Nonverbal communication

Eye contact is one kind of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication is communication that doesn’t use language, like:

– Body language
– Facial expressions
– Tone of voice

People use nonverbal communication all the time, and you cannot stop yourself from using it. Any time someone can see you, they can see your nonverbal communication.

Non-autistic people know how to figure out what nonverbal communication usually means. They don’t have to think about it very much. For example, when someone has their arms crossed, they know that person is angry. When someone is tapping their foot, they know the person is impatient. When someone smiles in a certain way, they know the person is happy.

But autistic people can have different nonverbal communication than non-autistic people. We might cross our arms because we need to feel pressure, or we might tap our feet because we are stimming. This can confuse non-autistic people.

Nonverbal communication isn’t just about what you do. It’s also about what other people think. People can guess how someone feels from their nonverbal communication, but people can make mistakes when they guess.

It can be extra hard for autistic people to guess or to understand nonverbal communication.
For example:

Bob is autistic, and he sees his friend Sally smiling. Bob thinks that Sally is happy because she is smiling, but Sally is actually angry. Sometimes people smile when they’re angry. Bob doesn’t understand that Sally is angry, so he tries to talk to Sally about happy things. This just makes Sally more angry.

Nonverbal communication has a lot of pieces. You have to use your voice, face and body to communicate to someone. That person is also communicating back to you with their voice, face and body. You also have to figure out what they are communicating. All of this happens at the same time, and it can be hard to deal with it all at once.

Autistic people might try to communicate with just our words instead. We make sure people can understand what we say, and that we understand what other people say. This works if the people we talk to can also just focus on words, but non-autistic people have a hard time doing that.