Though language delays and communication problems are common on the autism spectrum of disorders, Asperger syndrome and long periods of silence don't always go hand in hand. In some cases, the quiet times may involve lack of contact, not lack of speech.
Aspergers and Communication
Asperger's disorder is different from other pervasive developmental disorders in that delays in language development isn't a factor. People with Asperger syndrome or AS are intelligent, and many have impressive vocabularies. Social communication, however, poses problems that can be difficult for people to understand.
Figurative language can be problematic because a person with AS is likely to take things literally. Problems understanding sarcasm and humor can lead to difficulty engaging in social communication. The tendency to be straightforward and to the point may make a person with AS appear to be rude or uncaring.
Body language and facial expressions can be difficult to interpret, and problems with self assessment and mindblindness can further complicate social interactions.
How does impairments in social communication and social interaction affect discourse, and how do Asperger syndrome and long periods of silence relate?
Relationship Between Asperger Syndrome and Long Periods of Silence
The relationship between long silences and Asperger's is twofold. The person with the social disorder may not recognize important cues that indicate when to speak and when to pause. Long silences may involve lack of contact for a considerable time, often long enough to make you think that the person is not interested in your relationship.
Anyone who has had a long conversation with a person who has Asperger disorder is well aware that the individual has considerable knowledge on particular subjects. This can lead to one-sided conversations as the speaker is unable to gauge the listener's interest on the subject, and may tend to prattle on without appearing to have any regard for the other person's level of comfort. This is how mindblindness can manifest.
One-sided conversations can be difficult to deal with, but long silences can be unbearable. Another problem with the inability to take another person's perspective is the tendency to fail to fill awkward silences with meaningful discourse. A person with AS may not notice that another person is uncomfortable in complete quiet, and may not feel compelled to ease the discomfort by "breaking the ice."
Lack of Contact
A person diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome may tend to fall into a spell of silence during which you may have little or no contact. A couple things factor into failing to keep in touch:
- The theory of mind is the ability to attribute thoughts and feelings to another person that are not the same as your own. Normally, people are quite good at figuring out what another person may be thinking or feeling just by looking at his or her facial expressions. People with AS have difficulty understanding that others may be feeling something different than they do; they don't miss themselves, so they may assume others do not miss them.
- Self assessment can be an obstacle as well. A University of Cambridge study showed that the areas in the brain that normally become active when a person thinks about his or her own thoughts and feelings does not become active in cases of autism. A person with AS may engage in long periods of silence and lack of contact because of the inability to recognize the need for contact with others.
- Time perception is often different in people with autism spectrum disorders, which can translate into long periods without contact, and long silences that the person is unable to recognize.
Dealing with Silence
Taking another person's perspective is difficult for people on the autism spectrum, but it can be difficult for neurotypical people to see from the autistic perspective. Dealing with long silences can be hard, but it is helpful to know the characteristics people with AS typically have.
It may seem impossible to avoid taking things personally, but when it comes to interacting with a person who is blind to your inner thoughts and feelings, taking things personally is counterproductive. Being straightforward with your emotions and thoughts can be a great way to break through the silence.