I believe that most individuals on the autism spectrum have atypical sensory systems. We have five senses, and any, more or all can be impacted so that an individual with ASD perceives information differently from the “general population”.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders often do not pick up on extra linguistic cues, such as facial expressions, tone of voice, contextual cues.
Visual information is easier to learn for most individuals that I work with, so you might think that they have a typical system for processing visual input. However, I like to discriminate between two kinds of visual information.
Static – ever moving or changing: This kind of information is hard to hold onto in memory long enough to associate with past experiences. This is what we are constantly bombarded with in each interaction and new experience. Facial expressions, tone of voice, movement in the environment, new people, new devices, new anything! Static information of any kind may be difficult for an individual with ASD to process.
Permanent – stay the same: This kind of information is predictable. A person can look at it over and over again. Pictures, words, familiar settings, familiar movies or games.
Static can become permanent if you see it enough and have access to it often enough. That is why videos can be a good way to teach pragmatic skills. Individuals with ASD often have a relative strength for processing permanent information.
Since much of what contributes to interaction involves static information, most of the individuals I work with experience extreme difficulty picking up on all the cues that work together to form a communication opportunity.
So we teach “tricks” that capitalize on the permanent visual strengths and learned “rules” that help with communication.
- Decide what others might be interested in through observation, eye gaze, topics
- Decide how others might be feeling through facial expression or tone of voice
- Start a conversation and stay on topic
- Handle stress through visualizing or self talk
Anne Bramlett, MS, CCC/SLP
Helpful Resources: Visualizing and Verbalizing – Linda Mood Bell; Michelle G. Winner; Carol Gray; Jeanette McAfee; Catherine Faherty