Impaired communication skills are one of the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome. Read on to learn why Aspies find communication difficult and how to have effective conversations with them.
Why Communicating with an Aspie can be Difficult
Communication involves more than the verbal exchange of information. Body language, facial expression and tone of voice are all part of conveying a message. All of these areas are weak in a person with Asperger’s syndrome which makes it hard for them to communicate effectively. It also makes it difficult for neurotypical people to converse with them as they may feel uncomfortable or as though they are not getting through. In many cases, people give up on trying to communicate with a person who has Asperger’s.
Problems when Communicating with an Aspie
Communicating with an Aspie can lead to the following problems:
- An Aspie does not understand how to initiate, maintain and conclude a conversation
- Conversations are often one sided with the Aspie dominating over a topic of their choice
- The Aspie may act as though the other person’s thoughts, feelings and comments are not important
- Aspies interpret language literally and find it hard to understand figures of speech
A person with Asperger's syndrome is generally unable to pick up on body language that says a conversation needs to end or that the other person is becoming bored
How to Communicate Effectively with an Aspie
There are various ways to make communicating with an Aspie more effective. Each case needs to be assessed individually and if the Aspie is a relative or spouse, it may be easier to guide the conversation through gentle coaching. Here are some suggestions for improving communication with an Aspie:
- A person with Asperger’s often feels uncomfortable with eye contact. Don’t take it personally if they look away or up at the ceiling during a conversation
- Use plain, straightforward language that does not contain metaphors or similes
- Aspies often become confused if there are multiple conversations going on around them. Try and converse in a quiet place with no distractions such as televisions or computers in the background
- People with Asperger’s are often more proficient at written or typed language as opposed to oral communication. Keeping in touch via emails or letters can be more effective than talking face to face in some cases. Electronic communication also does away with the problems of body language and facial expression
- Aspies may introduce long pauses into conversations while they are thinking about the other person’s previous comment. This is often because they are not sure what to say next or have lost the thread of meaning. If the Aspie is well known to the neurotypical, it could be helpful to suggest they use a conversation repairer. These are phrases such as "I’m a little confused by your last comment," or "I’m not sure what that means."
Communicating with an Aspie may take some extra effort, and conversations may be punctuated with awkward silences or inappropriate body language. In spite of their difficulties, however, many people with Asperger’s crave friendship and social interaction. A neurotypical person who understands their problems can look past the lack of interpersonal skills and communicate more effectively with them.
The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007