Children with autism have various levels of communication skills. Some are not verbal at all, while others may be behind developmentally and have gaps in their communication skills. One common area is with pointing and other physical cues that people regularly give each other. When you need to tell an autistic person to look somewhere you cannot point and expect them to look where you are pointing. This is only one small area where communication is more work for both them and you.
Many children with autism, who are verbal, still lack some language skills. Whether they are verbal or not they often interpret input literally. So this means you have to be more specific in your conversations and especially your instructions. If you are teaching your child to wash their hair and tell them to move their hands back and forth, you have to specifically tell them to also keep their hands on their head. Otherwise they will drop them to their sides and swing them. Seems silly, but it is the reality. It was my experience with teaching my son. When children are learning to communicate they may have different terms for everyday items and toys. My son didn’t remember the word for his Rubik Cube; he called it “Little squares with colors.” Of course, the first time this was uttered, he was in a panic trying to find the “little squares with colors”, his therapist and I both thought it was paint. We were wrong. Fortunately we had become very apt at redirection, and later that day he found the cube and the mystery was solved.
This also means because of that, they also think about ideas and life in general in a different way than “typical kids”. This of course tests your patience, because patience testing is just what us parents want more of since it really lacks in our lives. (An autistic person will think we want more testing.) So this is in part the reasons why some tasks that seem so simple, are not. Once you peel away the typical kid stuff, and you know it’s not about being defiant, you are left with this fact. Entire books are written on this subject. A simple example is getting ready to leave the house. If you tell someone we are going to leave in 10 or 15 minutes they know this means to wrap up what they are doing, and gather what they need. But in this house, those things happen once the clock reaches the literal time of 10 or 15 minutes whichever was said or heard. You may think you can circumvent this, but you cannot always. For when he is ready to go, he is ready to go and will just walk out the door. There is no natural matching rhythm for going anywhere.
Children with Autism often do not understand figurative language, sarcasm, or figures of speech such as “being in the dog-house”. Once one of our dogs misbehaved and was “in the doghouse”, and he actually looked for the house. Which you could almost understand if we just got the dogs, and or if we weren’t outside with them in a yard that is and has always been dog houseless. Another time we had a huge haul of groceries which required multiple trips from the car to the house. So I didn’t want to leave the door wide open because of nasty bugs invading or pets trying to escape so we had the door just ajar. I tell my son Noah to “watch the door”, which for most of us means to make sure it doesn’t swing all the way open. But to Noah it meant to stand there and stare at the door.
Noah once told me, “I don’t want to call it my fore head; I want to call it my one head.”
That statement pretty much sums up the literal thinking.