The Four Areas of Difference
WHAT your child says
Read more about social communication and
why it’s an area of difference for autistic people
WHY your child
Read more about social understanding and
why it’s an area of difference for autistic people
HOW your child ACTs
Read more about social interaction and why
it’s an area of difference for autistic people
HOW your child EXPERIENCEs
Read more about sensory impact and why it’s
an area of difference for autistic people
What your child says, is all about social communication.
The autistic brain works differently to a neurotypical one and impacts how autistic people communicate.
Idle conversation for us neurotypicals, comes naturally. We instinctively learn social communication skills. That’s not so for autistic people because autism is, by its very definition, a social communication difference.
It doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate but that communication looks different to what the majority of society deem typical.
Autistic people can often struggle to convey not only what they want to say, but how and when to say it. This has huge implications in everyday life and can mean children are unable to get their voice heard. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this failure to be heard can lead to anxiety, which we then may see expressed as frustration, anger, avoidance, refusal and much more.
Why your child misunderstands, is all about social understanding.
So, we already know the autistic brain works differently when compared to a neurotypical one, which impacts how autistic people communicate. But communication is more than the words we use. Indeed, there’s much evidence to suggest our words only represent a fraction of the message we convey – perhaps as little as 7%. We communicate the rest through subtleties like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Those with neurological differences can find it incredibly difficult to understand these social subtleties of communication because this in not how the autistic brain communicates.
Let’s take a quick look at how some of that misunderstanding can arise:
When we speak, we often say what we think we mean and generally those we talk to understand us. For example, if you get a call and say ‘can I call you back in five minutes’, the person the other end isn’t watching the clock and expecting the phone to start ringing at 4m59s! A neurotypical person instinctively understands that what you mean is ‘now’s not good, I’ll call you back as soon as I can’. But that isn’t what we’ve said. An autistic person may struggle to translate the language used with what the messenger intends it to mean. Instead, the autistic person may take what you’ve said literally - they’ll be awaiting your call back in exactly five minutes and can become confused and distressed by this.
Tone of voice
And all the other elements of your voice that determine how you sound, go a long way to helping communicate the meaning of your message. Yet autistic children may not understand the tone of a conversation. It’s why some may misunderstand the severity of a situation or, on the flip side, fail to understand when someone is joking or being sarcastic.
Facial expressions and body language are the most important part of communicating to neurotypical kin, yet autistic people may misread them. This misreading can lead to their confusion around social cues and etiquette (for example when it is appropriate to speak and what it might be appropriate to say). That in turn may lead others to misunderstand them. Perhaps unsurprisingly this failure to understand and be understood, can cause anxiety, leading to behaviours that display as frustration, anger, avoidance, refusal, and the like.
How your child acts or reacts, is all about social interaction and flexibility of thought.
So, the autistic brain works differently to a neurotypical one. Neurotypical brains, for example, can multi-task. By drawing on executive functioning skills, our brains organise thoughts and actions in a nanosecond. Emotional intelligence allows us to think and feel beyond ourselves, to those around us. Broadly speaking, those with a neurotypical brain are aware of the impact their actions have and make decisions accordingly – often without consciously having to think about it. It’s within that context that our social interactions then happen.
The neurodivergent brain is different – it’s not connected in the same way. The autistic brain in monotropic, and can only focus on singular tasks. Autistic children may feel completely overwhelmed by their environment (environments which are exclusively designed and dominated by those with neurotypical brains), because they don’t or can’t automatically make those same connections. Subsequently, what seems logical to us is confusing and overwhelming to them – and as such, they act or react accordingly. To reduce their anxiety, it’s not uncommon for autistic children to have a less flexible (or sometimes seemingly fixed and unmovable) mindset. Their behaviour can present in strict routines. And while that may be difficult for a neurotypical person to understand, that behaviour can offer an autistic child order and structure in what must seem to them an utterly confusing world.
How your child experiences the world, is all about sensory integration and impact.
The autistic brain works differently to a neurotypical one, which means autistic people process and experience the world differently. An autistic child may feel, see, hear, smell and taste very differently to you and me. These physiological differences are so overwhelming for some, that they cause extreme discomfort and can lead to significant daily challenge.
The good news is this is an area where parents can often make small changes, that lead to a big difference
for their child. The bad news is, this is also the area a child suffers most when we fail to address their needs in the other three areas of their difference. When a child is feeling anxious, their body becomes hyper-sensitive. Being in an anxious state then has a knock-on effect which heightens their senses and can lead to overwhelm.
We all need to take time out to de-stress, relax and re-fuel. Autistic children find doing that difficult because their brain struggles to self-regulate. They need our support to enable them to reduce their anxiety, to reduce that hyper-sensitivity, and we must explicitly teach them how to do that, and give them the time to do that, which takes careful management, patience and time.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is our body’s built-in survival defence mechanism. It’s our response to a perceived threat. It
can present itself in four ways:
3. Freeze, and
4. Fawn sometimes described as fake
Many autistic children experience huge amounts of anxiety as they work to mask their difficulties to fit into our neurotypical society. Living with high anxiety is exhausting for anyone. Living with high anxiety when it’s compounded with a social communication difference – we can’t begin to imagine.
What we do know though, is that without the right support, eventually a permanently anxious child melts down or burns out. All the tools, tips, and techniques I share help reduce your child’s anxiety. A less anxious child helps mitigate a fight, flight, freeze, or fake response and its corresponding distress behaviour. A less anxious child is a happier child, and a happier child makes for a happier home. Ultimately, my aim is to help you create a home environment that reduces your child’s anxiety so they can thrive, not just survive or, worse still, nosedive.