Communication can be tricky territory for anyone; it’s a skill that takes practice and can make or break a relationship. For individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA), connecting with others can be especially difficult. I want to note that “high functioning” can be an unhelpful term to use, as it can be stigmatizing. Instead it can be helpful to focus on an individual’s strengths and areas where they may need support. Autism occurs on a spectrum and every person is different. HFA is not an official diagnosis, but people who have these traits face real struggles and can benefit from support. Someone with HFA might struggle socially due to:
-finding it hard to read social cues, like facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language
-shutting down from stress related to a social situation
-avoiding eye contact
-difficulty making small talk
-inflexibility with routines
For anyone, struggling socially can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash
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Theory of Mind
Theory of mind (ToM) may help to explain some of the challenges individuals with autism face. ToM is a social skill that helps us sense what other people might be thinking. Sensing what others are thinking helps us to generate responses and anticipate what they might do next. In a study by Simon Baron-Cohen3, children diagnosed with autism correctly answered ToM questions 20% of the time, while neurotypical children answered them correctly 80% of the time.
Individuals with autism desire social interaction, experience “normal” emotions, and have empathy, but since these manifest in different ways – for everyone – building skills can help with connection.
In a relationship with someone who has HFA, finding common ground is helpful. Actually, this is helpful in any relationship. Understanding your own needs is important. For example, if you take longer to process experiences, being able to express this to others in your life can help you give yourself necessary space.
Seeking therapy for social skills can help someone with HFA feel more confident in social situations. Everyone is different, some people might face challenges with general cues while meeting new people, others might struggle with developing/maintaining close relationships due to difficulty understanding what the other person is thinking or feeling.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, now also provides online counseling in Pennsylvania, contact her to learn more.
- Photo by Anna Selle on Unsplash