Pairing and Sharing

Pairing and Sharing

Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) run through the autism spectrum from one ‘end’ to the other. They are like words through a stick of Blackpool rock (or Margate, Skegness or Torquay rock for that matter). Wherever you snap that stick there is the word Blackpool running right through it. SLCN are universal across autism and are fundamental to the pattern of differences we call ‘autism’.

The longer I spend exploring, learning and thinking about autism the more I am coming to the conclusion that it’s the non-verbal aspects of autism that account for most of the difficulties and differences we see. The difficulties with language and speech in a way are a given – they are more obvious, they are easier to detect. That doesn’t always make them easy to respond to though.

Non verbal communication difficulties are harder to get to know about. How do people on the spectrum perceive tone of voice, facial expression, gesture, body orientation? As well as being harder to get to know about they are also perhaps responsible for a bigger total impact on communication than even the language and speech difficulties.

Let’s think about people without autism – they have this innate, inbuilt ability to connect to other people in a way that is invisible. They didn’t learn it. It’s already part of them. They are linked together by some invisible wireless network, what Digby Tantam calls the Interbrain. They recognise other human beings as similar devices to themselves and without even thinking about it they just want to connect, and can connect. And like a smart phone or tablet computer they have the technology to ‘pair and share’. In the world of ICT it’s done with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, infra-red you name it. In people without autism it’s done with nodding, winking, gesturing, looking, face-reading technologies. That’s how we connect and communicate or pair and share. In short non-verbal communication.

Notice how at the cinema when one person coughs everybody coughs or in a meeting when one person yawns everybody needs to yawn. Like the Borg we just have this ability for assimilating each other! Look how easily we move like a crowd, leave space for each other or become aware of the presence and orientation of others even when we can’t see them!

Now let’s think about people who do have autism. For these folk the non verbal communication factors that connect others together into a communicating, social force are not well developed. When these non verbal communication differences are coupled with the speech and language differences they place the individual with autism at a disadvantage in a highly social environment.

Good news is non verbal skills can be learnt. Children and adults with autism can be helped to pair and share effectively when we get the teaching right. So let’s get started with some tried and trusted teaching and learning to kick start verbal AND non verbal communication skills!

Chris Barson
Positive About Autism

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