Have you ever considered all that was involved in a simple social exchange? I didn't, until ASD became part of my family life.
"There's a lot of data in a face," one of Brad's therapists told me several months ago.
Data? Face? It seemed like an odd statement at the time because, as a typical person, I read faces intuitively, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Having a son with ASD forced me to consider the process of social intuition. Take, for example, happiness. How can I tell if some one else is happy? First, words help. If some says, "I'm happy," that's a clear indication of happiness. Second, laughter would be an indication. But what if there are no literal expressions of happiness or laughter. How can I tell? A smile. Eyes light up. It's easy to intuit, but hard to articulate the process.
What about less subtle emotions, such as apprehension. Eyes may widen. Mouth may open. Body may become stiff. There is a lot of data there.
Now consider when some one is talking to you: eyes widen, eyes narrow, mouth opens, body tenses, head turns, words are uttered, posture changes. Data, data, data, and more data.
Now consider a social exhange: you're on the receiving end of all of this data, and in a split second you have to perceive it (i.e. hear the words, see the face), process it (what do the words mean when combined with the gestural communication and the facial expressions) and give it back (i.e. with words or nongestural communication).
Now consider Brad's perceptual abilities: face in the background, appealing visual/spatial stimulus (e.g. letters) in the foreground. And consider Brad's processing abilities: slow and coarse. So when he's in a social encounter, he's bombarded with data which he can't process efficiently, and often that data will be in his background, so he'll disregard it the way we disregard background noise. Other times, he may process it, but very slowly.
Still, he manages to process some of it, and that's an accomplishment in and of itself; he does manage basic reciprocal social exchanges. I'll smile at him and say "Brad!" He'll smile at me and say "Mommy!" Mind you, he didn't start doing this type of exchange until recently, but that small exchange makes me so very hopeful.