Understanding the Social Signs of Autistic People

“One of the most widely held beliefs about autistic people — that they are not interested in other people — is almost certainly wrong. Our understanding of autism has changed quite a bit over the past century, but this particular belief has been remarkably persistent…  Even now, a National Institutes of Health fact sheet suggests that autistic people are ‘indifferent to social engagement,’and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that some ‘might not be interested in other people at all.”  V.  K. Jaswal and N. Akhtar, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Photo- Autism Speaks.

Excerpt: How to Meet Autistic People Halfway, By Vikram K. Jaswal and Nameera Akhtar, The New York Times

“Seventy-five years ago, the first published account of autism described its subjects as ‘happiest when left alone’ and ‘impervious to people’…There is no question that autistic people can seem as though they are not interested in others. They may not make eye contact or they may repeat lines from movies that don’t seem relevant in the moment. They may flap their hands or rock their bodies in ways that other people find off-putting. But just because someone appears socially uninterested does not mean that he or she is…As the autistic author Naoki Higashida writes, ‘I can’t believe that anyone born as a human being really wants to be left all on their own, not really,” adding, ‘The truth is, we’d love to be with other people.’

So why do autistic people act in ways that make it appear they want to be left alone? Autism is a neurological condition that affects how people perceive, think and move. Autistic people say that some of their apparently unsociable behaviors result from these neurological characteristics. Paradoxically, they may behave in these ways when they are trying to engage with other people.

Take eye contact. Some autistic people say they find sustained eye contact uncomfortable or even painful. Others report that it’s hard to concentrate on what someone is saying while simultaneously looking at them. In other words, not looking someone in the eye may indicate that an autistic person is trying very hard to participate in the conversation at hand. Unfortunately, this attempt to engage often gets interpreted as a lack of interest… Some popular autism interventions recommend that parents and teachers attempt to train autistic children to make eye contact or to stop repeating themselves or flapping their hands.

The problem with this is that the neurological makeup of an autistic person may make it difficult or impossible for him or her to do so… For all of us, whether we are socially motivated at any given time depends on much more than our innate predisposition for sociability… Autistic people have been making the case for decades that they are interested in other people, and that they do not intend their unusual behaviors to indicate otherwise.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Autistic people can seem as though they are not interested in others.
  2. In some cases autistic people are desperate for social connection.
  3. Autistic people may behave in strange ways deemed unsociable.
  4. Paradoxically, they may behave in these ways when they are trying to engage with other people.
  5. Some autistic people say they find sustained eye contact uncomfortable or even painful.
  6. Or consider another common autistic behavior: echolalia.
  7. Wrongly assuming that someone is not socially motivated can have devastating consequences.
  8. The presumption that autistic people are not sociable effectively dehumanizes them.
  9. There are some popular autism interventions.
  10. Some autistic people behave in ways that get misinterpreted.

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. Autistic people are not interested in other people.
  2. Seventy-five years ago, the first published account of autism described its subjects as “happiest when left alone”.
  3. Autistic people make eye contact.
  4. Autistic people never make odd gestures.
  5. Autistic people experience loneliness, say they want friends.
  6. Naoki Higashida is an autistic author.
  7. Autism is a physical condition that affects how people perceive, think and move.
  8. Echolalia occurs when  people say the same thing over and over again.
  9. Sometimes autistic people repeat phrases as a way of connecting at a deep level.
  10. Improving the social lives of autistic people will require putting aside assumptions about how social interest is expressed.

Grammar: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

If you assume/consume  a person is not interested in interacting/interact with you, then you probably won’t exert/exit much effort/afford to interact in the first place. This can led/lead to a situation where neither/either person wants to act/interact with the other. Or you might insisting/insist that he or she interact in the ways you expect/inspect socially interested people to interact.

III. Post Reading Activities

Discussion for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them  discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Do you have a friend who is autistic?  If yes how do you interact with them?
  2. Are there students with autism in your school or class? How do they interact with you and the other students?
  3. The article states, “Wrongly assuming that someone is not socially motivated can have devastating consequences. Being sociable is widely considered to be a fundamental part of being human. The presumption that autistic people are not sociable effectively dehumanizes them.
  4. If you assume a person is not interested in interacting with you, then you probably won’t exert much effort to interact in the first place. This can lead to a situation where neither person wants to interact with the other. Or you might insist that he or she interact in the ways you expect socially interested people to interact.”
  5. The article also states,For all of us, whether we are socially motivated at any given time depends on much more than our innate predisposition for sociability.”

Ask/Answer  Questions

Directions: Have each group list 3  questions they would like to pursue in relation to  the article. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.

ANSWER KEY

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