We think of communication as simply the exchanging of information. We don't usually consider the receiving, disseminating, interpretation, and expression parts. We sometimes think about the body and facial cues we deliver while giving and receiving communications. We take these extra steps and pieces for granted because they are second nature to us. We watched people communicate with a multitude of facets when we were young, and we learned to copy them. Autistic people may or may not have noticed these subtle cues. If they noticed, they may not have been able to make sense of the meanings from looking at the situation. If they could when watching others, they might not be able to use the same cues or interpret them when they are involved in communication themselves. If they can, it probably takes a lot of energy to both hold the conversational conventions and interpret clues simultaneously, so they may choose to not engage more often than they do. Each human being, including those with Autism, has different levels of understanding of social situations. From observing and speaking with the autists in my life, I have gathered that when it comes to inferring meaning from situational clues and unclear words, they struggle. This difficulty became more apparent recently when my husband was struggling with his college communication course. I couldn't understand why he was having such difficulty with the wordings in quizzes until I heard him try to interpret one. Then it hit me that he didn't know how to infer. Then I watched out son and learned he also struggles. Since they are both adequate, even decent, communicators (when they're comfortable), I hadn't considered this piece of autism for either of them. So, now that I know the problem, I can help teach them how to communicate and understand the standard world better. I am certain they will both choose to communicate in what they feel are safe spaces as much as they can, but they will both be better prepared for using this skill in others situations. With Will, I can use daily examples and literature to help him learn how to infer. Just today, he and Mack had a fight over whether Will had stopped calling Mack's dragon a chicken or not. The fact came out that Will had stopped when Mack had specifically asked him to. However, when Mack had inferred it, Will had continued. This upset Mack who accused Will of not respecting his words. That angered Will because accusations of disrespect from siblings or peers are triggering. They had the classic, "No you didn't!"/"Yes I did" screaming match before I called for them to stop. I was able to explain to both of them what the other was thinking and expecting and they agreed Will had respected Mack as much as he could have. And, Will apologized for not picking up on Mack's subtle request prior. I was able to remind Mack that blunt requests might seem unkind, but to Will they are needed and prevent confusion. The conflict opened a door for me to help Will see that when Mack had argued with his assessment of the dragon, he was telling Will he was displeased and didn't like the comment. Which means Will should not continue. I will continue taking such opportunities to help Will understand those subtle hints. And I will keep telling Mack to be straightforward to eliminate guessing. Much of the time when Will is upset, it is because he's been confused about the situation or tried to read into it the other person's intent and been unable. If we can give Will safety to communicate easily at home, he can reserve his energy for bigger, real world situations. With Leigh, teaching the steps to inferring may work better than modeling. He is analytical, so if I can show him that surrounding information along with words and history can mean something different than the obvious via a formula, he can be successful. I have been able to on a few occasions, but they aren't encompassing. The call to help them both learn in ways that reach their similar, but very different brains, is mountainous. I may not be able to alone. Thankfully, Leigh and I have a wonderful counselor who is also aware of Leigh's struggle who will help me help him learn life inference. Let me know what has been successful for you in helping your loved ones conquer this skill! Reach out if you need help to teach it to someone too.
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