Communicating With Aspergers

by admin on January 18, 2012

This first set of suggestions is offered as some help in communicating with a child with Aspergers.

1. Reinforcers Drive the Message Home

If you've been seeing a behavioral therapist to learn more effective ways of communicating with your Asperger's syndrome-affected child, you're probably already familiar with the concept of a reinforcer. This technique integrates a new concept or behavior into the child's routine through constant repetition, using an individualized means of illustrating the message.

When a reward is used as a reinforcer, particularly a reward that the child has a particular attachment to, excellent improvements in communication are often the result. If you've been trying to instill a particular behavior in your child but are meeting with little success, try taking away an activity the child deeply enjoys and using it as a reward to reinforce the desired behavior. This technique often succeeds where others fail in communicating your expectations to the child.

2. Draw Them a Picture

Visual aids work very well with Asperger's syndrome patients. Since Asperger's children think and learn visually, pictures are an ideal educational tool and means of communication. They help strengthen the child's attention span, make concepts more easily understood and give the child something tangible to refer back to in the future.

Be creative in your use of visual aids. The possibilities go far beyond pictures, and include things like color coding, signs, cue cards, hand gestures, lists, charts and graphs. If words are failing to communicate your expectations or desires, try using some of these techniques as a supplementary aid.

3. Use Phrases that Improve Communication

Short, simple phrases are an effective communication technique to use with Asperger's patients. In a relatively short period, you can attach a clear, specific connotation to a particular phrase, and then use that phrase to correct the patient's behavior and get the child to cooperate. Children with Asperger's syndrome frequently meander off topic when telling a story or include irrelevant details. You can interject with a simple phrase like "stay on topic" or "stick to one thing" to guide the child back.

Other phrases that work well on Asperger's patients include "good choice," and "bad choice" or "drop it" for times when the child insists on repeating a problematic word, phrase or behavior. Simple phrases can be used to communicate your expectations on everything from waiting in line and maintaining eye contact while talking to interrupting and misbehaving in public.


Here are some suggestions to adults with Aspergers in dealing with a partner in a relationship.


1. Don’t give in to feelings of hopelessness or futility. Adults with Asperger Syndrome can at times feel overwhelmed by frustration. There are times these adults can feel that no amount of effort on their part can ever change their ability to understand how their partner operates. This is sometimes true – no adult can ever really become an expert on their partner’s perceptions, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The best strategy may be becoming an expert on yourself. This can serve as a foundation for learning new skills, having compassion for yourself and even learning to laugh at how different you and your partner may approach problems and issues.

2. Ask questions of your partner. Gather as much information as you can about the situation you’re facing together. Faced with having to operate without an intuitive understanding of how your partner feels and thinks, you may rely on your logic and assumptions. This can be dangerous! Remember, your mind works differently than your partner’s. A great strategy can be simply asking questions. For instance, instead of assuming that your partner is ready to end the relationship over a fight, ask for clarification. Good questions can include, “I’m wondering if you feel….” Or “Can you tell me more about that?”. Often adults with Asperger's find talking with their partner in a calm environment, such as a quiet, dimly lit room, can help.

3. Hold tight to the truth that your thoughts and emotions matter. Though they may be expressed differently (or not at all!), your feelings and perceptions are valid, and are worth just as much as your partner’s feelings and thoughts. This can be a difficult perspective to maintain, especially if your partner is articulate and quick. Remember, working out a problem is not a verbal jousting competition, though it can sometimes feel like one.

4. Decide how you would like to pursue and operate in relationships. This takes thought. Do you want to connect with others? Do you experience loneliness? Do you want to increase your ability to talk about your inner world or negotiate problems? Not everyone aspires to these ways of relating. Decide for yourself if you do. If you decide to work to strengthen your connections, you may benefit from learning to monitor your “togetherness tolerance” – Aspies often are helped by frequent breaks, shorter visits, etc. Your level of need in connecting with others may differ vastly from that of your partner. This is fine, and may serve as a great balance for your relationship.

5. Find help. Often a cliché tip, there is no substitute for consulting an expert – a communication coach, a therapist, a well-written manual. Remember that though you may have not received the understanding of relationship nuance through osmosis, like many adults, you CAN learn skills that can close the gap you may feel between your ability to relate and the abilities of others.

6. Don’t be too quick to judge yourself harshly. Aspies often provide wonderful advantages to their relationships, such as “groundedness”, logic, a refusal to become violent or aggressive, a heightened desire to do the right or moral thing, an inability to participate in the emotional “games” so many adults struggle with in relationships, in intense sensitivity buried under layers of defense. As always, self-acceptance is the best position to take as you navigate the wonderful – and sometimes terrifying – frontiers of intimacy.

I personally find these lists fascinating to be on the same page and read through them, first from trying to communicate to a child and then what communication is like as an adult with Aspergers.  The fact is it is complicated.  Being calm and trying to deliver the message in as simple of terms as possible is certainly the common theme but the real deal is every Aspergers person is different.  Some are extremely sensitive to sounds and light and others may not be.  The only consistency that I have experienced is to try and stay calm and think through what you want the outcome to be.  Take it in little chunks and don't over complicate the issue or topics. 

I struggle with this with our son who is now 21 years old.  I would get long winded and think I was really making a great point and progress and then my wife would ask him what he understood about what I just said and it was so little that 90% of my babbling did nothing.  Be patient and think about what the major point or goal is and just work on that for the time being.  

Let me know your thoughts and experiences below. 


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