Emotional Intelligence and Autism

Mette Harrison
2 min readMay 4, 2023

I recently listened to a podcast where a well-intentioned person insisted that humans have largely forgotten their innate emotional intelligence and that only 7% of information is communicated through words. The other 93% is communicated in non-verbal ways and if people would simply pay attention to body language and facial expression, they would be able to communicate so much better with others and decrease a lot of conflict.

On the one hand, this is a familiar problem I have with assumptions about what it is to be a “normal” human. Most people’s definitions seem to exclude autistic people with a surprisingly unintrospective and unempathetic wave of the hand. Those people don’t count as humans, so we don’t talk about what their experience of being human is. But actually I am human, and my experience of being human is being pretty blind to body language and facial expression.

On the other hand, I am pretty skeptical about claims that body language and facial expression are “easy” to learn. The more I read about studies on these topics, the less I believe that anyone knows how to interpret simple gestures or expressions across cultures or in any universal way. And one of the realities of this kind of flattening of the wide expanse of human experience is that I, as an autistic person with generally flat affect, am often read as a neurotypical person who is not experiencing emotions or pain.

The assumption is that the person who thinks they know how to read other people can naturally read me. Only they can’t. And it’s very frustrating when I come across such a person in real life and they refuse to LISTEN TO MY WORDS, which are actually giving them 98% of the information that I have to offer. Instead, they misread my body language and facial expressions and believe that they know how I feel and what I am thinking better than I do. THEY DO NOT.

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Mette Harrison

Autist, Ironman Worlds triathlete, Writer, Right-Brained