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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  1. Hi today was my oreintation and a guy came to me and asked if i prefer him as a boyfriend i was soshock i camly ask him not to talk about it after that he keeps following me everywhere like literally he would ait beside me and when he was asked if he was single or not by our mentors he said pointing me now iam single but i’d like to get attached to her.it was so embarrassing for me as iam shy/introvert.he kept following me and looking at me but when i look at him he looks away.he was literally peeking at my mobile when i was using it. If i stand up he’ll do the same. He’ll look through the crowd until he finds me and get behind me and follows me. I was so scared how do i tell him to stop it?

  2. I dont feel you should feel at all different from the world , as we are all individuals i think thats the the beauty of creation and i think its exiting to understand the world of autism because i think its who we all really are.

  3. My son has been diagnosed with Autistic
    Spectum Disorder at age 36. It has been 36 years of, mostly, hell. He is highly anxious and scary to be around. His life is in a mess.
    I seem to be the only one in the family trying to understand him. It is very heavy going. I think he’s now at the end of his wits.
    Anything you can tell me in order that I may help him and also for me to cope, because I am taking big strain and I am a bipolar sufferer, would be helpful please?

  4. Hi, I am having a very hard time. My boyfriend of over two years has a 24 year old son who has Asperger’s. I am educated about this however I am having a very hard time trying to find my place. I have tried multiple strategies to connect or interact with him. I have failed every time. I feel awful. I am so uncomfortable. I don’t know whether to make eye contact not to make eye contact. Do I try to talk to him do I not.It seems that what ever I do just makes it worse. I only see him on college break which makes it even harder and his Dad is not comfortable in talking about it. I realize this is not personal however in two years plus we are still strangers! Help

  5. P.S. He told his Dad he does not have room in his life for anyone else, Ouch, again trying not to take it personal….tough. It is putting a strain on our relationship

  6. Thank you so much! I just move to live in my family house. My family is a gay married couple, one is my son and my son in law, who is a very good person with PTSD and Asperger syndrome. Besides, our first language is Spanish and my son in law is a american born. I have having communication issues due to my ignorance on Asperger. I got offended several times; for instance when he said: I do not want you driving me to the store, because your driving makes me nervous, etc. Now I decided to read and get more information. My son always try to explain me the reasons of his spouse ” issues” but I did not get it completely. Thanks again!! God bless you!

  7. Hello my brother is 11 years old and he is autistic too. He can’t speak very well only few people can understand what he is saying . The problem now is not about his language , it is about that he can’t stay in one place he jumps a lot and acting like cartoons and anime , he replay the episodes after watching them on the TV or the PC , he likes climbing every single high place like doors and windows and the closet .. He doesn’t like to talk to me or communicate with me .. He is a bit aggressive when i say that this thing doesn’t belong to him and he keeps saying that it is his only .. he even take things from strange people like take them from them .. Once he saw a girl eating a cake so he just immediately took it from her without permission and ate it .. He does that all the time with us and especially me me when he sees me eating something he want he just takes from it without asking me and i tried hard to explain to him that this is stealing and he keeps saying that it is his only .. even when he wants to use the PC he tells me that it is his PC not mine … He doesn’t like sit with me and write or read … When we are outside and he sees toys , he keeps crying and screaming to get what he wants .. Really a lot of things and it is really hard for us and i don’t know what to do seriously . I am trying to help him because he is growing each year and our society doesn’t understand what does mean autism and i just want him to be calm and speak normally and get out and play normally like other children .. I just wanna know how 😦 please help !

  8. Hey Steve!
    Your tips were really helpful, but I’m still in a fix.
    My Reiki master asked me to meet her friend’s son because they think he’s lonely, I am excited but nervous at the same time, I don’t want to do or say anything that might upset him. Is there anything else I should be aware of?

  9. Gr8 article Steve. I’m a 56 year old man who has recently been recruited into a high level technical job which required me to relocate and I am autistic. My status was never discussed during the recruitment phase and I did not bring it up because it should be a non issue in 2017. I have been on the job for 3 weeks now and have had to push back against prejudice. Assumptions are being made about my abilities based on my rather obvious condition. This is prejudice and my mission in later adulthood is emancipation for autists. It’s up to us early workforce members to pave the way for the future. My attitude to workplace culture is ” im here, deal with it”!!

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  11. Good morning,
    My boyfriend suffers Autism AND ADHD, it is very stressful for me and I love him to pieces but I really really struggle with his tantrums. He limits me on things that he doesn’t like and I’ve noticed he REALLY doesn’t like change. I don’t know how to keep him under control aswell as not being kept on a leash? Please help

  12. I am a mother of an autistic child,I can’t cope it is very difficult I sometimes cry.Don’t know what
    to do at some point

  13. Hello, I appreciate your article. You mentioned that autistic people tend to take things literally and have often trouble reading between the lines. My nephew has high function autism and while communicating to him I have often thought, “would it be helpful for him if I leave out a sarcastic tone and/or joking”? Do you have any feedback on this?
    Thank you,

  14. Thank you Steve, you’ve explained our communication styles & difficulties very well. I was diagnosed with Autism earlier this year and have been picked up several times at work for ‘being rude’, though it was never my intention and is just the way I speak, I quite often feel mis-understood. I’ve sent the link to this page over to them in the hope that it will help them to understand.

  15. This was very clarifying. My cousin has ASD, and I want to be closer to him without crossing any boundaries or making him uncomfortable

  16. Hello, I’m wondering about my boyfriend. I’ve been with him for going on two yrs. He’s been on a substance that alters your energy level and seems to lift depression. But ive been on it too. He’s told me he was in special classes in school and teased and made fun of. I was never struggled in school. But i knew what being teased was like being in a very strict religion. Anyways I think he may be a high functioning autistic person. He’s very good at mechanics he can take pretty much anything apart n fix it. But social he can be a lol off. He doesnt make friends easily and im just wondering.

  17. thanks for writing that. I was only ‘officially’ diagnosed as I turned 40. I have an above average intelligence (supposedly) and have never been able to achieve much due to lack of social skills – I am trying hard but it comes across wrong. I am actually accused of bullying because someone was ‘crying’ and I asked a bit bluntly and forcefully what it was about. Can;t win. (I will- the way they behaved with me is appalling)

  18. This was a very enlightening article for me to read, thank you Steve! I feel like I understand Autism better now and am eager to implement these communication tips this afternoon 🙂 Again, thank you.

  19. Thanks for this article. My son is Autistic and my husband understands himself much better as he also has sensory, communication and a bit of delay in comprehension issues. Communication is difficult with my son.
    He does not understand sarcasm or jokes always either

  20. Steve, you’ve told me. A bunch of things to not do. Can you please tell be bunch of things to do. I’m trying to find how to comm in a complimentary and friendly way

  21. My adult son was recently diagnosed with ASD and he is happy as it now makes sense of his life and why he had problems growing up. I found your list very helpful.

  22. Thank you for these tips. I am a social worker and have a new client that is on the autistic spectrum. I wanted some ideas on how to communicate with her so I can perhaps help her feel more comfortable with me.

  23. That’s a wonderful guide. I worked with a young man who was autistic and he never said a word, but he would often put his hand on my face and look me in the eye and allow me to do the same back. Took a couple of years to get there but was well worth the effort.

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