Autistic & NT communication – The Autist Whisperer – Introduction

A huge proportion of the problems, setbacks
and prejudice that autistic people encounter in life stem from communication. If only there
was a way we could understand each other better. Whilst autistic people can communicate with
each other effectively and other people generally understand each other too, when autistic and
non autistic people talk to one another misunderstandings are common. It’s almost as if we’re using the same
words but speaking a different language. There are some autists who are disabled by
learning difficulties, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, motor control issues and others.
Even those who are autistic and nothing more still find ourselves disabled by difficulty
communicating in a world full of people who understand and process information differently
to us. It leads to under-estimation of our potential, incorrect and harmful assumptions
about our feelings or intent and those in turn lead to loss of opportunity and even
aggressive prejudice. If only there was a way for us all to understand each other better… It’s well known that a number of autistic
people don’t always use verbal language. Some of us don’t speak at all, some rarely
do and some of us lose our speech when suffering stress or trauma. During a period without
speech we are described as “non-speaking” as opposed to the outdated term “non-verbal”.
Most who never speak still understand verbal language but cannot or do not reply in the
same manner. Whether it’s down to inability, temporary stress or choice it’s important
we respect that they can still usually hear or read our words so we should speak to them
in the same manner we would anyone else on the spectrum. Do bear in mind too, that children
who don’t speak or appear to be delayed in their speech development often start to
speak later in life when the time is right for them. Sometimes when they open up, their
speech is fully developed but they weren’t ready to use it before. Many of these people
have gone on to distinguished careers in commerce, finance, academia, technology and the arts.
A child may be non-speaking now, but they could well be your boss one day. In this series we aim to bridge the communication
gap to enable autistic and non-autistic people to understand the differences in our communication
styles so that we can find some common ground and perhaps learn to speak one another’s
language more effectively. There will be information and tips for both autistic and non autistics
alike. Throughout the series we’ll be using certain
terms that you may be unfamiliar with: We don’t want to be repetitive so we’ll
use a few different names for autistic and non autistic people. None are disrespectful
of either side, but it’s best to know these words, which are in common usage from the
very beginning. The majority of autistic people don’t like
the use of PFL or “Person First Language” like “Person WITH autism” or “Person
who HAS autism”. It can feel disrespectful and condescending to separate us from something
which is an integral part of our thoughts and interactions with the world. Such language
also implies we are diseased or dysfunctional or that we can separate being autistic from
the rest of our being. We won’t be using it for those reasons. We will use the following:
Autistic Autist
On the spectrum. Instead of saying “people who are not autistic”
all the time, we’ll use the common terms “neurotypical” meaning someone whose neurology
is close to that of the majority and it’s abbreviation “NT”. We’ll also use the
word “allistic” which is a derivative of autistic.
We will not be saying “normal” nor will we say “average” since this implies autistic
people are either above or below average. The words we will use are:
Neurotypical/Typical NT
Allistic Autistic communication is different because
our brains sense and understand how the world works differently. Because of this, the language
being spoken doesn’t matter. A French, Chinese or Bangladeshi autistic will have similar
communication needs and differences in their home countries and languages as I do as an
Englishman. It’s not about the language itself, but the way we use words and non verbal
tools to convey meaning and how that meaning is understood that makes the crucial difference. Remember that there is as much variety in
autistic minds as in neurotypical minds. The topics we will cover all apply to a significant
majority of autistic communication, but not all of them apply to every autist. They provide
a great place to start though, and as always, the better you know the person you’re talking
to, the better you’ll learn how to effectively communicate with each other. Each short session will be on a particular
topic – some of which will be about verbal communication, some about non verbal and some
that will cross over. As the series goes on we hope your skills of understanding autistics
if you’re neurotypical or communicating with NTs if you’re an autist should gradually
improve. This series should be of particular use to
the parents and families of autistic people and those who work with people on the spectrum.
That includes educators, administrators, medical staff, people in government, employers in
fact pretty much everyone. If we improve communication between the autistic and non-autistic communities,
we not only improve outcomes for autistic people, our societies benefit from the many
skills and attributes autistic people can contribute. Now that we’ve explained the basic principles
of this series, you’re ready for Chapter One which is linked at the end of this introduction
and in the description below. Thanks for watching and I hope you enjoy our
journey through autistic and neurotypical communication.

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