Autism remains a disability or difference shrouded in confusion and mystery. A percentage of the population above a certain age remember Dustin Hoffman in the film Rainman. But professionals working in the field of autism never find it an easy task to clearly define what makes autism a distinct disability, and this is complicated by the simple fact that everyone on the autistic spectrum is an individual.
However, the National Autistic Society (NAS) website provides a good starting point: "Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. It is part of the autism spectrum and is sometimes referred to as an autism spectrum disorder, or an ASD. The word 'spectrum' is used because, while all people with autism share three main areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in very different ways. Some are able to live relatively 'everyday' lives; others will require a lifetime of specialist support."1
People on the autistic spectrum say the communication process, both verbal and non-verbal, is confusing for them. Imagine finding yourself in an alien or foreign culture where you do not understand the language, social conventions or what is expected of you. Inevitably, you would make mistakes. You would also understandably be fearful of the people in this alien culture who appear to be masters of their communication process.
There seem to be three main areas of the communication process that people on the autistic spectrum find more complex:
They can have difficulties with social communication. This will include reading body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. There may be many meanings of a raised eyebrow (or, more complex, two raised eyebrows). And the meanings will differ from culture to culture. Non-autistic people within a culture become proficient at interpreting the meaning behind a raised eyebrow and take a host of other information on board when reacting to the person who is raising their eyebrow. It should not surprise us to find that some people find it more challenging to absorb and react to this information and sometimes do not read anything at all into a raised eyebrow.
People on the autistic spectrum appear to find social interaction difficult. They may find it a challenge to express their emotions and have difficulties understanding the feeling