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Why My Autistic Teen Struggles to Chit-Chat

Editor's Note

This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

Last week at a training, an older woman (who has a grandchild with autism) asked if individuals with autism “can’t” talk or “won’t” talk. I’m not sure why, but, her question caught me by surprise.

I’m no autism expert (and don’t ever profess to be) and I told her so, but in my non-professional way, I tried to explain that this struggle with verbal communication has to do with how autism impacts the part of the brain where language is formed. Then I gave her a few examples of discussions my teenage son Ryan and I have had over the years.

Ryan has told me that sometimes his brain is just too tired to find the words. When conversing with someone, Ryan’s brain has to work overtime to find the words he needs and autism makes that task difficult. Then, add the additional task of trying to interpret the body language and facial expressions of the individual he is conversing with (which autism also impacts), plus the stress of knowing the person is waiting for a response — it’s no wonder my kid doesn’t do much chit-chatting. This is also why it’s easier for Ryan to script language that has already been created in movies or memes. These scripts have been successful when originally used wherever he heard them, so the risk is low and the workload less.

For my kid, sometimes I think he “can’t” talk and sometimes I think he “won’t” talk, because it takes a lot of work, so being silent is easier for him. For many though, it’s not a choice. My son is verbal, so he is able to communicate those feelings with me and.

Always remember that just because an individual with autism may be nonverbal, it does not mean they can’t understand, nor does it mean they don’t have something to say. Don’t ever, ever, underestimate them.

Getty image by Brian Niles