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Why communication isn't just about talking

One of the diagnostic criteria for autism is a defecit in communication. This is of course not only the ability to communicate, but also to process and understand "incoming" information.


Interpreting what another person is saying is exhausting and can lead quickly to overwhelm and exhaustion. One of the biggest misconceptions is that verbal autistic people somehow have it easy because they can speak. Whilst there are advantages to being verbal, there are also lots of pre-conceptions made. Things such as you having "mild autism" or "don't find things hard".


This week I have been supporting one of my mentees to be allowed a reasonable adjustment on their university course. It was the perfect example of how a simple clear request can so quickly cause meltdown, shutdown and burnout because of the mixed responses received. 


In the course of an hour the young person received 6 pieces of conflicting information regarding their request. This is not some thing that is new to them and is something that I have experienced and witnessed many times in schools, and whilst out and about with autistic children and young people.


The email communication was nothing short of diabolical and has been pointed out to the institution. However it is worth looking at the potential long term implications on the young person in this situation. 


The initial wait for any response led to them catastrophising, being anxious and considering terminating their university studies. They felt that they were not being listened to and this in turn can and does cause feelings of lack of self worth and rejection.


Confusing messages cause a high and low emotional response which is detrimental to the autistic person's wellbeing as well as using up lots of processing power. 


Being told that a decision has been made about the situation long term but being given no further information simply impacts their fear and concerns. It causes inner conflict and confusion to the young person. 


It is important to remember that communication isn't just about being able to talk. Unclear information isnt just frustrating for most autistic people, it has the potential to have a massive detrimental impact upon the individual's mental and physical health. 



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