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asperger's syndrome information and features

         

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Non-Verbal Communication

Verbal Communication

Non-Verbal Communication

Around 70% of all communication is non-verbal and is largely beyond our conscious control. 

Body language could be a facial expression or a movement or positioning of the body. The vast majority of people are walking around giving out the correct body language signals (even ones they would rather hide) and are also subconsciously interpreting other peoples body language all the time.

People with Asperger's syndrome appear to sometimes have difficulty observing and interpreting body language, as well as perhaps being somewhat awkward in our own.

In particular there is a tendency not to make eye contact or to feel uncomfortable doing so. This doesn't sound like a major problem, but it is one of those little things that snowballs into a big impact. Though it may be subtle, I often come across to people as being uninterested in them and aloof, resulting in me unintentionally turning them off and driving them away. When I do try to make eye contact I often misjudge it and from people's reaction I figure I must come across as a bit strange and perhaps make them feel uncomfortable. I have found that coming across as uninterested and aloof is by far the lesser of two evils, even though the resulting social isolation is sometimes hard to deal with.

When it comes to understanding facial expressions, I think I often just don't notice them because I'm not looking, but when I do notice them I have to say they are never something I have attributed much value to. Maybe it is just because I misunderstand them, but I tend not to trust faces and don't feel much inclined to read them. Most of the time they appear to be hiding more than they are communicating. This sort of thing can notoriously lead to not being able to tell when someone is bored or not interested in what you are saying. These days I tend to err on the side of caution.

I am not in a position to be able to say much about what I think my own body language and facial expressions are like, but I am misunderstood a lot so I guess that means that they mean something else to other people than they do to me. Gradually over the years as I have become more aware of how other people might see me I have become more conscious of my body language and my face and made a lot of effort to be more animated and send the right signals to people, but it is very hard not to over compensate. For example, I smile when I am genuinely happy, but I have never naturally done much social smiling, you know, like to communicate friendliness, so I have for a lot of years now been working on the whole smiling thing. I am getting much better at getting it right, but it has most definitely been trial and error. I guess having to think about it at all is not normal though. Sometimes I worry that this means I am being fake, but I don't think it does, because the feelings of friendliness are genuine, it is just the ability to naturally express them that is impaired.

Tone of voice seems to sometimes be a problem for people with Asperger's syndrome too. A flat or inexpressive intonation is a well known feature, but it could just as easily be a strange accent, trouble controlling volume, or an exaggerated intonation.  Likewise when it comes to understanding there can also be difficulties. For example, it can be tricky to recognise sarcasm or teasing. I find it is easy enough to figure stuff out if it is betrayed by the content of what is being said. but I can't hide the hesitation. I would say 9 times out of 10 people notice enough to comment on it or double check I haven't taken what they said the wrong way. Some types of people, once they have picked up on this, can't resist the opportunity to exploit it and tease me for their entertainment. I don't really mind that much though as long as they let me in the joke.

Verbal Communication

People with Asperger's syndrome tend to use language in a subtly different way to most people. It could best be described as literal. We tend to interpret what other people say in a very direct way without reading much in to it, and likewise when we speak we can be very blunt or direct, sometimes to the point where people take offence.

You often hear people refer to us lacking an understanding of the social rules... that is the unspoken conventions of social interaction that most people pick up naturally early in childhood. They would be things like what to say, how to react, and how to treat people differently depending on their status or relationship to you. They are manners, and politeness, rituals and games. Most people take them very seriously, even though they are probably not consciously aware of them at all.

When you break them all the time you soon become aware of their existence just by the way other people react. When I was 10 I actually tried to write down a list of rules for myself to follow so I wouldn't get into trouble with people. It didn't work though because, as I soon learnt, the rules are very subtle and complex, and they vary under different circumstances. They are not something that can be written down, you just need to be able to feel them.

Me, I feel inclined to treat everybody the same, and to me it doesn't matter what I say as long as it is true and I am saying it for the right reasons. To me the social rules are little more than being polite... they are empty. They have no meaning... they have no useful purpose. They are obstructions, diversions, illusions... but like a visitor to a foreign culture I make the effort to respect them.

As best as I can understand it the social rules are mostly about status and relationship. What you say is not as important as why you are saying it... motive is everything. You might say things to maintain friendly relations with someone, to show them that you respect them as a higher authority than you, to show them that you care about how they are feeling, to let them know that you fancy them... in fact, it seems that the only thing most people hardly ever do is talk to exchange information, and yet exchanging information is the only thing that ever motivates me to talk. It doesn't mean that I don't respect people or care about them or want to maintain friendly relations with them... I just don't feel any need to express that stuff verbally. I prefer to think my actions speak for themselves.

I hardly ever know what to say in social situations. It is like there is just nothing in my head... no words and no motivation, just thoughts. The best I have been able to do is speak my thoughts and share my memories and ideas. That is about the closest I can get to social interaction without having to put in lots of effort that I can only sustain for a short time. When I was kid I would imagine I was presenting a television show in order to practice speaking my thoughts. I used to say them out loud all the time back then. I would be walking home form school chatting to my imaginary viewers about my day. I didn't realise people didn't like it or that I wasn't supposed to. Years later I was told that parents told their children to stay away from me because I was always talking to myself.

So, basically, people with Asperger's syndrome tend to be very literal and direct in both their understanding and in the way they speak, struggle to follow the social rules, and tend to talk to exchange information like facts, thoughts and ideas, whether other people are interested in them or not.

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