top of page

Autism and Relationships: Four Surprising Benefits of Written Communication

Photo Credit: Jonas Leupe

In this post, Dr. Regan discusses four significant advantages to written communication for the autistic. Keeping these benefits in mind will help you facilitate exchanges that may not occur face-to-face.


How often has someone said to you, "Look at me while I'm talking to you!" 

Most neurotypicals value the nonverbals that are intrinsic to the in-person dialogue. We feel we receive more abundant information, more pieces to the puzzle, than with the words alone. The look in the eyes, tilt of the mouth, and cadence of speech invite us into more in-depth understanding.

Does the speaker mean what he is saying? How hurt is she about what happened?

We tie all the clues together to navigate the exchange. 

And yet, is it not valid to consider ways in which the autistic individual experiences better communication using text or email than in-person? 

Keep in mind the diagnostic challenges that are part of the autism spectrum itself-- things like difficulties navigating the back-and-forth of conversational flow, problems using and understanding nonverbal information, and struggles with the social nuances of language (like sarcasm). 


  1. Provides Time to Process

Many on the spectrum would rather receive an email and have time to translate and process it before feeling the pressure of responding. They are relieved not to have someone watching them and wanting a formulated reaction quickly. Having breathing space is a luxury. 

2. Provides Reliable Nonverbal Emojis

Rather than having to think about how her face looks and what the mood of the speaker is, the individual can use emojis. One autistic woman said, "I don't know what my face is supposed to look like, but I know what the emojis for "shocked" or "disgusted" are. They are always the same, and I can count on their meaning. I feel more secure that I said the right thing, and people understood me." 

3. Reduces Intensity

For many on the spectrum, face-to-face communication feels very intense, particularly for emotionally charged conversations. Whereas a neurotypical individual may want to talk about emotionally impactful subjects in-person, the ASD individual may need more space to process the topic without shutting down or feeling overwhelmed. Once the individual shuts down, he is unable to process the content of the conversation effectively.

4. Reduces self-consciousness

ASD individuals who experience significant social anxiety can feel less embarrassed during text or email exchanges than face to face. If the autistic is less uneasy (as is often the case online), he may be able to reveal his true self to others in a way that feels impossible face to face. 


Before I send the wrong message -- that I recommend online communication for all exchanges -- I'll balance my statements. 

Having strategies for making in-person visits successful is vital. For example, see the blog post about giving the individual a role to play at a gathering. We know that being able to gather with a group of family or friends is important.

The intent of this article is to help us focus on the value of reducing the social and emotional complexity of some exchanges. By doing so, we allow the autistic individual options for expressing his needs and processing input from others. 

I know in my home, I had some of the most relevant conversations with my ASD son when we were sitting in the dark, texting, or driving in the car (him sitting behind my seat). I know that if I had insisted on a face-to-face exchange in those instances, we would have lost the moments. 


Be creative and flexible. Consider the ultimate goal. If the goal is to have a meaningful exchange about essential topics, consider offering the autistic space, time, and calm. If the goal is to create opportunities to participate in a social group, use strategies to ensure success.

3,353 views4 comments


Your website looks like just what I want for comfort from time to time!

I've just written my husband (both over 80 now) a suggestion for a new saucepan. Bingo! It worked but it isn't my natural style, although we've been married for nearly 30 years. Sounds like overkill, but he didn't enjoy my verbal request, mainly because I couldn't provide all information in the right order. Actually there wasn't a "right" order, but he prefers to see ALL points before deciding, and cannot do that with speech. He really throve in an office where everything was presented in written form!

Replying to

I love clues ... revelation ... for how something could go more smoothly! It sounds like you have had that about your husband's communication style. I'm glad the website can serve you both in some way! Dr. Regan


I definitely do best at written word, I have learned that if I write a letter to a person I am interacting with (arguments, disagreements, etc) that my thoughts become much clearer as I write and revise and think about the interaction/event that was such a struggle. After several revisions and much thought, I am much more successful at recognizing 'what went wrong' and what I need to happen from my end to make future communications/ attempts more successful. So many spoken and "real time" interactions just do not allow for the slow processing/ non existent processing of my vision and hearing neurology. I only realized this has been true all my life,(visual and hearing processing impairme…


Jun 09, 2020

Oh My Goodness!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! THANK YOU!!!!

bottom of page