Now You Can Improve Your Communication on the Autism Spectrum

Here Is Another Communication Tip For the Autism Spectrum

One of the autism spectrum facts that greatly impacts an individual’s ability to communicate effectively and build relationships is called theory of mind.

According to Wikipedia, theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own

This autism fact leads to an unintended tendency for an individual on the autism spectrum to appear very Me Centered. In other words, it often does not dawn on the person with autism Asperger’s that relationship includes being curious and interested about others’ thoughts and feelings. Additionally, individuals with autism spectrum conditions are often not aware of the effects that people’s physical gestures have on understanding and maintaining communication.

autism facts autism communication

photo credit: tayweilong


Today, I’m sharing a vital concept contributed by Michelle Garcia Winner, author of Thinking About You, Thinking About Me : it’s the concept and skill of Whole Body Listening.

When I say the word “listen,” what comes to mind?

When Ms. Winner would ask this question in groups of children with social cognition challenges, most of the kids would turn away from her with their ears toward her so that they could hear everything she was saying.

In taking their eyes off of the speaker, these children were greatly reducing their opportunity to understand all the communication signals that Ms. Winner was sending them.

Just as these kids did not understand that listening is much more than just hearing, your understanding of this concept of Whole Body Listening will give you a great advantage in being able to put yourself in a place of being able to fully receive the message that the speaker is sending to you.

Here’s a list of ideas that breaks down the concept of whole body listening:

  • You listen with your shoulders, hips, and feet by turning toward the person who is talking.
  • You listen with your chest by keeping it up and pointed toward the person who is talking.
  • You listen with your hands by not distracting other people or yourself.
  • You listen with your ears by hearing what other people are saying.
  • You listen with your brain by thinking about what the other people are saying.
  • You listen with your eyes by looking at people’s faces and eyes when they are talking to you, to think about how they are feeling.
  • You listen with your mouth by making comments or asking questions only about what the other person is discussion.

If you are a parent or teacher working with a child or even adult on the autism spectrum, you can watch for when the individual is listening effectively with different parts of their body, and give them verbal encouragement and appreciation, thus reinforcing Whole Body Listening.

Application Activities

Ms. Winner shares a couple of ways that you can practice and implement Whole Body Listening.


Utilize games like Charades or Guesstures to help children develop the habit of being social detectives. By fully engaging their senses, they will be learning the habit of looking for non-verbal clues of communication in the person communicating. They will also need to learn to try different non-verbal ways to communicate their own message/s to others.

Make Videotapes

With an abundance of smart phones and camcorders now available, it should be easy for you to record your child in different interaction situations, such as play dates or other social occasions. Then take time to comment on where the child or adult used Whole Body Listening effectively, and where they can improve. Because individuals on the autism spectrum are such visual learners, this will be a great way to reinforce their learning.

I hope you enjoyed this concept of Whole Body Listening as much as I did. We can all improve our listening skills. And by learning these skills, we are opening ourselves up to the possibility of building a bridge with others: the bridge of understanding and relationship.

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, please bookmark it, Tweet It, and Share It on Facebook. You can also find out more about me at About Me! 🙂

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I'm Steve Borgman. I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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  • Mary Cavanaugh

    This reminds me of a paper I wrote in the late 70’s entittled “Nonverbal Communication.” I subsequently received the opportunity to present it to a conference at the University of Montevallo. Writing this paper gave me a great awareness of how we communicate with our body and how very important eye contact is. I have often thought if I could get my AS daughter to read a book on Body Language this would improve how she interacts with her social teen world. Thanks so much for sharing this. This is such an important piece for kids on the spectrum.

  • steveborgman

    Mary, thank you very much for your input on this subject. By the way, do you still have access to the paper? I would be glad to reprint it on this site with full credit to you! It could be very helpful to many, as you pointed out 🙂

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