“Ah, don’t worry about him – he’d rather be on his own.
How many times have we heard this? I can’t believe that anyone born as a human being really wants to be left all on his or her own, not really. No, for people with autism, what we’re anxious about is that we’re causing trouble for the rest of you, or even getting on your nerves. This is why it’s hard for us to stay around other people. This is why we often end up being left on our own.
The truth is, we’d love to be with other people. But because things never, ever go right, we end up getting used to being alone, without even noticing this is happening. Whenever I overhear someone remark how much I prefer being on my own, it makes me feel desperately lonely. It’s as if they’re deliberately giving me the cold-shoulder treatment.”
– Naoki Higashida – 13 year old nonverbal autistic child, The Reason I Jump
Included in this book, Naoki wrote a story in the hopes that it will help us understand how painful it is when you can’t express yourself to the people you love. If this story connects with your heart in some way, then I believe you’ll be able to connect back to the hearts of people with autism too.
In our culture, we assume that if people cannot talk that they aren’t communicating. Naoki in The Reason I Jump-The Inner Voice of a 13 Year Old with Autism so eloquently lets us know that this is the farthest thing from the truth. Even experts who study communication note that up to 93% of communication is nonverbal.
Nonverbal children with autism actually have strong desires to communicate, particularly with their caregivers. Look at their challenging behaviors. Their extreme behaviors communicate their strong preferences. Frequently, their behaviors are a result of feeling so bombarded by the thoughts, feelings and moods of those around them. These children are intensely empathic, highly aware of the reactions of others. Because they have difficulties with impulse control, they can communicate quite strongly, even aggressively how they feel about things.
As difficult as these behaviors are to deal with, they ARE indicators of communicating and relating. Just because someone does not understand social cues and etiquette does NOT mean they don’t want to communicate or relate.
Nonverbal autistic children bond with people at a very deep level, even if they may appear somewhat withdrawn. This is best seen in their bond with their primary caregiver. This is the person that feels the safest, and is the one that best knows how to meet their needs. This is the person they communicate with the most, both because of proximity and because the child knows that their caregiver yearns to meet their needs.
Please share with me how you’ve seen your not-so-verbal child express their desire to communicate and relate with you. I’d love to hear your experiences. Also, check out neuroscientist Dr. Diane Powell’s research here on how not-so-verbal autistic children communicate without spoken language. It’s fascinating stuff.