Problems with language and communication are often one of the hallmarks of autism, and as an autistic person, face-to-face conversation has never been a strength of mine. Facial expressions confuse me, and different tones of voice alarm me. Body language is baffling; inference is difficult. I don’t get most jokes, and I make less eye contact than others.
As a child, I would swing from babbling to my parents about my special interests until I was breathless to spending entire days at school without uttering a single word to anybody. This remained much the same when I continued on to higher education; in the few face-to-face tutorials that I attended during my distance-learning undergraduate studies at the Open University, I was invariably overwhelmed, often mute and always eager to return home and hide behind the safety of my laptop screen. And for the first two years of my postgraduate degree, I would regularly forgo heading to campus over fears that I would encounter someone else in the department who wanted to talk. At conferences, while everyone else was chatting over coffee, the only hobnobbing I did was with the complementary oat biscuits in a hidden corner or quiet room.
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