My reply was:
An autistic person communicates all the time. We may not like what he wants to say or how he is saying it. The way in which he communicates those wants may not make sense to all the people around him...but he does communicate.
Her answer was more insightful than mine:
I would have to say I agree with your answer. The question isn't how can the AC be taught to communicate but more of how we can get them to communicate 'our way'. An AC tries to communicate and make sense of the world all the time. Some of your communication style doesn't always go through and make sense, thus leaving us in confusion. This confusion I believe leads to the oh so much disliked response of the AC repetitively asking the same questions over and over and being thought a moron for not understanding when it was already answered.. .but was it really answered? I have found it being my experience that NT [normal] communication to come across is incomplete thought patterns with emotional displays and gesture to fill in the rest.
Then the AC is to be expected to gain answers from that display of gesture and emotion. Big whole guessing game it is! One I am not good at! As I am sure other AC would agree.
Personally I would rather continually bounce a ball than communicate that way. A ball gives you the same response and doesn't hide it in anything other than what is there. You force a ball down and it comes back to your hand. Simple action reaction with a distant answer for the question of 'What will a ball do if you force it down on the ground?' It doesn't roll around, make faces, laugh, yell or give an open-ended explanation and then come to your hand and say 'See that is the answer!'
Her answer reminded me about something I had read before: 'Even if a person affected by autism talks, he doesn't know what he is saying.' It riddled me. So if the child doesn't know what he is saying, how can I help him know? How can we hold a meaningful conversation if the words we are using don't mean the same thing to both of us? To illustrate this statement an example of a girl 'browsing' through a magazine was used. The author2 asked his patient if she liked reading. The patient replied, 'No, I am just looking at the pictures [browsing].' The author concluded that this girl doesn't know that browsing meant reading.
From what I have experienced when talking with adult autistics I can further the point. Some of our children feel a need for great 'preciseness' in order to avoid confusion. Therefore reading will always mean 'reading the words' and browsing will always mean browsing (as in looking at pictures) -literal and precise. The lesson to be learned here is for us to talk with our children in a literal and precise way until they don't misinterpret, offend or feel fearful of a figure of speech. You will know when your child realises the differences between literal language and metaphor when:
• he will speak in a mixture of literal language and metaphor as well as wait for your reaction to what he had just said (conversation - not just talking at people)
• he will not scream or withdraw when teased (not that I recommend teasing)
• he will ask you to explain a sentence which contains metaphor
• he will laugh at your joke or make his own jokes.
Alexander's cartoons are exploiting the literal interpretation3 of language. None of this was possible prior to Alexander accepting the concept of double meanings of one word - flexibility of thought.
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Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.