Nonverbal communication from an autistic’s perspective
Written on 17th Oct 2017 by Alex Lowery
Today I am blogging about the difficulty many autistic people have with nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication mostly refers to the ability to read body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. This is something many people on the autistic spectrum struggle with. It’s certainly a difficulty I have in a lot of ways. I tend to be focussed on what someone says (verbal communication) rather than nonverbal communication. Today I’m writing about Nonverbal communication from my own perspective, and how much I understand each type. Note – that these are my own personal experiences and they won’t necessarily be the same for all other people on the autistic spectrum.
Tone of Voice – To tell you the truth, I am mostly an auditory learner so out of the three forms of nonverbal communication; this one for me is the easiest. I am able to pick up different emotions through tone of voice. I enjoy acting and I am able to change my own voice to fit with the correct emotion I’m meant to be portraying. When someone’s tone of voice is clearly very cross, I will pick that much up even if what they were saying didn’t fit with their tone. In fact; when I come to listen to Audio Books, I can’t stand ones that are read with no emotion at all. I want to experience feeling and passion put into the voice over’s tone. So I am able to understand tone of voice to a point. However, I can’t say that I have no problem with it because there are definitely struggles I still have with it. When someone is being sarcastic, there are times when I’m not able to tell. It works both ways as well because when I try to be sarcastic; it doesn’t always seem to be obvious to others because I sometimes lack the ‘sarcastic’ tone if voice. I also find that with tone of voice; I’ not able to understand the more subtle differences in tone. If someone is starting to get angry, but still in the process of trying to control it; I may not pick up on the subtle change in tone. There are also some emotions that I wouldn’t be able to pick up through tone such as ‘confusion’ and a few others. So with tone of voice, I do have difficulty but I am able to pick it up to a point.
Facial expressions – As a young child, I was taught facial expressions and what they mean. I’ve learned what set expressions look like, but actually picking all of them up in real life is much more tricky for me. It’s hard to pick them up in general social settings. Every now and again, there are facial expressions I can pick but unless they’re really obvious; it can be very difficult. I think the difficulty a lot of autistics have with facial expressions could be one of the reasons why thinks like ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ and ‘Japanese Anime’ are really popular among autistics; because the facial expressions featured tend to be very exaggerated which makes them easier to understand.
Body Language – Body Language is by far the most difficult of the three for me personally. I can hardly read body language at all! It comes naturally to most people. A lot of people see to instinctively pick up on body language and automatically know what it means. It’s not even something they have to be taught! They just seem to naturally pick it up. I have no idea how! As a child, I was taught set gestures. As a result, I am able to pick up on certain gestures, but only if they’re painfully obvious (although body in language in general is probably obvious to most people). I completely miss day-to-day body language like it doesn’t even exist. As a result of this, I often have absolutely no clue what someone else is thinking in a situation, so I’ll go with guesswork and a lot of my guesses are completely wrong. Believe it or not; until I was in my teens I didn’t even realise that Body Language was such a part of communication. I knew that there were gestures I had learned, but I didn’t realise people are using body language all the time (apparently even more than verbal communication). This honestly surprises me, because my focus is mostly on what they say and I struggle to understand ‘unclear’ language even then.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to comment explaining your perception of nonverbal communication.
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