- You are speaking to an adult. Do not use a baby voice.
- Do not ask where the adult's parent, caregiver, personal assistant, or staff person is. This person is an adult and will not necessarily be accompanied by someone else.
- Don't assume that the adult is ignoring you if he, she, or xe isn't looking at you or making eye contact.
- Don't assume that the adult is ignoring you if he, she, or xe is looking at a phone, an iPad, or elsewhere in general.
- Don't assume that the adult isn't hearing what you're saying if he, she, or xe doesn't give you "yeah," "uh-huh," "mm-hmm," etc. responses while you are speaking.
- Pause when you're done talking long enough for him, her, or xir to begin speaking or typing.
- Be cognizant that the adult may have cognitive processing delays, and give him, her, or xir extra time to process what you're saying and formulate a response.
- If you are speaking to an alternative and augmentative communication user (i.e. an adult who communicates using picture cards, signs or symbols, a letter board, or by typing), give him, her, or xir even more extra time both to formulate responses and to produce them. AAC takes longer than speaking, so make sure that the adult is actually getting equal time to "speak."
- If the adult has a personal assistant, caregiver, parent, or staff person accompanying him, her, or xir, do not speak to the Autistic adult through the other person or ask that person questions about the Autistic adult. Address the Autistic adult directly.
- If the adult has a service animal, such as a dog or a cat, do not touch, call to, or make sounds at the animal without explicitly asking the owner for permission.
- Don't feel awkward or rude if you're looking at the Autistic adult's eyes or face and he, she, or xe isn't looking at yours.
- Don't ask him, her, or xir personal questions, such as those related to his, her, or xir health and wellbeing, sexual life, or finances that you would not ask a nondisabled adult of similar acquaintance.
- Don't ask an Autistic adult what he, she, or xe does or where he, she, or xe went to college, because a disproportionate number of Autistic adults are unemployed, underemployed, and or denied access to college. While there are many Autistic adults in meaningful employment and who are in or have completed postsecondary education, there are many more who are not yet, and asking this question can create awkwardness and tension.
- If you happen to be talking about relationships, romance, or sex, don't assume that the adult doesn't or has never had a relationship or sex. While many Autistic youth are denied access to sex education, the diversity and wealth of sexual experiences and romantic and sexual relationships that Autistic people have had are equal to the diversity and wealth of sexual experiences and romantic and sexual relationships that non-Autistic people have had.
- If you happen to be talking about parenting, don't assume that the adult isn't a parent unless he, she, or xe has already told you that he, she, or xe isn't one. Many Autistic people also have children. (Sometimes, their children are Autistic as well.)
- If you need to ask the adult a question, try to make the question as specific as possible. Broad, generalized, and vague questions are cognitively inaccessible to many Autistic people.
- Don't yell, scream, or shout at the adult. Loud voices can trigger panic attacks and extreme anxiety.
- Don't stare at the adult if he, she, or xe is stimming -- fidgeting with an object or hair, flapping the hands or arms, pacing, making noises, spinning, rocking, etc. -- and don't feel awkward about it, either. This is normal and natural behavior.
- NEVER tell an Autistic adult to have "quiet hands." Ever.
- Don't tell an Autistic adult that he, she, or xe is wrong about what he, she, or xe is thinking and feeling. That's called gaslighting. He, she, or xe knows him, her, or xirself best.
- If an Autistic adult refers to him, her, or xirself as "autistic," don't correct him, her, or xir and say that that's disrespectful or offensive, and that the adult should be saying "person with autism" instead. Everyone has the right to identify however they wish.
- Don't use the word "retard" or "retarded" in the adult's presence. Too many of us have been bullied, silenced, and attacked with this word to ever make that okay.
- If the adult tells you that he, she, or xe needs to leave an area to continue the conversation, listen and do it. The location may be causing sensory overload, anxiety, spoon loss, or other barriers to effective communication.
- Never touch an Autistic adult without asking first, unless he, she, or xe initiated (i.e. by reaching to hug you or offering a hand for a shake). If the adult doesn't initiate, ask, "do you do hugs?" or similar.
- Don't feel awkward if the adult seems to change the topic of the conversation suddenly. You can always suggest going back to the original topic if you still want to discuss it -- though if the adult tells you to drop a topic, drop it.
- You are speaking to an adult. Speak to him, her, or xir with the same vocabulary, tone of voice, and type of conversation that you would with any other nondisabled adult in a similar situation or of similar closeness or acquaintance.
This is a personal blog started in 2011. It is no longer active, updated, or maintained. Unfortunately, it appears that I've also irreparably broken some of the links by accident.
02 August 2012
How to Talk to an Autistic Adult
Posted by Lydia Brown