Autism Watch: 2007

Speech Does Not Equal Communication

Posted on: August 14, 2008

The last few days, we’re noticing more and more situations where ds is unwilling to listen to the reason, any reason. We try to tell him something brief and clear, such as “You need to get into the bath now” (after his 10-minute warning) and he blows up, yelling, spinning into a full-blown meltdown, ending with him quietly sobbing, telling us he only wanted a minor deviation in the plan but he didn’t communicate it so therefore, we didn’t understand. In fact, looking back, this is pretty much what has happened each time he’s melted down this past week; a minor issue explodes and we’re trying to figure out what pushed him over the edge and what he was trying to tell us that we missed. We can be face-to-face, him raising his voice, us trying to keep ours low, and struggling to communicate.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me “You’re so fortunate your son speaks.” Yes, they’re right. We are. And we are grateful. But, speaking doesn’t mean communicating. An autism diagnosis means that there’s some problem with communication, now or in the past. Some people who see children with autism that are verbal fail to grasp that autistic kids can talk, as in “where’s the communication issue?” Not only do they not see how far the child has come, but they don’t get the difference between speech and communication. They are two entirely different things. So while a child may have language, it doesn’t mean they use it right, or that they comprehend the meanings. Then throw in body language, and communication can even get much more difficult.

Last night, cuddling with my sweetie after the last meltdown of the day, I was really sad for him. He felt that he’d been telling us so clearly what he wanted, and not only was he trying to get out of doing what we wanted, but we really didn’t get his meaning…at all. And because he was so busy trying to get us to understand his meaning, he was getting more upset as time went on and making less sense. But, in his mind, he made sense. What exactly do you do then?

Since school is starting soon, and this problem seems to be getting worse (because he’s getting older? getting bored at the end of summer? who knows?) I want to make it a priority to work on. I’d really love some recommendations of good books to address the communication gap we’re experiencing. Or a suggestion of who to speak with: social skills therapist? speech therapist? psychologist? I don’t think he needs help, but rather we need to know how to work with him to help him express himself sufficiently, without the anger that builds up, then the sadness that just breaks our hearts.

And maybe it will also help tackle the meanness that comes along with it. I’m so glad he can say “I love you, Mama,” but the “You’re a jerk, Mom” hurts.

6 Responses to "Speech Does Not Equal Communication"

This is probably a dumb question, but are you seeing an occupational therapist? I find that ours really helps Little Man to work on social experiences in general. I’m sure that they must have training in helping kids to communicate their needs better. I know that our OT sees a lot of kids with Autism and Asperger’s and I’ve witnessed her helping a boy out with similar stuff to what you’re describing.

Again, you’re probably already doing this or have done it in the past. Sorry if this comment is redundant.

Hugs. Sounds like you need them.


We have the same issue in that Little Miss can express herself when she wants something fairly well but trying to pry info out when WE want it (and by extension, the teachers, etc.) is near impossible. We are thrilled for the speech she has–but it sure isn’t all it needs to be! We’re looking for someone who does therapy with expressive and receptive speech in the upper levels, but to date haven’t found anyone. 😦 good luck!

My first thought is use visuals. Either a picture or writing things down if he can read. This helps my son tremendously. A written schedule is great, but even if you don’t have that, you can just write down stuff when you need it.

A visual is so much easier to process than your verbal/non-verbal communication.

If I have to talk, I will often start off by asking him, “Can I ask you a question?” or, “Can I tell you what we need to do now?” I then wait (and sometimes have to repeat the question) until he is ready to say yes and hear what I have to say.

I know it is so frustrating, and you are totally right, communication is so much more than speech!

I understand this all too well. I’ve recently read The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. It’s been a bit helpful, at least in understanding a bit more where my daughter is coming from and how her communication is lacking (other than the obvious autism place) and also how it’s something that needs to be learned! It’s always so easy to forget that things, even behavior-ish things, need to be taught and re-taught…. I forget sometimes and find myself reacting (more often than I should) to the behavior.

I have lived this life. I call it the “walking on egg shells that I didn’t know were there,” time. My dude, now 14, still has moments, but our ability to read him as well as his improved self-control has made many situations better. The difficulty is teaching others how to read him and how to get him to improve his perspective taking. Keep up the good work and give your lil dude an extra hug from us all.

I have this issue with Little Man – he talks so well that you forget he has autism – but his communication is what is lacking. There are many times I find myself not able to understand him and he gets so upset he hurts himself or others around him.

Talking is not the same as communicating, add in the behaviors and that makes it more difficult.

Wish I could offer more but I am in the same boat as you are.

Hoping for peace and guidance for all who are facing this!

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