sign language, and have done since birth.

You may notice straight away that they like to face you and stare right at you a lot.
You will notice that they move their hands a huge amount.
You may notice that they may lean towards you and away from you in exaggerated ways.
You will notice that they do not talk the same as you do.
You will notice that their movements are often exaggerated, as are their face expressions.

You and they use different communication systems, yes?

So...if you went up to a Deaf person and told them they were communicating all wrong, what do you think would happen?

Back to our autism example....

You see, we communicate differently. I'm going to generalise here.  Our brains are wired to handle communication differently. We see people best out of the sides of our eyes, not straight ahead. Straight ahead is too 'loud'. Eye contact is so painful for most of us that we cannot do it, and also hear you, at the same time. It's overwhelming.
Social words are also much harder for us, so we minimise social wording and concentrate on vital accurate information.  It's 'polite' in many autistic settings for us to miss out hello and goodbye to other autistic folk...and how are you, how is your family, etc. It saves overloading our communication systems.

When we encounter many non-autistic people, they communicate all wrong.
They make painful eye contact.
Their faces make strange expressions.  Their eyebrows wiggle up and down.
They wave their own arms about and hands about, randomly.
They ask bizarre questions like, "how are you" and you're not allowed to say how you are, because the 'rule' is that you say you are OK.
They can talk for hours and hours about absolutely nothing specific at all. This would cause our brain to literally overheat and  (in a good few cases) eventually electrocute itself, which we dread.
They use language that is filled with mysteries, like 'pull your socks up'. Mine are pulled right up, thanks.
They do language all wrong, you see.  They need to be trained with proper social skills....for autism.  Or do they?  Do we?  What about our Deaf friend?

So....what we have is three different communication systems in this example.
Most people use non-autistic social word communication.
Some use sign language.
Some use autism protocols.

Some use other methods.

 They are not broken versions of one anothers' 'language'. They are different, for different people, for good reasons.

 We don't need to fix one another. We mostly need to learn to understand one another, and cherish each person's unique way of communicating and loving us.