competing access needs

Question about autistics learning ASL






inthedreamer001 said to realsocialskills:

I am considering learning ASL, and I recently shadowed a local class. While I like the class overall, the teacher kept saying to the students “eyes to eyes, not eyes to hands” to prompt them to make eye contact while speaking ASL. Is this a universal ASL thing? If so, are there exceptions made in the autistic/neurodivergent community? Thanks!

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know enough about ASL and Deaf culture to give you a good answer to this. I’m posting this in hopes that someone who knows more than I do will weigh in.

There are two things I know that might be relevant here:

Thing #1: Sometimes there are competing access needs. Sometimes there’s a conflict between what one group needs and what another group needs. This is often not anyone’s fault, and negotiating it can be very complicated. Sometimes there’s no easy or short term solution. 

Thing #2: There are important differences between how facial expressions work in ASL (and other signed languages) vs English (and other spoken languages.) Facial expressions are much more important in ASL than they are in English. 

In spoken language, most of the information is communicated by sound. Most people who can hear can understand all or most of what someone is saying without looking at them. (Which is a reason that it’s possible to understand podcasts and radio programs.)

In spoken language, eye contact isn’t that important. You can communicate everything important without looking at someone’s face. (Unless they lipread and need you to be facing them so they can see your lips clearly.). Eye contact is a popular way to show respect, to show that you’re paying attention to someone, or to show that you’re speaking to them. There are other ways of communicating all of that. 

ASL and other signed languages are different. Facial expressions mean a lot more, because ASL is an entirely visual language. Some important Information that is communicated through sounds in English is communicated through facial expressions in ASL. If you don’t look at faces, you miss a lot. (Much more than you’d miss in English.)

I don’t know what that means about autistic and other neurodivergent signers. I suspect that for some autistic people, looking at faces in ASL might be possible in a way that looking at faces in English isn’t. (Because maybe it just feels like language and not the intrusive eye contact thing.). But I don’t actually know. I also don’t know how the Deaf autistic and otherwise neurodivergent community handles this. 

Does anyone who is more familiar with ASL and Deaf culture want to weigh in? How does signing and participation in Deaf culture work for autistic-and-similar people who have cognitive trouble with eye contact and looking at faces?

m79point7 said:

ug. not enough room in the reply.  let’s try this again

Eye contact is important in ASL, however, I do not think this should stop ANYONE from learning ASL for a couple of reasons:

1) In my experience, the Deaf community is a lot more open to accommodations than the NT, hearing world.  

2) If you can handle looking at someone’s nose or mouth, instead of directly in their eyes, that is close enough that the other person can easily see your eyes and your facial expression.

Again - this is coming from a hearing person, so it is not ‘insider info’ from the Deaf community, just my humble experience and thoughts.

I would encourage anyone who is interested to learn ASL!  It can be a real help when you can’t talk for whatever reason, and it gives you another way to express yourself.  It also opens up a whole new community and culture full of some really awesome people!  And it is fun!  ASL lets you talk to a friend across a room, through a window, underwater, or with your mouth full!

If possible, learn ASL from someone who is Deaf,a s learning any language from a native user of the language is always a much better way to learn.  Books and videos can only get you so far.  

I use ASL without eye contact. It limits me a lot in what I can say or how I can say it, though.

prosthetical said: @goldenheartedrose @mellopetitone

mellopetitone said:

I’m HoH, autistic, and learning ASL.

Eye contact is the usual way the concept is expressed but you don’t need actual eye contact. In ASL is important to look at a person’s face but you don’t need direct eye contact and more than you do with speaking. You must look at someone’s face but you can look at their mouth or forehead or alternative to look at their hands.

Expression is important, but I know it’s a big struggle for many people to make visible enough expressions. If you don’t emote much, your signing won’t be as interesting, like monotone in spoken language, but you can get across your meaning, though it may require extra signing to make explicit what would be communicated in an expression.

Reading expressions is wonderful for me in ASL. Native signers are so emotive that a lot of understanding comes just from emotion, even if you only recognize a few signs. It’s not like spoken English where I struggle to recognize emotions, especially with people I’m unfamiliar with. Signers who emote get across a huge range of meaning that signal very clearly for me.

The teacher saying eyes to eyes but eyes to hands was less meaning to state down the signer, but to tell students that the way signing us absorbed is by looking at the face for information and to express you’re paying attention, while getting the signs from the outer portion of your vision, not the middle.

TL;DR Looking at the signer’s face is required; eye contact is not. Making expressions is hard and many student signers have a hard time; this is expected by everyone and not a sign of failure. For me at least, signers’ expressions are easy to read and very informative. I understand meaning in ASL much better than I do in spoken English.

(Some of this information is not accurate when communicating with signers with other access needs, like deafblind. The access changes depend on the reason and within that also vary from person to person.)

Any Deaf care to add?

conflicting access needs

Anonymous said to :

I communicate best by writing (email, text, etc) and have a hard time with methods of communication that are voice-heavy (Skype calls, phone calls) because I have auditory-processing problems. Several long distance friends do better with auditory communication and worse with writing. But they speak really fast/garbled/quietly, so I can’t understand them sometimes. I end up avoiding them because it’s too frustrating for me to ask them to repeat every sentence, but I don’t want to. Please help?

realsocialskills said:

A couple of options:

Ask them what they think

  • Is their need to use voice methods of communication on the same level as yours?
  • Would they be able to use text for you sometimes?

Use typing for repeating:

  • It might be less frustrating to use Skype than the phone if you make good use of the typing feature
  • Would it work to use text to ask them to repeat things, and have them repeat it in text rather than voice?
  • That might make communication easier for both of you

Use something higher quality

  • If sound quality is making them hard to understand, it might be a problem you can solve
  • Different video chat services do things differently
  • It might make sense to try several and see if some are more comprehensible than others
  • If you can upgrade your internet, it might be worth doing
  • Getting better headphones might also help
  • It also might help if they get a better microphone instead of relying on their computer’s internal speakers
  • If you have access to a landline, sometimes the audio quality is better than on a cell phone

Use an interpreter.

  • You might be able to use something like Sprint Ip Relay to make TTY calls over the internet. 
  • There’s also a thing called ClearCaptions that’s a captioned phone service that live captions calls. You have to be willing to swear that you’re Deaf, hear of hearing, or otherwise phone disabled. (I think that having auditory processing problems that cause you to avoid using the phone ought to count, but I don’t know if they think that, and I don’t know how much they investigate.)
  • There are probably other options along these lines that I don’t know about. If anyone knows of good options, please comment or send an ask.

Use emailed videos

  • Maybe they could email you videos instead of emailing you emails?
  • Then you could watch them more slowly and repeat stuff
  • Like video email more than video chat
  • And then you could maybe respond in the way that’s easiest for you, which might be text

tl;dr Keeping in touch with friends can be hard when you have competing access needs for forms of communication over long distances. There are some options. Scroll up for details.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What have you found works for long distance communication between people who find speaking easier and people who find speech difficult to understand?



The sound of an apple being chewed drives me up the wall. Usually, when I am eating with someone and they pull out an apple, i can come up with a reason to excuse myself (bathroom, gotta take a phone call, etc.), but not always. I have also tried telling the…

parizadhe said:

I’ve had severe misophonia since I was a kid. It’s not just apples, but a LOT of noises–particularly relating to the mouth and nose–that set me off. I have to be very careful in noisy situations that it doesn’t trigger a full-blown panic attack, and I’ve been known to pass out from thee stress of “dealing with” my aversion to noises.

The best thing I’ve found is to carry headphones and an iPod or something EVERYWHERE I go. I have headphones or earplugs with me at all times. And when the noise gets too bad, I put the headphones on and crank up the music and try to divert my attention. I find it’s best to just be very honest with people you’re around, if you feel they may be insulted by this. “I’m not trying to ignore you, I just have a severe reaction to certain sounds.”

I’ve found that it helps to just be honest with people about it. Telling them about your sensitivity, tell them *it’s not their fault* and *it’s not something you can help either,* and tell them you will be right back/you’ll take off the headset when they’re done with the apple.

At the end of the day, your mental health trumps their right to eat an apple anyway, so you’re perfectly justified finding a solution that works for everyone involved.

realsocialskills said:

Thank you for your reply. I think your suggestions about how to discuss this are really good.

I somewhat disagree with you about “your mental health trumps their right to eat an apple anyway”. Sometimes that’s true, but not always. Sometimes it’s a competing access need.

There are all kinds of reasons why people sometimes have to eat right now, and why they might specifically need to eat an apple or something else that makes horrible sounds. It’s probably not usually going to be possible to tell from the outside whether someone has an important need to eat an apple.

I think that it’s better to err on the side of assuming that both people involved have needs that matter.

I kindof need the accessible seats on busses and kindof don’t need them all that badly. Sometimes I just sit in them. Sometimes I sit in them as long as there’s still another one free, but move if they’re all taken. Sometimes I move if I see someone coming onto the bus who looks as if they likely need it more than me. Sometimes I sit in a seat near the accessible seats, because it’s almost as good but there are no rules about leaving them for others.

realsocialskills said:

My situation is similar. (Although I’ve been realizing that I need the seats more than I thought I did, and that it’s ok for me to sit in them if that’s what makes riding the bus possible for me.)

I don’t have much else to say about that, but I think more needs to be said.

Any of y'all want to weigh in?

A question for y'all about image descriptions

Sometimes I want to reblog an image, but I only very slightly understand what it’s a picture of.

Is there a good way to do this without making things needlessly inaccessible? Like, what about saying “I’m not sure what this is”?

Does anyone know another way to do this?