Working with people who have autism, especially the Asperger Syndrome, can be quite difficult. This is mostly true when communicating with these people as a person needs to train and develop certain specific communication skills in order to deal with these people. Over the course of the years that I have spent with such people, I have had to develop certain very crucial communication skills that involve listening, body language, posture, verbal and non-verbal information, and communication through sign language, makaton, pictures, storytelling, and comics. One of the things to realize about the communication process with these people is that one cannot standardize any one method of communication. This is because each person with autism or the Asperger Syndrome has special needs and one has to understand how best to communicate with the patient.
One of the most important things to understand while dealing with patients of autism and the Asperger Syndrome is to read their body language and also to present oneself in an appropriate manner of body language. This is because these people have a lot of ways to interpret non-verbal communication. There are many times when people communicate without saying a single word, e.g. smiling almost always shows happiness or consent, and frowning depicts displeasure or concern. As it may be, this is probably the first language that was evolved by our hominid ancestors. Two of the gestures that I found were widely used and utilized include the facial expression of smiling, and the tilting of the head as indicators of a person's emotions or feelings. These expressions are the most commonly seen expressions when talking to a person, or when an interview is being conducted. Correctly reading the smiles and the tilting of the head enables the interviewer to gauge the person being interviewed. A few studies have been conducted on smiling and these have distinguished between a few forms of smiling. These include the closed smile, in which the mouth corners are drawn up and out while the teeth remain covered; the upper smile, in which the mouth corners are drawn up and out, and the upper lip is raised, revealing some of the upper teeth while the lower teeth remain covered; and the broad smile, similar to the upper smile, in which both upper and lower teeth are exposed (Otta et al, 1994, 323).
It has been found that the upper smile was the commonest form of smiling in younger patients with autism. It was also found that each form tended to occur in its own characteristic situations, although there was some overlap. The upper smile was commonly seen in the presence of others, especially during group play, showing of objects, verbal interaction, and greeting. The closed smile was seen mainly when the individual was not actively participating in social interaction, for example, when playing alone with toys. The broad smile was usually seen during active play, especially rough-and-tumble play. In spite of the apparent importance of the distinction, studies on smiling perception have not distinguished different topographical forms of smiling. The smiling person was perceived by the subjects to be happier, more attractive, and more intelligent than the nonsmiling person. Adding a smile made both the male and the female stimulus person more attractive, with the effect of smiling on the former more pronounced (Otta et al, 1994, 324).
Another very interesting ways by which communication took place between the workers and the patients was by various visual systems. This is because people with Asperger Syndrome (AS) have “difficulty attending to social cues and experience problems in interpreting such stimuli. In addition, they have difficulty in (a) understanding the beliefs of others, (b) shifting attention, (c) sharing attention with others, and (d) distinguishing relevant from irrelevant stimuli. The relevance of attending to and understanding social cues is imperative because an understanding of the world most often comes from others' verbal cues, gestures, facial expressions, and so forth” (Attwood, 1998; Myles & Simpson, 1998; Rogers & Myles, 2001).
Two of the most commonly used visual systems that used to work very well with the people with autism include social stories and comic strip conversations. The way that these techniques would be used would be that the various situations that appeared as abstract to the people with autism and Asperger syndrome would be represented as concrete depictions and these would allow for the people to reflect. Social stories use a brief narrative that describes a situation, relevant social cues, and responses. Comic strip conversations promote social understanding by incorporating simple figures and other symbols in a comic strip format (Rogers & Myles, 2001; Hagiwara & Myles, 1999; Norris & Datillo, 1999). I would work to draw or assist the various people in drawing and illustrating the social situations so that they could understand the situation on their own level.
This type of a communication method was found to be very appropriate for the people with autism and Asperger syndrome, even though it had its disadvantages. This method was extremely slow and it would take a lot of patience from both the workers as well as the patients' side in order to communicate effectively. Also, this type of communication had its limitation as the patients were unable to convey some of their more intense and complex ideas and emotions. At the same time, many of the people with autism and Asperger syndrome were able to present other ideas very clearly by using illustrations. For instance, one person used to show very irritable behavior during lunchtime and he always used to be late in the cafeteria. No one could understand why until we were able to find out through his illustrations that he thought the people at the table made fun of him. He was able to explain himself by using illustrations and we were able to help him feel better.
After spending time with people who have autism and/or Asperger syndrome, I realized that even though communication can be very difficult to conduct between such people, it is also extremely necessary for their development. It is important for the parents as well as the educators to understand their special needs and to put them through various types of communication ideas that would work to find the best method available to reach out to the patients. What is needed is a range of provision and a resourced policy of helping children move towards more inclusive settings as they, and the settings, are prepared (Jones, 2002). Education also has a therapeutic role in addressing autism as well as the Asperger syndrome and it is this aspect which most specialist approaches address. In both these conditions, which speech may develop without communication so that the autistic person is not able to fulfill any but the most basic of communicative functions (request, protest and self-stimulation). Such people may talk a lot--but they tend to use speech as a barrier to communication rather than co communicate, since it is easier to talk at others rather than trying to follow conversational rules. Thus, all patients of autism and Asperger syndrome need to have a comprehensive communication program. This program would work to deal with three aspects: making sure the patietns are aware of their own needs and share concepts with others; having a means of communication commensurate with their linguistic and semantic level; making sure the environment supports communication through its responsiveness to the communicative attempts of the patient and through supplying the appropriate degree of communicative pressure (Jordan, 2004).
Jordan, R. (2004). Meeting the Needs of Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in the Early Years. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 29, (3): 1
Attwood, T. (1998). Asperger's syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.
Hagiwara, T., & Myles, B. S. (1999). A multimedia social story intervention: Teaching skills to children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 14(2), 82-91.
Jones, G. E. (2002). Educational Provision for Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome. London: David Fulton.
Myles, B.S., & Simpson, R.L. (1998). AS: A guide for educators and parents. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
Norris, C., & Dattilo, J. (1999). Evaluating effects of a social story intervention on a young girl with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 14(3), 180-186.
Otta Emma, Beatriz Barcellos Pereira Lira, Nadia Maria Delevati, OtAvio Pimentel Cesar, Carla Salati Guirello Pires. (1994). The Effect of Smiling and of Head Tilting on Person Perception, Journal of Psychology, 128, (3): 323-4
Rogers, M. F. and Myles, B. S. (2001). Using Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations to Interpret Social Situations for an Adolescent with Asperger Syndrome. Intervention in School & Clinic, 36, (5): 310