3 Autistic Miscommunication Challenges and How to Manage Them [Guide]

Keith Greenwood  |  21/05/2021

If you're an autistic professional, how do you manage these top 3 miscommunication challenges? Keith Greenwood explains.

1. Vague Language

There are times when people will send typed instructions to you in a haphazard manner. If there is still ambiguity reply back to the sender for clarification. It can be irksome to do but better some time spent clarifying now instead of making a mistake.

One of the challenges is when people assume an accepted use of a word that makes sense to them but not to someone. For a real life example. I was asked to carry out a task manually as it cannot work on one system. I then used another system to carry it out.

However, I was told off because when they meant ‘manually’, they actually meant they wanted it to be done using email which ‘everyone else’ in the office understood.

When you are working with people who may not be precise with their use of language, do not always go with the first or logical assumption. Unfortunately, people can react with hostility if you are asking for clarification repeatedly. 

Politely ask for them to change the way they are communicating. If they refuse then it falls on you to adapt. However infuriating it can be keep a calm tone of voice. Raising your voice or showing aggression does not aid in communication even if others do it.

2. Time and Clarification

In an effective office, people will send out tasks with some indication of when they want it completed by. However this requires a workplace habit to be adopted by everyone not just a single person. So when in doubt it is best to check back with who assigned the task. 

Miscommunication about deadlines can lead to lost time, workplace stress and poor quality as things are rushed. An example could be someone wanting something saying they want it done today but expecting it in the next hour. Or an email highlighted with the word important but not urgent. 

This may not be as relevant when there is a lot of free time and you can perform said task very quickly. However in an office, where large amounts of tasks stretching over time can be assigned in large volume knowing when something needs to be done by (as opposed to when someone wants it done) is essential. 

If someone sends you a task either verbally or by email and there is some discrepancy as to when it needs to be done by check back. Doing this with every single request can get time consuming so prioritise ones that are likely to take more time. 

3. Understanding "unspoken" expectations

Sometimes you can be asked to carry out an action with the unspoken expectation that you will carry out the task that immediately follows it. For these examples the unspoken is in italics.

1. Unstack the dishwasher and then put things into it.

2. Empty the garbage bag and replace the bag with an empty one.

3. Send out messages to these people and tell me when it is done.

4. Take these files out and copy the documents and then put them back in the filing cabinet

If these requests come while in the middle of you working on something else, the mind can focus on the most pertinent detail so you can get back to it. In the case of tasks that are repeated enough the unspoken part of the request can become assumed. In which case you will do so automatically after being reminded about it in prior occasions.

The moment they ask for something that is not routine in the same manner there exists the chance for the problem to repeat itself. In these cases it can be good to stop and ask yourself. If I chose to do this what would I do next? Then ask if there are any things to follow through.

Take-Away Points

When communicating information clearly to others, it can be good to think of the above examples in reverse. Sometimes it can help to do a quick read over of an email before sending as if it was written by someone else. Make sure the information they need to have is present alongside clear indications of when you want something done by.

If speaking over the phone keep a level voice and think carefully about how you use your words. When you need something to be definite take the time to say so. Even if you are in a rush repeating yourself after speaking too fast can cause more lost time.