At times, it may be difficult to understand what your loved one on the autism spectrum is trying to say, do, or express. It is incredibly important to attune to the subtle gestures and hints that they may be attempting to display. For instance, my little brother, Chetan, tends to stiffen up or become more still when he is irritated or angry. However, when he is happy, he tends to be jumpier or moves around more.
It is not easy to pick up on these cues, especially without direct communication (if your loved one is non-verbal or has difficulty with communication for example). This does not mean that it is impossible to understand cues. Here are some ways to help understand how and what your loved one may be trying to communicate.
1. Read body language. Going back to the example with my brother, sometimes understanding body positions, movements, or even stances can make all the difference. Notice what your loved one does when they are sad, mad, or whatever the emotion may be. This can also apply to feelings that are more positive such as happiness or joy. When my brother is excited, he tends to yell out words or jumps up and down. Reading body language is not easy, so don’t give up if it takes you a few tries! Journaling your observations may help keep track of what you notice and you may begin to see patterns.
2. Ask questions. Now this one may seem like it only applies to people who are verbal, but that isn’t true! The most important thing about asking questions is that it displays interest and concern. We can all pick up on the energy in a room or the mood that someone is conveying. Similarly, a person with autism can sense your tone, your mood, and your intent. My brother who is non-verbal knows when we are asking him a question or to show us something. He has even learned over time when we are “expecting” something of him, whether it is a visual cue or a response.
3. Be patient. Getting frustrated or trying to figure something out as quickly as possible is not the best way to understand anyone, let alone someone with special needs. It is critical to stay calm and take your time with whatever skill you are working on. People notice when you are uneasy or frantic, so try to create a safe and understanding space, as our loved ones on the autism spectrum tend to need more time with communication.
I hope that these suggestions and tips are helpful for anyone who is struggling to understand their loved one. I had a hard time figuring things out with my brother – it took years of observation and lots of patience. We eventually picked up on his tendencies and subtle indications (i.e. a signal that he needs to go to the bathroom or that he would like to go outside somewhere). Stay positive and you’ll discover so much.