The Living Yearbook of East Brunswick High School

Social Interaction

Neurodivergent people, especially autistics, have different communication methods and needs.

June 16, 2021

Interacting with other people is a core part of life. But for many neurodivergent people, especially autistics, it can be stressful and difficult.

Autistic people tend to have a hard time processing and understanding social cues, like facial expression and verbal tone. Many of us also take things at their literal meaning, which can mean we misunderstand jokes or sarcasm. Additionally, our stimming may seem disruptive or rude to neurotypical people, many of whom don’t understand why stimming is helpful.

All of that can make it very hard for us to fit in or keep up with social interaction. That’s not to say it’s impossible for us — autistic people can have friends and conversations just like neurotypical people can, and some autistics are better at social interaction than others. However, conversations or social situations are typically harder and more draining for us.

I, personally, have a hard time understanding when people are being sarcastic or making a joke. I take people’s requests or instructions very literally, which may lead to misunderstandings. And I often assume people are mad or upset with me when they’re not, which is because I can’t tell the difference between many facial expressions. These difficulties made it hard for me to make and keep friendships, especially when I was younger. As I’ve gotten older and better at communication, I’ve been able to forge strong bonds with my friends while also expressing my needs as a neurodivergent person.

An easy way to help your neurodivergent friends is to clarify what your intended tone was if or when they ask. If you were being serious, don’t pretend you were joking, and vice versa — it’s unhelpful and might make us confused. You can also use tone tags if you’re having a conversation over text or other kinds of messaging. Tone tags are used to express the tone of a message so that nobody is confused about what the intended meaning is. They’re formatted as follows: “/s” stands for sarcasm, “/j” stands for joking, “/srs” stands for serious, and so on.

If you think tone tags could be helpful for you and your friends, there are many expanded lists available online. Not every tone tag will be helpful, but many have become staples in my everyday conversations and make it a lot easier for me to understand what people are saying. And as with any relationship, clear and open communication is key for success!

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