Yep we do have nonverbal communication.

Standard

And can form friendships with each other that include reading and responding to it a good deal more than people expect. This video of D and DJ (D’s mom is an online friend of mine) shows it beautifully:

A friend of mine said that D mentioned that nobody ever uses autism when they’re talking about something people are good at, only when they’re talking about something people are bad at. I think this is a really good example of an aspect of being autistic that’s related to stuff some of us can be really good at, but that we’re often said to be bad at because either the non-autistic people around us can’t see it or we’re never given the opportunity to show it.

I even know someone who I was having a discussion with about our ability to read nonverbal cues. She said she’d never heard anything like some of the things I was saying before. I asked her, since she knew all these parents, whether the parents said that their autistic children picked up on tension in the household. She said “Yes in fact all of them mention that, but I always thought that was strange because autistic people aren’t supposed to be able to read nonverbal cues.” So, instead of seeing that as evidence the prevailing stereotypes are wrong, perhaps many people file it into a bin labeled “contradicts what I think I know” and don’t ever look at it again.

Well, it’s not just tension we pick up on. See my dialects of nonverbal language post for more on this. But as to the question I’m often asked, “How can what you do be a language if nobody else speaks it?” My answer is, don’t be so sure nobody else does.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

14 responses »

  1. i probably have aspergers. i am 41 and a mom. tension is easy to pick up. i think it is the more complicated things that are hard to pick up. i have a hard time knowing if a person of the opposite sex is interested in me. i can’t tell what is flirting and what is not flirting. that is really complex.
    sarcasm is hard to pick up in everyone but my very very closest friends.

  2. I love the dialogue in the car.

    The hammock is the most brilliant invention ever. It hugs you, tight, and then the rocking motion is so soothing.

  3. I easily pick up tension, though I thought that was because I’m an abuse survivor (abused people tend to recognize negative emotions better than positive).
    Supposedly autistics have a deficit in reciprocity, but I saw clear reciprocity in their stimming in the car. The younger boy (Drew?) also glanced at his friend at the end of each bit of head bobbing, as if saying ‘your turn’.
    I have a young autistic friend and we are pretty good at reading each other. He’s minimally verbal, but it doesn’t matter that much when we interact because he communicates so much nonverbally. At my 18th birthday, we did interactive stimming with a fan where I’d flick my fingers behind the fan while he was on the other side watching it. He loved that.

  4. i think you have to qualify it in terms of “many autistics can be good at picking up some nonverbal cues that are hard for many NTs”, and of course the reverse. it’s not like all nonverbal stuff falls into the same boxes or something. no more than all people do.

  5. it’s more like being good at stuff in the ways that are not commonly expected, rather than not being good at it at all.

  6. With everyday stuff, I have to be honest and say I miss a lot of non verbal clues, I am pretty hopeless at “reading between the lines” if someone is talking to me, I don’t get subtle hints and I never think to look out for postures and body language, I just don’t pay attention to them. If I’m watching a film of somebody and I don’t have to concentrate on what they’re saying then I’ll pick up on a lot more body clues. So I think with myself it’s a question of I can listen, but not pay attention visually, or I can pay attention visually, but not listen, at the same time.
    But if someone is arguing or shouting in front of me, even if it has nothing to do with me I get very upset at the tension and start crying.

  7. There are many many stereotypes around the globe that do not fit any one group in a complete sense. It’s just a comfortable thing it seems all humans have in common; categorizations, classifications, similarities, differences, defining boundaries or limits. I believe if we could all just be open to individuality within each classification upon classification we ultimately will find comfort in similarity and accepting of individuality. That’s my idealistic opinion on the matter.

  8. hello!
    i think you’re site is amazing.
    thank you SO much for taking time to do all of this for different people to see and help understand.
    i have a question, when you are first meeting people, what are things they say and do to help you trust them and get to know them?
    there’s a girl from my church who is autistic. and i really want to try to get to know her when i see her, i want her to be able to trust me and know i’m not there to label her.
    thank you, so much!

  9. As a mom of two boys on the spectrum (4.5 yrs and 2 yrs. old), I can see joy in the faces of these boys. My heart is moved when I see them responding to each other, those who love them, and their surroundings. I was wondering if you knew, when you were little and older, that people loved you. I love my sons so much and I wonder if they know it. My youngest snuggles with me and makes murmurs. I just want them to know how much I love them.

    Thank you for sharing your language with us. Thank you for learning our language so that people like me can know more about your language and you as a person. We are all blessed by what you’ve offered.

  10. Thank you so much for your website/blog. You have given more comfort and hope to me than I can ever express. I am the mother of a six year old autistic boy. He is sweet, hilarious and so very, very bright.

    Although he is verbal, he still has difficulty with communication and it worries me because I can’t always understand him. This makes me feel like I am failing him as a mother. Your blog makes me realize that communication on an understandable level is possible. Again, thank you so much for that.

    Ballastexistenz, although you have difficulty with verbal communication, your writing is so eloquent. I just hope you know what a great gift you are giving to the world by sharing your experiences. I am certain I will be following your blog for many years to come and from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

  11. So many people miss out on whats in front of them with disabilities, I guess.

    They’re both so cute! That video made my day!

  12. Pingback: Differences « Room 36

  13. Pingback: Differences (moving past a deficit-based model of Autism) | Neurodiversity

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