Communication Tip for Autistics

Thought I’d share this little tip that I found helpful (though I tend to forget to follow it). Many autistics have trouble interpreting non-verbal cues, including the unspoken rules of conversation. As a result, they tend to just say what’s on their mind, in a straightforward literal manner. Sometimes, this may come across as insensitive or otherwise inappropriate. Here’s a tip that anyone (including non-autistics) may find helpful in face-to-face communication. I call it the 3-Step Method, but I’m not sure who thought of it first.

Instead of just saying what’s on your mind, think of communication as a 3-step process (I’ll list the steps first, then explain them):

Step 1: Prepare the listener to positively receive what you’re about to say.

Step 2: Deliver the message.

Step 3: Deliver a ‘closer’ that clarifies the message and leaves a positive impression.

Here’s how the 3-Step Method works. Step 1 involves doing and saying things that makes the listener positively receptive to the message. This could be as simple as smiling, saying ‘excuse me’ before asking for directions, or saying something encouraging before delivering bad news. For example, before asking a colleague to do something, you could say something like “I really need your help, and you’re really good at this task”. This makes them feel valued and helpful, rather than feeling like a tool for someone to use. Step 1 is really hard to do. It requires a pretty good ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, precisely the ability that is impaired in many autistics. However, it’s still worth the effort to try and work that ’empathy muscle’.

Step 2 is self-explanatory. Step 3 involves clarifying if the listener understood the message, and putting a final positive ‘spin’ on it so the listener gets a good impression. This could be as simple as saying ‘thank you’ after a request, or offering to do something for a colleague after asking for their help. Now you know why I often forget to follow the 3-Step Method! It really is difficult (even for a non-autistic person), but it promotes the good habit of communicating to build relationships rather than just getting things done.


How to Talk to an Austistic Kid – Book by an Autistic Kid

This award-winning guide is written from an autistic person’s perspective, in language that appeals to other young people. It’s a short (only 48 pages) but succinct manual for anyone trying to relate to an autistic young person. Ideally, there should be a copy in every school library and a class taught from it in every school.

Best of the Best 2012—Chicago Public Library

Books for a Better Life Awards finalist

Clearly explain[s] the difficulties with communication and social interactions that frequently accompany autism, while urging readers to reach out to and stick up for autistic children—Publishers Weekly