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Hard to find the words? On the autistic struggle with communication.

Updated: Jul 16

Hard to find the right words? Any words. Especially when talking about feelings?

Want to be around people but it is just not comfortable somehow? Best to be on your own. 

If you are a fellow autistic person, you will likely identify strongly with what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) terms “frequent and sustained problems in social communication and interaction”. It is indeed one of the two core criteria on which the diagnosis of autism spectrum condition is made. The second criterion is “fixed and repeating patterns of behaviors, interests, or tasks”, which also includes sensory-related points. DSM-5 is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is widely recognised as an authoritative source on mental health conditions.

At present autism is considered life-long and not treatable by medication. It is acknowledged that beneficial factors such as counselling, sufficient physical activity, healthy nutrition and a good support network can reduce the tensions autistic people often deal with in neurotypical environments. Personally, I would not want to be “cured” of being myself. Autism is so inherently me, how I perceive and interact with the world, that if it were taken away, I would be a completely different person, whom I have not ever met.

“Nice to be true to yourself”, I hear you say, “...but what about the stubborn difficulties with people?”. How do you make yourself understood? Form a connection?

Communication is so very important because without it we can’t explain what our needs are, never mind have those needs met. Being able to articulate our thoughts and emotions to others allows for a beginning of a social bond. The sense of belonging is hugely important to mental health as well as being a precursor of practical success. Humans are social animals and we need each other for survival. There are many sayings in which the impossibility of healthy solitary existence is imprinted, “No man is an island” for example. Aside from my autistic clients often tell me that’s exactly how they feel, very much alone.

If this sounds familiar, here are a couple of things I have found effective in easing the autistic struggle with communication:

  • Accept yourself as you truly are

If you have been fighting against your autistic traits up until now, please stop. There’s only one of you in the entire world and no one knows you better than you do. Please take care of yourself. Self-understanding and compassion yield greater results than punishment. It is hard to be good to others when you are not good to yourself. And by and large, people like those who treat them well. So the communication and interaction piece starts with how you treat you

  • Be honest with others about your difficulties

Once you have given yourself the permission to be as you are, let people know, when needed, that some things are hard and it doesn’t come from a bad place. You might be surprised by the understanding extended to you. I wonder whether the hostility that arises between people is often in part to do with the inability to comprehend each other’s behaviour

  • Offer kindness and patience in return, whatever the reaction

Irrespective of the response from people towards your autistic traits, consider giving to others the acceptance and empathy you wish to receive. It is much easier to be nice to someone, who is good to you first

If you would like to explore how to engage with people in a way that is beneficial to your autistic self and to others, please reach out. I would be delighted to support you.

A child's drawing of a person
*my middle daughter's poignant doodle

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