I was walking down the hall the other day, and I saw someone from whom I needed some information. I approached her, and she proceeded to walk right past me to greet someone else – completely ignoring me from my perspective. Completely frustrated, as I gave up and left, I muttered, “What am I? Invisible?”
One challenge I face (as do many other autistic individuals) is the question of how I get your attention. In many cases, your autistic friends, family, or students may not understand how to enter a conversation in a socially appropriate way. In my case, I catch myself just standing nearby waiting to be noticed – unfortunately making myself unintentionally unobtrusive. People don’t ignore me. They just don’t notice me.
Conversation skills are pretty challenging to teach to children in general, but the amount of unspoken interaction provides an even steeper challenge for autistic children and adults. At younger ages, consistent prompting and modeling as well as social role playing helps surmount those barriers. However, it can be difficult for an adult to relearn habits developed in those formative years.
It’s important that teachers, mentors, and peers recognize the challenges faced by autistic individuals with conversation engagement. We can only help when we are consciously aware of those circumstances where are children are trying to get our or someone else’s attention – especially if they are the silent, “wait-to-be-noticed” type. Otherwise, we may allow them to become invisible to us, and, if they are invisible to us, they may grow up being invisible to others.