Autism & Asperger's Syndrome Expert Forum
Curious about Autism
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Questions in the Autism & Asperger's Syndrome forum are answered by researchers at the New England Center for Children. Topics covered include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Antisocial Personality Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Autism, blindness, bullying, clinical depression, deafness, dyslexia, mental retardation, and social alienation.

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Curious about Autism

I am freinds with a few people who have autistic family members.  My heart never fails to go out to these sweet people.  But I dont know enough about their issues to communicate properly with them.  Example: 'Mary' comes to our church with her 15 year old autistic son, 'Joe'.  Joe does not speak, and he does not smile.  But he will take my hand when I say hello, sometimes he will pull me into a hug, and other times he will take me by the hand to show me something that he thinks is important, like a flower, or a bug.  Mary is a very sweet woman who allows me to be a friend to Joe.  When he shows me things, all I know to say is 'Yes, Joe, that is a very pretty flower'.  Things like that.  Another lady I know is older, and is mostly nonfunctional (she is in a wheelchair) but she will smile at me when I say hello, and will use a voice response board to answer me if i ask her how she is.  She always seems to be a happy person, in her own way.  Is there anything else I could or should do when I'm around these people?
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Sounds to me like you are already doing a great job!  As you know, many individuals with autism have significant deficits in communication skills, both in how they express themselves, and how well they understand what is being said to them.  So, in general, when you are speaking to these friends, you might try to not speak too quickly, and not use complicated words that they may not understand.  If they seem to not understand what you are saying, you might try pairing your words with some simple gestures, as these may serve as additional cues to help them understand.  If these people sometimes engage in behaviors that are inappropriate, try to be accepting of them.  Some people with autism engage in behaviors that we might deem inappropriate, but they may actually be very adaptive for someone who has significant skill deficits.

I guess the bottom line is, treat these individuals with the same degree of respect that you would expect people to treat you with!  Thanks so much for your question, and best of luck in the future.
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Jason C Bourret, Ph.D., BCBA-DBlank
The New England Center for Children
Southborough, MA
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