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Friday 24 November 2023

How to communicate your needs

I do struggle to communicate, especially when talking to someone that I don’t know or talking on the phone. The way I overcome this is by having a trusted family member or a friend beside me when I am on the phone, in case I don’t understand the person I am speaking to.

I make sure the communication style I’ve chosen is right for my own needs, in different circumstances and different environments. I use my communication cards when I'm out in busy environments or going to appointments. Sometimes the communication cards may not work and that’s okay as I have other ways to communicate – like using Makaton (sign language) to support my needs.

When I was at school, I spoke extremely fast, and no one could understand me. I started to make a number line out of cardboard, with numbers from one to ten to represent the speed I was talking, which helped me to slow down. This meant I could independently recognise when I was speaking fast, and which situations caused me to speak fast. I could reduce the number on the timeline when I was speaking fast by taking a few breaths and pausing before I spoke. This meant I didn’t get frustrated or go mute to people who were helping me.


How other people can support me

My voice matters and I think the most important thing people can do to support me is to listen, whether it’s by using communication cards, email, or sign language. This can help prevent shutdowns, meltdowns, anxiety and improve my mental health and communication skills.

Writing down how I am feeling helps me to pinpoint my emotions and means I don’t have the pressure to talk it through with someone. Sometimes talking about my emotions or what has happened in the day can be hard as I don’t know what words to say.


My advice to autistic people struggling to communicate

The advice I can give to autistic people who are struggling to communicate their own needs is that having different communication aids can really help to get other people to understand you. It’s also helpful to have a trusted advocate to support you to communicate in different situations, whether it’s on the phone or at medical appointments.

There are different ways to communicate which are: 

  • verbal communication
  • non-verbal communication
  • listening
  • written communication
  • visual communication.


There are three parts of communication: 

  1. the sender
  2. the message
  3. the recipient (decodes the message and helps to understand the information received to the Broca's area of the brain).


There are many ways to communicate that suit your own needs and in different environments. Having different techniques and methods to communicate can really support your independence and confidence, including your self-esteem. Everyone has different communication styles which work for them.

Here are some communication methods which may be helpful for you when you are struggling to communicate your needs: 

  • communication cards (communicate board, picture exchange communication systems)
  • Makaton (uses symbols, signs and speech to enable people to communicate, helps with listening, comprehension, memory, recall and organisation of language and expression)
  • BSL (British Sign Language)
  • AAC device
  • writing it down on paper or typing it on a phone or computer
  • email
  • drawing
  • talking on the phone


About the author

Megan is a youth advisor who joined last year. She enjoys doing Makaton (sign language), supporting youth network opportunities, and writing on her blog on social media to advocate autism.