by Kellsey Donovan, MS, CAGS
Associate Program Manager, Teen and Adult Services
Everyone knows the value of good communication skills. But when working with neurodiverse young people, it is even more important to use strategies for effective communication. This includes both knowing how to communicate your ideas, as well as being an effective listener. It is a validating experience to be in conversation with someone who is truly listening to your ideas. Listening with focus and empathy is just one step in understanding someone else’s perspective. Below are some ideas to help neurodiverse young people, and the adults in their lives, become better communicators and listeners.
Self-reflection: Working to understand yourself better is a great first step. This might include thinking about your own feelings, thoughts, or biases. Acknowledging your feelings and working to manage them will help you to be a better communicator in the future. In prepration for important conversations, you might also consider writing your thoughts or ideas down. Taking time to relax and practice stress-management strategies may help if you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming conversation.
Time and place: Setting aside a specific time for an important conversation can help things go more smoothly in the moment. Although we may often feel busy with our hectic lives, we wouldn’t want our schedule to get in the way of our relationship with others. Also,consider different platforms for having conversations. Some neurodiverse individuals may appreciate having a conversation face-to-face, while others may prefer texting. Asking about their preference can help them to feel more validated and comfortable before the conversation even begins!
Rephrasing: A common way to show someone else that you’re listening, and to help yourself make sure you understand, is to repeat back what the other person has said. You might consider paraphrasing what they’ve said to clarify things. When using this strategy, you want to make sure you are actively working to understand their ideas, because it could be frustrating if you inaccurately rephrase their words.
Listen for feelings: Sometimes we want to jump in and offer advice or explanations for certain situations. But an important skill for an empathic listener is to acknowledge the other person’s feelings. In younger children, this may also include labeling and identifying their feelings for them. For older children with strong self-reflection skills, you might directly ask them if they want to brainstorm solutions or receive advice.
Honesty and vulnerability: Some conversations might be more difficult to have than others. In these situations, it is important to be transparent, honest, and authentic. This kind of vulnerability may help to strengthen your relationship with the other person. It might be challenging to be open with your thoughts and feelings, but the result will be worth it!
I invite you to think back on some conversations you’ve had lately. There may be skills or strategies you’re already implementing that help you to communicate more effectively with others. If you’re struggling to reach an understanding with someone, you might consider trying one of the ideas mentioned in this article. Everyone has a different communication style, and it might take some time before you find the one that fits best.