When miscommunications are misconstrued as misbehaviour…

by Adina Levy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about misunderstandings and perspectives. One person’s actions can be perceived so many different ways by other people. Unfortunately for autistic children, their behaviour is often often misinterpreted in a negative light, when really it stems from misunderstandings and miscommunications… and children trying to do their best with the tools and skills they have.

Here’s one example of a misunderstanding due to non-literal language (which can often be harder for autistic people to interpret):

Imagine a classroom, where a teacher says, “Let’s put our thinking caps on and then answer these questions.

In that same room, an autistic child thinks she needs to literally get her hat. So, she leaves the classroom to get her hat from her bag.

The teacher thinks, “The child is doing the wrong thing (again…). She never listens to my instructions.

How familiar does this sound?

It’s easy to assume that the child is being naughty or defiant (words I think never or rarely are true). But, what if it’s not about disobedience at all? When these kinds of misunderstandings occur, who is at fault?

What if we flip the script and decide that people using non-literal communication may be at fault for the communication breakdowns like this one?

Communication differences are not wrong and it’s not just up to autistic people to do all the compensating and figuring out. People communicating with autistic people can also help make communication more easily understandable too!

Non-literal figures of speech aren’t all bad and they can sometimes be really fun and interesting! We just need to consider how others may understand or misunderstand us, and offer clarity, explanations, and grace when interpreting others’ behaviour that seems to be opposed to what we wanted or asked.

For Speech Therapists – Check out my course Affirming Communication for Autistic Children to learn more!

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