Creating Contexts for Interaction in a Neurotypical World: Confronting Myths of Social Communication and Empathy
Deficits in language and social communication comprise an essential part of the diagnostic criteria for autism and Asperger’s disorder since autism was first described by Kanner and Asperger in the 1940s. Although it was originally believed that most autistic children had significant language delays, a wider understanding of the autism spectrum has revealed that it is social communication that is the primary difficulty, rather than language. Despite this, images of uncommunicative autistic children continue to promote myths such as you can’t have autism if you can talk and autistic people lack empathy for others. This chapter starts with an overview of descriptions and portrayals of autistic individuals as uncommunicative and withdrawn, which is followed by an examination of development of social communication by autistic children and the variance in social–emotional expression demonstrated by these individuals as they grow to adulthood. The impact of these myths on perpetuating disengagement of both verbal and non-verbal autistic individuals from their communities will be explored, and questions will be raised about the appropriateness of focusing primarily on increasing these individual’s social skills. Suggestions will be made for alternative approaches that bridge the communication gap through the use of technology and alternative approaches in which people are encouraged to expand their conceptualisation of what constitutes autistic communication styles. Additionally, recommendations will be offered about ways that better enable autistic individuals to develop awareness of their own emotions and the impact of their signals on others in order to connect better with others and demonstrate more complex layers of empathy.
KeywordsSocial communication Empathy Social–emotional awareness Augmentative and alternative communication Joint attention Theory of mind
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