Communicating with other persons or groups of persons is something the majority of people take for granted. Some people are unfortunately born blind and or deaf and have an obvious problem communicating with others, which quite often with help can be overcome. However the problem for the person with AS is that for the majority they can see and hear the same as other persons. A lot of them can talk as well and hold a conversation that may be classed as both intellectual and academic by many of their friends and peers.
From my own perspective this can cause many issues, some major others minor that the neurotypical (NT) person will not be aware of. This unawareness is not something the NT person is doing on purpose; rather it is in my experience a natural reaction to communicating with a person who at first glance has no obvious problems in communicating with others. For example if a NT person was to engage in a talk with a person who was blind or deaf the potential barriers to talking to them are obvious. The NT person has to make extra and necessary provisions in order to effectively talk to the person with an impairment.
But it is a very different story when it comes to communicating with a person who has AS. At first glance this person looks no different to any other NT person and although the NT person may be aware that the other person has a diagnosis of AS, this can quickly be forgotten as the two persons begin to converse because there are no obvious physical signs of any impairment that impacts on the AS person’s ability to communicate. However whilst there are no obvious and visible impairments there are many non-visible impairments that have an effect on the AS person to communicate effectively.
I shall now go through these in more detail. I will reiterate however that these are my own thoughts on how these impairments effect the ability of an AS person to communicate effectively and are drawn from my own personal experience.
The first issue to deal with is speed of cognitive processing. As a species the human race has largely evolved to be able to deal with large amounts of information, whether that is verbally or orally in this instance. Information is produced by another person, analysed, and processed and a reply formulated in a split second. However for the person with AS this is quite often not the case. Information processing can be a long and arduous process in comparison to the neurotypical person. Information is received much the same but at this stage it is just a load of separate and disparate noises that overload the mind to breaking point.
All of this information then needs to be categorised and reassembled into something not only more meaningful but also logical and structured. In effect what the AS person is doing is putting this information into filing cabinets in their mind and then linking up the filing cabinets to establish what information goes where and why.
Once this process is done an answer can be formulated from the information gathered and given back to the NT recipient. And for the person with AS this is not a quick and easy process. it can be seconds or minutes for the information to be processed and manipulated in a way that the AS person feels comfortable with and during this time the AS person is feeling under increasing stress and pressure because of the need to give a reply quickly in order to avoid the embarrassment of being perceived as thick, stupid or dumb.
All these thoughts and many more are going through the AS mind all at once and this very often results in overload and meltdown. This can also lead to inappropriate behaviour because their mind is overloaded, they cannot cope with so much information at once and they feel pressurised into coming up with an action or response in an instant. Because they cannot cope with the pressure, stress and expectation of the situation they may say or do something inappropriate because they feel they must do something to move on from the situation. This is especially true in new or unprepared for situations and environments
Just hearing the words correctly can be a problem for a person with AS. So many words coming at that from seemingly everywhere and none of them making any sense can put the AS person under intense pressure to perform so to speak. This can very often result in the mishearing of words and sentences with the response being an unexpected or inappropriate one to the NT recipient. Sometimes this can be laughed off as a bit of a joke, but even then for the AS person it can be a deeply embarrassing situation and again result in the perception that others think them stupid, thick or dumb. In these situations the AS person may remain silent from embarrassment or join in the joke and dumb down their intellectual behaviour to avoid embarrassment.
The third and sometimes the most damaging problem with issues of communication are assuming the level of natural ability an AS person has and that they can adopt this behaviour for different situations. When it is assumed that because a person appears to be NT and can function just like everybody else does, this leads to the assumption that they are like everybody else and can communicate much the same as a NT person. Whilst there are many instances when this does occur, this is because in the main the AS person has either prepared for this situation well in advance or has been through this situation many times before and has a prepared knowledge and expectation of what will happen. It is when this changes unexpectedly and the changes are not noted in advance to the AS person or if the situation is new in content and environment, that this can cause problems for them as detailed above about new or unprepared for situations.
What is most important here is to remember that the AS person has hidden disabilities and just because they are hidden does not make them any less debilitating to that person than someone with a seen disability. Remember that this person is trying their hardest to do their best in order to fit in to society and all the expectations that, that brings with it. In doing this they are attempting to analyse and process information in a way that overloads their brains very quickly and results in them feeling embarrassed and stupid. It is vital that the AS person is given the necessary time to analyse and process the information and that they are reassured that this extra time will not impact negatively on the outcome of the encounter.
Quite often this can result in instructions being repeated more times to an AS person than would be to a NT person, but this can also have the benefit of a deeper understanding of the instructions and far better work resulting from it. The opposite side of this is that the NT person may interpret this as a sign of not understanding when it is far from the case. It is in fact a case of ensuring instructions are understood beyond any doubt so that the AS person can then perform them to the utmost of their abilities time and time again without further need for instruction or supervision.
So please remember all the AS person wants is more time to process and analyse information and support and reassurance that this extra time will not impact on any outcomes from the encounter.