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Navigating the Complexities of Communication in a Neurodiverse World

This blog is based on Carol Reller’s chapter in the upcoming book, Uniquely Us: Gracefully Navigating the Maze of NeuroDiverse Marriage. Autism, Faith, Marriage

Converted to a blog by Dr. Stephanie C. Holmes and editing help from ChatGPT

"Communication. Seems like a simple word." This common notion is often unchallenged until we encounter misunderstandings that leave us perplexed and seeking answers. As someone who has navigated both professional and personal journeys through the realm of communication – teaching in a special day class for communicatively handicapped children and later as a speech and language pathologist, and also being married to a brilliant yet neurodiverse individual – I've come to understand the multifaceted nature of communication, especially in neurodiverse relationships.

Background: A Personal and Professional Journey

My career began in 1988, teaching 1st -3rd graders with communication handicaps. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of a lifelong learning process about communication's intricacies. Later, as a speech and language pathologist, I worked with a wide range of children, including those with Autism Level 1, then known as Asperger's Syndrome.

My personal life brought its own revelations. Marrying Greg, a geologist with a quiet nature and unique word usage, opened my eyes to the complexities of communication within a neurodiverse marriage. Our initial communication challenges, assumed to be typical marital adjustments, later revealed deeper layers associated with neurodiversity.

Discovering Asperger’s in a Personal Context

It wasn't until I began working with older children that I started noticing similarities between Greg's behavior and that of children on the autism spectrum. Their specific word choices, focus on particular topics, and difficulties in understanding others mirrored Greg's interactions. However, the possibility of him being on the autism spectrum remained unexplored for years.

Life on the Spectrum: Understanding Through Marriage  Experience

Living on a five-acre farm brought its challenges and joys. Greg and I, both lovers of the outdoors, often found ourselves embroiled in projects that tested our communicative dynamics. Greg's need for focus and internal processing clashed with my preference for verbal processing and interaction. These differences, often leading to misunderstandings, highlighted the distinct communication styles influenced by neurodiversity.

The Technical Side of Communication: A Speech Pathologist’s Perspective

Communication is more than just spoken words. As Albert Mehrabian's study in "Silent Messages" (1971) suggests, only 7% of meaning in communication of feelings and attitudes is conveyed through spoken word, with 38% through tone and 55% through body language. This study focused on the communication of feelings and attitudes, and not all communication in general.  In the world of language pathology, we explore language through its five areas: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. It's the semantics (word meanings) and pragmatics (social use of language) that are most impacted by autism.

Pragmatics and Autism: A Closer Look

In assessing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), diagnosticians use various methods including the DSM-5. Key characteristics of autism affecting pragmatic language include difficulties in social reciprocity, nonverbal communication, and maintaining relationships. These traits significantly impact neurodiverse relationships.

Frequency, Intensity, Duration: Understanding Neurodiverse Communication

The distinctiveness of neurodiverse relationships lies in the frequency, intensity, and duration of communicative traits. In Bill Nason's "The Autism Discussion Page on the Core Challenges of Autism" (2014), the difference in literal versus perspective communication in neurotypical and autism spectrum relationships is discussed, highlighting the often-misunderstood dynamics in neurodiverse relationships.

Practical Insights: Learning from Personal Experiences

Understanding these nuances became pivotal in my relationship with Greg. Recognizing the need for explicit communication, like clearly stating a request rather than implying it, was crucial. For example, a simple act of asking Greg to open a door needed a direct approach rather than an implied one.

Conclusion: Embracing Neurodiversity in Communication

Our journey through the complexities of neurodiverse communication is ongoing. It's about embracing these differences, understanding the unique ways in which we express and perceive, and continually learning from each other. Communication in a neurodiverse world is not just about talking and listening; it's about understanding the unspoken, the nuances, and the perspectives that shape our interactions.

The book is slated for June 2024! Follow the launch on this site’s home page! Find out more on changing your communication in a neurodiverse Christian marriage!


  • Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent Messages.

  • Nason, B. (2014).

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