10 Tips on How to Communicate with Autistic People

Guest Post by Steve Summers*

1. Please always keep in mind that communication difficulties are common with Autism. We have difficulties in reading social cues and body language. Be patient and understanding.

2. We tend to take things literally and have often trouble reading between the lines. As a result, we may ask a lot of questions to clarify what is meant by something that you say. I have been told that I ask a lot of questions. Don’t be offended by this. It is our way of being sure that we understand what you are telling us. We may repeat back to you in our own words to try and get on the same page as you.

3. If we misunderstand something that you say, please be patient and expand on what you said and explain what you meant. Don’t assume a negative or hostile intent from us if we misunderstand something that you said. Keep in mind that communication can be difficult for us. Things that come naturally to you take extra effort by us.

4. Please don’t get offended by our communication style. We tend to be frank, honest and matter of fact. Some people may interpret this as blunt or rude. We don’t intend to offend you by not sugar coating the things that we say. We don’t intend to be rude. Please don’t get defensive or assume that we are attacking you. Remember that communicating is hard for us. Don’t make negative assumptions. Too often we get corrected or attacked by someone who fails to give us some slack and the benefit of the doubt.

5. Please don’t expect eye contact. We may be able to force eye contact, but it is not comfortable for us. Making eye contact takes a conscious effort. This effort may take away from listening and understanding what you are saying. I tend to look at a person’s mouth more often than their eyes. Other autistic people will rarely look at your face. This is ok.

6. Please keep in mind that we most likely have been rejected, excluded, ridiculed or bullied in the past. If we seem anxious or insecure this may be due to living in a world that misunderstands us and is often hostile to us. We have to work hard to reach out to others. Please work at reaching back to us with understanding and kindness. If we feel that you are ignoring us we will feel bad about that. We may persist in asking for feedback from you. Please be reassuring and clearly express your support for us.

7. Please don’t speak down to us. Treat us as equals. We may sound flat or have an unusual tone to our voice. We may not speak with our voice at all. We may need to type our words. Please be patient with us. It may take us a while to formulate our answers.

8. Please don’t talk too loudly or yell at us. It is very jarring to us. It makes me jump when someone comes up to me and talks too loudly. It is like having someone jump out in the dark yelling “BOO!” at me. It causes an adrenalin dump in my body. I don’t like this.

9. Please do NOT touch us without warning. It will make us jump. We don’t like unexpected touches.

10. Please don’t assume that we lack empathy or emotion. We pick up on negative or judgmental attitudes. We know when people look down on us or are hostile to us. We will shut down if you show us a lack of respect.

Please keep in mind that we are all different. These issues will vary from person to person. The above tips are written from my perspective as an autistic person. This is just a guide. Feel free to ask me any questions so that I may expand and clarify any areas that aren’t clear to you. Thank you for reading this guide. ~ Steve Summers

*Steve Summers

I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (part of the Autism Spectrum) as an adult. I was diagnosed following my 11-year-old son’s diagnosis with Aspergers. I am happy to have my diagnosis. It was like a light being turned on that illuminated my entire life in a new way. Now I understand why I never really ‘fit in.’ It is like having a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders to have my diagnosis.

I don’t feel that people should make divisions between parts of the Autism Spectrum. I am autistic and I want to work to make the world a better, more understanding and accepting place for all autistic people. We need to work together for the benefit of all on the Autism Spectrum. 

I wrote this list due to continuing difficulties that I have had with the give and take of communicating with others. Many people seem too easily offended because they fail to understand these things about me. We all need understanding and acceptance.

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113 Comments

  1. >Hi Lucewoman and thankyou for cienmmtong. It is true what you say; just because someone wants to socialise it is assumed that they are not autistic. The other wrong assumption that I have come across is the view that because someone is with other children that that child is socialising. Yet it is the nature of the interaction and communication that needs to be observed and listened to rather than just observing them from afar in the playground.Hi Lizbeth. I agree plus a girls symptoms of ASD can be more subtle and hardly recognised or understood. But because they are subtle doesn’t mean they are any less difficult for her than a boy who may show his ASD in a more expressive way such as my son.

  2. Hi have 15 year old son with autism doing well in mainstream school but its always hard from day to day!!!

    1. I have a relative of a similar age with Asperger’s. He is doing really well and has some wonderful friends but it’s clear he struggles sometimes too.

  3. Pingback: One « Autismum
  4. I’m a NT and I find this info of great value…keep writing tips for the communit,so we can learn about how you think, process,interperate,dream,communicate back to us… NT’s. Great work

  5. Great post about things that ring true whether you are an adult or child with autism. My aspie hubby still isn’t always able to look me in the eye, but I understand this about him. My guys would agree with most of this list as well – respect is the name of the game, for sure!

  6. This is lovely… but I’m saddened that it’s needed. I have so many autie friends that all these things are second nature to me now and I forget that most NTs find them difficult!

  7. I’m really grateful for this article! A close friend of the family adopted an autistic kid and I was so excited to finally meet him. I prepared myself before this encounter to be able to communicate with the kid, as I know that it’s difficult to talk when it comes to autism. I found lots of well-written articles like this one, but it was hard to put the tips into action. When I met the little boy, I was very nervous and everything I said appeared wrong to me. I felt really bad, even though I tried very hard. Everybody told me that this was normal and I shouldn’t be too worried about it. But I was so determined to make the little boy feel safe around me, that I consulted a professional coach on a website called Your24hCoach. I told my coach about the “unsuccessful” encounter that day and he was really skilled! He kinda explained the world to me from the eyes of an autistic person. All of a sudden I understood what it might be like to be autistic. Helped me a lot! The next encounter was successful for both of us 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment. I love that an autistic child has found a loving home and so much effort is being made to understand him. You are an amazing, supportive friend.

  8. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this excellent blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding
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    share this site with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

  9. To Steve Summers: While this helps me understand things a bit better, I need to add that “honesty” is not always based on the truth, but on how you yourself feel about something. There are many things that influence this, including how you were raised, what you’ve seen around you etc. I mean, you are still making judgements and not always speaking of facts. I’m saying this since a few months ago, an autistic acquaintance who I’d thought of as a new friend said something that really hurt me very much, and it was not based on any facts, but on life as he saw it which may come from how some people around him view things. I mean, he may have been repeating other people’s biases. So he said this thing to me and it was very upsetting and really shook me up for a while. When I tried to tell him that saying things like that are very hurtful and untrue and affect the other person’s self esteem, he only focussed on himself and said, “I don’t like what you are saying, It upsets me”. Such a response can only seem selfish. Although he had also explained just before this that he was autistic, it seemed that everything had to be about him. He’s autistic so I have to be nice to him and not tell him how he upset me, but he can say what he likes to me and not learn not to make biased remarks around one topic.

    Telling us to be patient is one thing but we all have areas where we can learn to respect others’ feelings and this should be mutual. The strongest feeling I had in that situation was that he was chauvinistic and selfish, and using his problem as his excuse. He was in his 30s and a professional who deals with many people, so he can learn not to say certain things to people he hardly knows. And this one topic would have wrong for most people in this society.

    On the other hand, I had a previous autistic acquaintance who was sometimes a little arrogant seeming and competitive, but I never knew him to make biased or cruel remarks. I know everyone is different, but people can still learn.

    1. To Steve Summers: While this helps me understand things a bit better, I need to add that “honesty” is not always based on the truth, but on how you yourself feel about something.
      Actually, truth is how one feels about something. For example, somebody who truly believes they are Jesus will pass a polygraph with flying colours when answering “yes” upon being asked if they are Christ, even though that is not the fact.

  10. Hi, I know someone who is autistic but he can not speak at all, he cn only pronounce a couple of vowels. I tried to communicate nd play with him today as it was first time meetin him, I told him I was his friend as he asked me. He was tryin to play clapping game with me and asked to tie shoelaces however I think that he is very clever in some aspects considering he can not communicate like he can always find his way back to places! Please give me advice for him as I think he is severely autistic.

    1. Hiya, I will let Steve know you are asking for advice. In the meantime the blog tiny grace notes is a wonderful source of info and you may want to try We Are Like Your Child – a wonderful blog written by autistic people for non autistic people.

  11. I feel like you captured a lot of me in your guidelines. We are obviously different people and don’t necessarily exhibit the same symptoms, but I almost felt like you were talking about me. For once, I know that someone else totally gets it. Thank you. =)

    1. You are very welcome. It really helps me as well to know that I am not alone. Others have very similar experiences. It is great to hear someone say, “Me too!” We don’t feel so alone or isolated when we know that others are going through these issues as well.

  12. Reblogged this on Autistic Aloha and commented:
    Go check out the wonderful blog, Autismum. I have some guest posts hosted over there from before I began my own blog. This ’10 Tips’ blog post is one that has been very popular. Go check out the other posts as well on Autismum.com. Lot’s of great reading there! ❤

  13. I have an 18year old son who is severely autistic and non verbal. it has always amazed me what the reaction of other children in a public place such as the supermarket is. adults tend to stare at us more than the kids do.

  14. Really appreciate ur comments and am taking them very seriously I do have one question: How does one listen to non verbal person and communicate with him?

  15. Hi , my daughter is two and was reacently diagnosed with autisem . Eventhough I try to read as much as I can find about Autisem , I cant seem to find out what’s the best way to interackt with my child. If anyone has any advice that would be very helpfull:)

  16. One more thought about communicating with a person with Asbergers. I have found that my older son enjoys texting much more than a phone call. Communication is very important and we need to figure out a way to keep in touch. Telephones scare him while texting is very non threatening.

  17. my friend somewhat, suffers from austim, we just figured it out, i am trying to help her, it is tough, but we will make it through, please send her your thoughts and prayers thank you for this great site,

  18. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both educative
    and engaging, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something too few folks are speaking intelligently about.
    Now i’m very happy that I came across this in my search for
    something regarding this.

  19. I have a younger cousin with Autism, he has been diagnosed and it is official. He is 2 years old and all I want to do is talk to him as he always is walking away, or he says random words and..I dont know, how do I talk to him?

  20. hi there.. I have several friends who are autistic and I wish to communicate with them. at the same time I’m afraid of hurting them. do you mind replying me via email, then can I ask you questions? thank you for this post.

  21. I have just started to work with mentally disordered adults and have one young man who is severely autistic. I’m so glad I connected with this site as I want so badly to be able to help him. I will continue to use patience and listen more to “body language” than what he may or may not be saying. My job is to help my clients become more self sufficient and develop the self worth that has been beat our of them over the years. I am working through our local community services and have had very little experience it this area. Thanks for the insight you’ve been able to provide.

  22. i get frustrated by a friend who i am sure is autistic. he will recall the past and be insistent that is what happened when it is not case something else happened. his attitude of being right is difficult to take and last nite wore me down as he recalled 2 or 3 experiences.

  23. my son is 3 and has been diagnosed with ASD he does not say a word or have any way to communicate with us. he gets so frustrated that we don’t understand him. any tips on how to help deal with this frustration that can lead to awful meltdowns?

    1. The pediatric team who made the diagnosis should usually have a team of experts at hand ready to help your son and your family with these type of challenges; assuming that his hearing etc have been checked – have you tried sign language or a simplified version fo sign language?

  24. Hi, Do u ever stop communicating for weeks at a time with someone that u like, or does this mean u don ‘t like them when u ignore phone calls and texts? Please help me. Thank you 🙂

  25. Thank you for this post! My husband has a difficult time communicating with me (I’m autistic) and I think this is a concise and straightforward way of explaining my what I have been trying to articulate politely for years

  26. Thank you for all these comments and to Steve. My 47 year old son has just been diagnosed with ASD and also his 14 year old son. MY son is very pleased about the diagnosis as he too feels as though a weight has been lifted from him. I welcome these posts as finally I can understand some ot the problems we have had

  27. Thanks for the tips. I’ve got a couple of friends with aspergers, and I’ve never had any trouble communicating with them, but I wanted to make sure I was doing right by my autistic customers at work!

  28. I have had a bad past of being bullied but I have not let that get to me , I have got a full time job an also passed my driving test . I do my best every day to reach my goals an to become a more confident person

  29. Hi I have a son 6 I was in and out of his life. We spent time together. The mother of my son says he remember s me from pictures. I just really want him to know I love him. I know going in to detail about life isnt going to be helpfully. I just want the best way to come at him. Don’t want to over do it and scare him. Hopefully u can help me seeing him in a week

  30. I am working with an autistic person. I work and live in a house he bought sight unseen. My job is to rehabilitate the property. i get frustrated because there are several requests that he makes that are sometimes not normal. I want to communicate with him effectively but sometimes I’m not sure. There have been several instances where he is absolutely sure that his way is the right way and when I try to tell him that there is a better way, he won’t budge. It’s like he doesn’t trust me. Help.

  31. Thank you so much for writing this. My husband and I have a hard time after we get married because of our communication issue. This comes into my mind because my husband showed a lot of symptoms of autism including the ones that you listed here and others that I read other places. Just as you said it is like a light is turned on now we are working together to communicate better and have more understanding and respect for each other. For adults, it is more important to know the diagnosis because they are assumed to function well in the society. Thank you so much! -Jing

  32. Hello Steve, I am married to wonderful man who has been diagnosed with ASD. I have difficulty understanding how to speak to him and how to interpret what he is saying to me without getting upset. I love him deeply and must learn how to do so urgently. Could you elaborate on effective ways to express respect and love to an autistic person that is deeply hurt and afraid.

    1. Hi Mich

      Well #1 thing here is that you love him and think he is wonderful. He needs to know that.

      Us Aspies take everything in. We just don’t necessarily process, or act on, the same bits you do. We tend to prioritize the logical aspects over the emotive – which is pretty well the opposite of what you may well do. If you say things that make sense to you but the logic of the words means something else then hubby will be lost. My ex did this all the time and when I questioned to clarify she would just repeat and repeat the same thing with escalating anger. I would try to be more logical about the issue. Not a good outcome for either of us. Learn to make a better match between what you mean and the actual words you say.

      Also watch that if you are upset with the world that he will (probably) assume you are upset with him if you don’t keep your anger clearly on the right object. He will (also probably) try making very logical suggestions on how to proceed. Don’t ignore him as this is how we help. If he has decent social skills (as I assume he does seeing you married him) then he may well have very good advice.

      Check to see he isn’t depressed (even mildly). Sadly this isn’t too uncommon for us as we get frustrated with the world easily as we feel trapped, esp when those closest to us shut us down or out.

      Best of luck and remember to show him you love him in simple and clear ways and you are at least half way there.

      🙂

  33. Steve, your response to Mitch helps me understand some questions I’ve been struggling with, especially when you reference logical responses versus emotional responses/actions. If you could further respond to your thoughts on my situation, I would greatly appreciate it.

    I have been dating someone for the past 6 months that was diagnosed with autism at an early age, but feels he’s grown out of it in his adult years. He is very successful in his career and seems to be a wonderful father. So I compare our relationship to one that is “normal” in terms of communication. To make matters more complicated, we are in a long distance relationship. I jumped right into a relationship when I first met him, almost too quickly, but I went with it. We saw each other as much as possible, talked on the phone, and facetimed whenever possible.

    Fast-forward, he now mostly texts me when it seems convenient for him, but he does always text that he loves me and we do text just about everyday. In the past 3 weeks, I’ve gone through a transition, moving, etc and he’s only called 2 times and thinks he’s made an effort in terms of communication with this relationship. This is not the first “silent” period of time we’ve had.

    In addition, I find he prioritizes his work and children ahead of me. I do think this is an admirable quality on one hand, but on the other, it’s as if he has so much on his plate that he can’t deal with anything else, including me. He says he’s committed to only me and wants to make it work long term. I’ve told him I need more in terms of communicating.

    Do I have unreasonable expectations with him? Do people really outgrow autism? I want to be fair with him as I do see a wonderful, caring person, but he continuously checks out without any notice which in return hurts me. When we work, it’s great, but then all of a sudden something will happen that makes it hard to be in a relationship with him. I do love him, but feel underappreciated in this relationship. It’s nothing I haven’t expressed to him… perhaps I’ve expressed it in the wrong way? I hate that he continues to text me and not talk these things out.

    I am seeking to understand my part in this equation. How can he be so effective in some aspects of his life yet not in others? How can I better communicate with him based on what I’ve shared?

  34. Im living with a roommate who has autism. if you could email me back personally that would be great. i have some questions i would like to ask.

  35. This page sums me up. I am a eighteen year old with Asperger syndrome, and am still trying to learn how to cooperate with it as days go by. Thanks for the helpful page Steve Summers.

  36. Dear Steve, Thank you very much for your insightful essay. I’ll be volunteering with Autistic artists soon, and I want to learn and understand as much as possible how they might think or feel so that we might best share and communicate. Your thoughts and writing are excellent– thank you so much for posting them! x

  37. I have a twin sister that has Asperger’s She was sent to live with my aunt after elementary school because she was too violent for my grandmother to handle. She is now on a house where she has a house mate with also issues and there are workers that are there one at a time all the time to help them take care of themselves. I am becoming a nurse and hope that one day I can take care of her but I want to know what could be causing her to be so violent out of anger or how to get her to take a shower or do daily hygiene chores without a hatful up roar from her. She is very kind in nature but has little trust in others due to the way we were brought up. She respects me and listens to me but I have never had to do the hard stuff with her. She also has mild CP in her legs and feet. This makes things very difficult for her to get around and now has extreme edema in her legs which is quite scary to me. I want to save her from the hardened life she has had. How can I do that? Are there any tips to avoid anger or violent triggers?

  38. I have been seeing a man for almost a year that is several years younger than me that I am sure is autistic. I have not asked him for fear of upsetting him. I have learned how to talk to him..know the second I have said something he can not comprehend.. normally me being sarcastic..learned how to not be so emotional…I now kinda freak a little when he actually looks me in the eye…but reading this has helped me in one aspect soooo much. I keep trying to get him to put a label on our relationship…are we dating…are we friends with benefits…are we boyfriend girlfriend…his response is always..” So I guess you want to get married ” I am always upset by this…why does dating have to lead to marriage??? Well because for him that is why you date…so logical in this illogical world…going to address this totally differently now…reading these sites is so helpful for the illogical people (like me) in this world.
    Thanks,

  39. Thank you for this amazing post. I am on the autism spectrum and this brings tears to my eyes – I feel like I have found other people who understand my day to day struggles. Thank you for educating others and reaching out to people in hopes of fostering understanding.

  40. this is very helpful for me because when i look for these things usually it’s from the perspective of a parent of an autistic child and is not taking into consideration how we actually feel, but instead how allistic people can “handle” being around autistics and it is usually in accurate. it’s hard for me to put this sort of thing into words when people ask me but this does a really exellent job and perfectly describes it. there really needs to be more stuff that is written with autustic people in mind by other autistic people insead of allistics thinking they can speak for us or on our behalf

  41. I think this is great to be able to find this information, my son has autism and now that he is older as Berger syndrome and my boyfriend doesn’t understand autism now maybe he will stop thinking he needs to grow up and stop feeling like my son is rude! Maybe now he can just accept himfor the wonderful person he actually is! Thanks for sharing your story!

  42. I love this post! It is very explanatory! I have aspergers/high functioning autism. Once I got let go of a job because they said “I ask too many questions” I was only there a week. They were supposed to train me for 6 hours but my trainer left me alone after just an hour.

  43. Hello. I would also like to add to this. Please do not talk to us too fast. I sometimes cannot keep up with the conversation if you speak too fast. And if you’re going to give instructions, please write it down in bullet points. Most of us have terrible working memories.
    Thank you for the article, Steve. 🙂

  44. Hi, I have an autistic neighbor and unlike you he has a much greater difficulty expressing himself coherently. He repeats the same questions and speaks of the same events all the time. I have lived next door since he was 11 years old and he is now 20. He loves to come over to my house a d visit, in fact it is many times a required ritual for him or he becomes extremely agitated. I would love to better communicate with him and even work with him in a manner that may benefit him and his abilities but I am unsure of how to proceed. It qould wonderful if I could expand my knowledge through your eyes as you have an insight that I cannot have. I hope this makes it to you and maybe we can further talk. My email is bflotim @yahoo.com. Thanks.

  45. hello it has helped me a lot in my profession and understanding individual I work with do you have any thoughts or ideas on how I can encourage somebody to communicate with me about their feelings specifically in the area of getting along with their family this person is having a lot of difficulty and feels out of place within a family unit of siblings and parents specifically in the area of integration into her own immediate family family vacations board games walks together bike rides or any kind of family activity seems to send this individual off the deep end or into a tirade of angry accusations finger-pointing and total anger this person refuses to get counseling and is 19 years old anything you can do to point me in the right direction to alleviate some stress from her life or give her the opportunity to communicate her feelings with me would be wonderful hopefully I’m not asking for too much thank you again for any help you can give me

  46. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s and then no other support at all. I’m finding it hard to find much information specifically related to Aspeger’s than autism as a whole. All I was told to do was look at videos on youtube, but they class it all as autism and I don’t feel as if I have anything in common with low functioning autistics.

  47. My boss is autistic, and it has very nearly ruined my life and career. I believe the victims of workplace autism deserve a voice, and we should expect HR departments nationwide to adopt a coherent set of criteria and protections for those of us on the receiving end. I appreciate the need for empathy and patience, but those of us who are forced to endure, day after day, year after year, the bullying and sociopathy of autistic people deserve to be heard, too.

  48. Hello. I agree with this. I am a Autistic Aspergers adult and I find my romantic relationship to be difficult. I noticed I can have the effects of OCD. It seems like if something doesn’t go right in my day, I get upset for the rest of the day and it affects my significant other. He constantly gets upset because I get that way and always wonders why I am like that. I’m not sure myself but I want to know if it’s associated with Autism or Aspergers. I feel like I may need therapy or a psychologist to help me understand. I don’t think my partner has done research and has gotten a good understanding of being in a relationship with a person with Autism because he thinks he doesn’t have to because he has an autistic sister. It’s gotten to the point where it is crippling my relationship. How do I get help with this?

  49. Thanks, Steve! I’ve been able to intuit some of this from reading about some basic premises of how autism works, how autistic people experience the world and communication in general, but sometimes I’ve had a hard time explaining this to coworkers who don’t know anything about autism.. Some people get frustrated and defensive when they encounter difficulty in understanding or making themselves understood in conversation — especially with high-functioning autistic people such as yourself — because without obvious (perhaps visual?) cues, they assume that everyone they encounter perceives and understands everything exactly the same way that they do. When they fail to connect after a couple of tries, they feel embarrassed, get defensive and respond in an angry way because they don’t like feeling or appearing inadequate, especially if they’ve had trouble with communication before. Your clear descriptions, explanations and suggestions make a perfect list to share with them when I see this happening, because it’s not me telling them what to do — it comes from you directly, so they can see it from your perspective. I appreciate that you took the time to write this and post it!

  50. Thank you for this post. I am a college professor and I currently have a student I believe to be autistic (he has discussed “various disabilities” – his words – but I am not sure exactly his diagnosis). In any case, I really want to connect with him and make sure he knows I care about his participation and enjoyment of our class. But I can’t read him or interpret his mood or attitude toward me or our class. Your post is really helpful in giving me a sense of how to best communicate with him on his terms. Feel free to offer more advice. (For example, should I call on him in class? Will he be uncomfortable if I ask him his preference (for being called on or not) one-to-one in my office hours in private? I know that each person is unique, but it really helps just to get some perspective – even if it may not be my student’s perspective, it’s nice to get some dialogue.)

  51. I read this all and assume you didn’t lie about being autistic.I am really impressed how you tell other people how to treat the autistic ones.I came here because I want to help one boy.I once asked my art teacher if anyone is interesed in art like me she replied that there is one boy called Michael and added that he is autistic.I realised I wanted to meet him and help him.I looked at him in the corridor when people were bullying him.Sometimes told them to leave him alone and I was looking for an advice how to treat him because I decided to be the one who looks after him <33. (Not english , dont judge the language)

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