This post is in the Communications category

In this document, the concept of Communication is divided into two distinct dimensions; the sharing of ideas that we think of in terms of language, and the sharing of affect that is the realm of social communication.

The impact that Asperger’s Syndrome appears to have upon this social communication occurs in three functions; joint attention, affective reciprocity, and theory of mind (Robertson, Tanguay, L’ Ecuyer, Sims, & Waltrip, 1999), the latter two of which have been dealt with elsewhere in this document. Theory of Mind or ToM,, is considered to be a part of Executive Function that relies upon certain communication skills, as will become clearer below. Social reciprocity concerns what we commonly refer to as empathy, but also involves many of the skills and abilities central to conducting conversations and building and maintaining social relationships. These social communication issues are often masked in adulthood due to the development of cognitive avoidance and work-around strategies are also very difficult to observe in young children (Frith, 2004). By employing these cognitive strategies, adult Asperger and HFA individuals can make the cognitive connections required for ToM when prompted (Senju, Southgate, White, & Frith, 2009), however spontaneity is generally absent or significantly impaired.

Joint attention has not been addressed in these pages previously. This term refers to the tendency to spontaneously share knowledge and experience through the use of non-verbal cues (Tantam, Holmes, & Cordess, 1993). In addition to the Black Page in this section, an example of this is a child pointing at an object that captures his interest (initiation), or following the gaze of another person towards one (response). While these examples can be observed as lacking in ASD children and adults, and may indeed be an early warning sign for diagnosis (Osterling & Dawson, 1994; Sullivan et al., 2007; Toth, Munson, Meltzoff, & Dawson, 2006), the underlying reasons for the manifestation are unclear. It has been demonstrated that poor joint attention and weak central coherence are at least partly independent, (Morgan, Maybery, & Durkin, 2003) but I have been unable to find studies examining the relationship between joint attention and Theory of Mind. From my own experience, I would suggest that poor joint attention is symptomatic of alexithymia and difficulties with Theory of Mind. The drive to joint attention, to share the pleasurable experience, whether it me music or a nice view or an interesting idea is perhaps reduced by both a lack of recognition of the pleasure the experience is generating (alexithymia) and the lack of spontaneous perspective taking.

The word autism is, after-all a reference to self.

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