The fear of public speaking is a common one, affecting almost three-quarters of the population. However, when you throw in virtual public speaking and autism in the bag, it ends up becoming much harder.
That’s why as the COVID-19 pandemic gives way to the rising popularity of virtual video conferencing and public speaking platforms, people with autism find themselves in a bit of a quandary. Here’s why virtual public speaking is such an obstacle for people with autism.
Virtual Public Speaking Challenges
Public speaking is already hard for many people, but it’s harder for people with autism. Here are a few reasons why.
Difficulty in Picking Up Social Cues and Following Body Language
People with autism tend to struggle with communication and socialization. However, with training and practice, they are able to learn to pick up on certain social cues and follow body language to act and behave as neurotypical individuals.
This means it can become increasingly difficult for them to communicate effectively without these cues as well, and that is exactly what happens when they try to do public speaking through virtual platforms.
Since the audience is hidden behind the screen and what is visible is also quite limited, it can be incredibly challenging for autistic people to follow the audience’s social cues and body language and react accordingly during their speech or presentation.
Difficulty in Evaluating Progress
Following up with the previous point, since people with autism are not able to judge the body language of their virtual audience, they are not able to evaluate the progress of their speech or determine how good or bad they are doing. The lack of familiarity and increasing uncertainty can lead to heightened anxiety for autistic people.
Difficult to Engage Audience
Public speaking does not simply involve one long monologue by the speaker. You also have to engage with the audience, and this involves asking them questions or even adopting different speaking styles, using powerful body language themselves, and adopting a versatile voice to capture the audience’s interest.
All this is again hard to translate onto virtual platforms, where everyone has divided attention, and you have limited visual appearance yourself.
Why People with Autism Find it Easier to Communicate in Person
When it comes to public speaking, autistic people can be surprisingly good at it, especially when it’s about something they are very interested in. People with autism tend to have a childlike fascination with their interests, and when they speak about it publicly, it automatically translates into an enrapturing speech.
However, virtual public speaking platforms present many challenges that make it difficult for them to speak as they wish. In comparison, autistic people find it much easier to communicate or speak in person as firstly, they are more familiar with that routine, and secondly, they can easily pick up on social cues, facial emotions, and body language, which they have worked so hard to learn all their life.
One of the key characteristics of autistic people is their reliance on fixed routines to help with their everyday anxiety and relieve psychological distresses. However, COVID-19 has disrupted the normal routine for many autistic people, leaving them uncertain and distressed. In such situations, even daily activities have become challenging, let alone virtual public speaking.