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 always realize that just because someone answers your questions doesn’t 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 coworker 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 continued 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 nonverbal social cues.
Many times, people don’t believe I have Asperger’s because my social skills have improved 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?
by Ken Kellam
Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in his late 30’s, and has worked with Autism Treatment Center of Texas since 2003. He is currently the administrative assistant to the clinical director. He also helps facilitate three different self-advocate groups, and in the Spring of 2015 was presented with the “Angel Award” by the National Autism Association of North Texas for the works he has done with these groups. He has also done public speaking on the subject of autism/Asperger syndrome, and has spoken to various educational and parental groups. When not involved with autism, Ken has led the singing at the same church since 1988, and has also been the fill-in preacher at this same church. In 2006 he was called on to sing the National Anthem at the Autism Society of America’s national convention in Dallas, and performed the same song at ATC’s rodeo fundraiser. He also enjoys writing, and formerly wrote articles for a website dedicated to reality television. In 2011 he got married for the first time, and his wife Rachel works for ATC in Adult Services. Ken graduated from Oklahoma Christian University in 1987 with a Bachelor’s in Mass Communications, and once worked as a radio traffic reporter, interactive announcer and writer, and news producer in Dallas. He views Asperger’s as a difference, not a defect, and has come to appreciate the positive aspect’s of Asperger’s.