Almost all individuals on the autism spectrum, including those with high functioning autism and Asperger’s, have at least some degree of difficulty with “acknowledging” others. By that I mean making a space in time at the outset of their interactions with others to at least briefly notice others visually and to make an appropriate comment that acknowledges the presence, and thereby subtly acknowledges the importance, of the other person. Individuals who are not on the autism spectrum do this unconsciously, and they will notice immediately if they have not been acknowledged. Not being acknowledged is likely to bring to their attention that “something is wrong”, or if they are knowledgeable about autism, that the individual they are interacting with may be on the autism spectrum. But there is certainly the risk that even if they do know something about autism, they may feel offended and possibly even conclude that the individual is rude! This may be especially true when the individual has high functioning autism and Asperger’s because the condition may not be otherwise apparent. To get and keep competitive employment (that is, a job where you are chosen over someone else), and to get and keep relationships of any kind, adolescents and young adults with high functioning autism and Asperger’s must learn to always acknowledge others. It is read by others as respectful, and will build a good reputation.
What does not acknowledging others look like? It might be:
Walking into a room full of people on your break at work, not saying anything nor making eye contact with anyone, and sitting down in a chair.
Walking up to the pharmacy window, the pharmacist looks up, and immediately handing her a prescription, saying, “I need to get this filled”.
Walking past your boss and co-workers while at work without looking at them at all or saying anything.
Someone smiles at you and makes eye contact, and you do not smile back and make eye contact.
Walking up to the boss and saying, “I need more materials” without smiling, saying hello, asking a question, or making eye contact.
You the parent can definitely help your child with high functioning autism or Asperger’s to develop this essential skill for employment and independence!
In a variety of situations with a variety of people, and especially when your child interacts independently with others, remind them to:
Make eye contact at least briefly
Have a friendly face
Say “hello” and “How are you doing?”, wait for a reply and then make a brief answer.
If they have a need, start with a general statement: “I have something I need you to do for me please”, or “I hope you can help me out”, or “I have a question for you”.
OR, if they have no specific need, they should make a comment about the weather or say something positive about the shared activity that everyone is doing.
Say “goodbye” before leaving the presence of the person.
Acknowledge the feelings of others if those are expressed or evident (ex: “I’m sorry you are sad”, “That’s great news!”).
Emphasize the importance to your child of acknowledging others, the way it makes others feel respected, and how it will enhance their reputation with others.