It takes two to communicate

Read just about any book on how to improve your communications skills and you will find that one of the most important aspects of interpersonal communications is the ability to listen.  Unless, of course, you are reading a book about helping autistic people “learn to communicate”, in which case it is all about trying to get them to listen, and pay attention, to you; very rarely will those types of books try to help you, a non-autistic person, figure out how to listen to an autistic person.

In fact, the very definition of autism in the DSM-IV is based on, among other things, “qualitative impairments in communications.”  As if communications is something that autistics can do on their own.  This is the starting point for change.org autism blogger Dora Raymaker in her post The Dynamics of Communication, in which she reminds us that:

Communication is dynamic. It is an active relationship. Communication is not something an autistic person does or does not do. Communication is something that people do or do not do together. In order to have effective communication, all parties in the relationship are responsible for keeping the communication flowing.

What the DSM is really saying is that autistics are autistic because they don’t communicate with non-autistic people in a way that non-autistic people can understand and they don’t understand the way non-autistics communicate.  Almost like they speak a different language.

Communication is a two way street. We have, in general, spent a lot of time trying to get autistics to understand us, to learn our “language” .  Maybe it is time we devote some time to trying to learn their language.

Just a thought.

2 thoughts on “It takes two to communicate

  1. Brett, the point you make at the end of this post is why I think Amanda Baggs’s “In My Language” is a landmark in the autism literature/media, on the same scale as Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn For Us”.

  2. I find my 8 year old Autistic son who is non verbal communicate pretty well with me. Yes, with me! In other words maybe i have learnt to listen to him. But slowly its been possible to get others to see what he is trying to say. And each time you notice that there is so much joy in his eyes and great calm in his reaction. A communication board that we have made for him, he has adapted to very well. Its always a two way street, and feeling them is very very important to cut those so called tantrums.. as they are manifestations of his frustration of not being able to be understood.

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