For much of my life, I have had a hard time understanding not only the non-verbal communication of others, but how my own non-verbal communication affected others. Sometimes, if I was irritated at someone, I would simply keep my mouth shut, the rationale being, “They can’t hold me accountable for something I didn’t say.” What I failed to realize was that sometimes silence speaks louder than anything you could say, or that you could say one thing, but your facial expressions, actions, and certainly body language tell the real story.
In a similar vein, I didn’t realize that just because someone answers your questions, it doesn’t always mean they have much interest in talking to you. For instance, if they look away, give one or two word answers, or don’t answer at all, that’s a clear sign they are either not interested in talking to you, or are pre-occupied at the moment. Yes, you probably already knew that, but if you’re on the autism spectrum, however high-functioning you may be, that may be somewhat hard to grasp.
For me to handle these situations appropriately, I have to set my mind to it and make a point of looking for the non-verbal clues that come so easily to those not on the spectrum. For instance, one day I asked a co-worker about something non-work related. I told myself beforehand that if he gave me an abrupt or one-word answer, I would just let it go. As it happened, he answered, and then went on to elaborate on his answer. I took that as an invitation to inquire further, which I did, and he again gave me a friendly answer.
The point is, if I’m going to be appropriate in personal interactions, I have to go into it with a “battle plan,” and anticipate how I’ll react to not just what the other person says, but also to how they say it, and other non-verbal social cues. Many times, people don’t believe I have Asperger’s because my social skills have improved somewhat over the years, but what they don’t realize is, I had to do a lot of work to get to where I am, and I’m still working on it. Remember that, socially, the Aspie is a work in progress. But then, aren’t we all?
Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger's in his late 30's. He recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at ATC, where he works as Administrative Assistant to Dr. Carolyn Garver. He has been married for two years, and his wife also works at ATC as a Teaching Assistant.