People with autism have difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal language. Many have a very literal understanding of language and believe precisely what people say.
People with autism may experience difficulty with interpreting:
- facial expressions or tone of voice
- jokes and sarcasm
- common phrases and sayings, for example, "Pull your socks up" is taken literally instead of its intended meaning, to improve your performance.
Some people with autism may have only limited speech or be completely non-verbal. Alternative communication techniques, such as sign language or visual symbols may be a preferred option.
Others will have good communication skills, but may find it difficult to understand the turn taking nature of conversations. At times they may repeat what the person has just said; this is known as 'echolalia'. A person with autism may also talk at length about their interests and not notice when the other person does not appear interested. When speaking to a person with autism, it should be done in clear, consistent manner allowing time for processing.
A person with autism may demonstrate difficulty with communication with:
- Limited or no speech and/or lack typical communicative gestures e.g. non-verbal gestures
- Use speech but revert to non-verbal (which may be inappropriate) behaviours when confused or stressed
- Speaking in whole sentences but be unable to participate in or maintain a two way conversation
- Leading an adult by the hand to a desired item rather than ask
- Using repetitive sounds or repeat particular questions
- Unusual vocal quality (tone, pitch, speed of speaking)
- Reverse pronouns (will use "you" instead of "I", etc.)
- Being unable to consistently follow verbal directions
- Having a literal and concrete comprehension of language