Autism, Communication and Empathy

After losing my voice, I have a newfound understanding and respect for people who live their lives while struggling to communicate with the rest of the world



Effective communication is an obvious key ingredient to be able to live life as a human. Communication presents itself in various forms - from the spoken and written word, to body language and facial expressions to name a few. But what happens when one of these vitally important methods is not quite functioning as it should? Your world is now a different, frightening place, isn't it?

Welcome to the world of autism

I work with children and young people on the autistic spectrum - all of whom struggle to communicate verbally - some speak with only one word; some use two and three word sentences; some use whole, but disjointed sentences; and some do not speak at all.

Imagine trying to air your views and feelings to another person when you simply do not have the tools to do so. You eventually learn or resort to other ways: Sign Language, or Makaton, through your play techniques, and unfortunately for some, through violence.

Empathy and communication 

When you are looking after children and young people whose brains are biologically wired differently to yours, an ability to empathise and communicate straddle at the top of the childcare ladder. They are living in a differently perceived world to you. Therefore, being able to understand one another will only bring positive results.

A few weeks ago, I contracted the worst cold I've ever had; I was out for the count for two weeks - horrendous headaches, a dry and tickly cough, rashes and hot and cold flushes. You name it, I had it. I had it for around 10 days when suddenly my voice began to disappear. A few days later I had completely lost my voice, unable to speak to my wife, daughter or any other human.

Communicating without talking

I found myself experiencing a very tiny fraction of what children and young people with autism have to go through on a daily basis - not being able to communicate effectively. My voice was of a hoarse nature - very ruffled and unclear. When attempting to communicate with my wife, I found myself getting angry at having to attempt to repeat myself again and again - until I eventually just gave up and stopped talking for a few days. I adapted and found other ways to communicate by using elaborate hand gestures and writing. It was a struggle but it worked, at times.

It doesn't always work for children and young people with autism - they have a shedload of other things to think about and process, it's a very confusing world for their brains.

Daily struggle to be heard

I was fortunate that my voice returned and I subsequently recovered from my awful cold. Children and young people with autism live with the struggle to communicate on a daily basis. Their proverbial 'voice' sometimes fails to be heard, it is misinterpreted, not understood or simply lost.

Not being able to speak for a few days gave me a very tiny insight into what it must be like living with autism - it reinforced and reminded me of what a difficult and bewildering world this must seem to people on the autistic spectrum.

My hat goes off to you.

Andy Robinson, Working Dad and Tinies Manny

For additional observations, check out Andy's Huffington Post Page

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