Two toddlers share a ball. An infant looks into his mother’s eyes and smiles, and his mother smiles back. A baby screams because he is hungry or wet, and his father consistently responds to his cries by giving him his bottle or changing his diaper causing the baby to associate his cries with getting his needs met. This is the beginning of non-verbal communication the framework of our language system.
What happens if the non-verbal framework necessary for all other language development does not progress? A mother looks into the babies eyes and the baby looks away, or the baby doesn’t cry when its hungry or wet. The parents learn to anticipate the babies needs not realizing that the first forms of communication are missing. Ultimately without this reciprocal early communication the verbal system that develops will lack the foundation of communication, reciprocity.
People assume that everyone is starting with the same nonverbal framework, and so it is often difficult for parents, friends, and professionals to understand that the intent behind the communication of a child on the autism spectrum lacks the core of reciprocity. In addition, their communicative intent is not motivated by the drive to have relationships but by other factors that are not always completely understood. The smarter the child and the more able they are to mimic the norm; the more people are unable to understand and tolerate the disability.
One of the greatest frustrations when working with people on the autism spectrum is how to help others see and understand the disability. It is easy to dismiss the behaviors as irritating or odd and to therefore dismiss the person. People who are close to the person can sometimes see not always, but people less familiar with the person and “autism” such as teachers, administrators, parents, friends, and distant family are often unable to see, understand. Therefore, what happens in these cases is that the child or adults are judged harshly, dismissed from jobs, and denied services in school and beyond that would help them acquire the framework they need to succeed. Autism is a disability where deficits in verbal and non-verbal communication present significant deficits that impact all areas of a person’s life.