Autism, Communication and Emotions

Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today, I want to talk about the myth that those people with Autism are incapable of feeling emotions. I also want to talk about why I think the myth exists and my personal experiences.

When you look around on the internet for information about autism, you are going to find articles that tell you that us autistics are not capable of normal human emotions, that we feel nothing or that we feel less than what normal people feel. The first thing to say about this is that it is wrong. Autistics are completely capable of feeling emotions. In fact, many of them are also diagnosed with ADHD which is a disorder known for having emotions that are more intense than a neurotypical response.

The difference isn’t in the way that we feel, but in the way that we express those emotions. When a neurotypical is having a feeling, they have a particular way of expressing that emotion. That emotional expression includes their facial expression, their body language, the words they use, the tone of their voice and the way that they interact with others. When a neurotypical person observes a neurodivergent person they do not see the emotional expression that they are expecting. Often times, autistic individuals are viewed as having a flat affect. This means that when a neurotypical person looks at an autistic person’s facial expressions, they see no emotion there. It’s not that the autistic person isn’t having emotions, just that they are not being seen. This is because those who are neurotypical and those who are neurodivergent use different methods to express emotions. This is why it can be so difficult for people in the different groups to communicate with each other.

I have never been able to read the paralanguage of neurotypical people. That’s all the nonverbal part of communicating with others and it is believed that about 80% of communication happens through this nonverbal communication. When I am engaging with neurotypicals, I feel like I am trying to dance to music that I cannot hear. The only possible way to blend in with the group is to try to mimic what others in the group are doing, because there is no way to base my movements off the music that I can’t hear.

Yet, my experience with other neurodivergents is completely different. I feel that they are easy to understand and make complete sense to me. This is because they are speaking the same language as me. Because, that’s what this comes down to. It is a difference of paralanguage. How do you decide if someone is angry at you or if they are being sarcastic? By reading their paralanguage. When they are speaking a different paralanguage then you, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to read those cues that tell you 80% of what they are saying without words. Things like they are are excited or bored by what you are talking about.

When humans communicate with each other, we weave our emotional state of being into that communication through our paralanguage. The tone of our voice changes based on how we are feeling. Our level of confidence will determine how much eye contact we are comfortable making. How excited we are will dictate how much our body moves while we speak. This is all a fundamental part of communicating with other humans. And it is this paralanguage that allows you to understand the emotional states of those people are you. It is a rare thing that someone declares how they are feeling. Yet, people are generally pretty good at understanding emotional states by reading the paralanguage being presented.

How many verbal languages are there in the world? I honestly don’t know. But, there are many. Especially if you include all the dialects within a language. If someone who only speaks French meets someone who only speaks German, they are going to have a difficult time understanding each other because they are not able to speak the same language. This is the same for paralanguages. Do we honestly believe that there are hundreds of ways for verbally communicating; hundreds of different verbal languages, but that there is only one paralanguage that is spoken universally across the globe by all of the people? That doesn’t make sense. The paralanguage of someone who was raised in Italy will be different then the paralanguage then someone who was raised in China. Is it that difficult to imagine that there is also another paralanguage for those who are neurodivergent?

If we considered the difficulties of understanding from the lens of not knowing the same language, rather then one group having a disorder or a deficiency of human emotion, we open the door for many possibilities. The first thing to keep in mind is that learning languages is known to be very difficult. Because of this, perhaps we shouldn’t expect that everyone who is neurodivergent is able to readily learn another language in order to better communicate with the neurotypical group. This would also suggest that, like speaking any language, speaking within the context of another paralanguage is not wrong, but rather just different. Just like it is not wrong if you speak English instead of Russian. It is just different. This also suggests that what is in order is translation.

If a neurotypical and neurodivergent had someone or a program to translate the paralanguage for them, I think it would become clear that they are not unlike any group of people that are communicating in another language. We are not incapable of having emotions. Those who are neurotypical are incapable of understanding the paralanguage that we are expressing them in.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

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