Autistic World Part 1: Speech as a Second Language

Aug 9, 2000

Last month, I had the pleasure and honor of going to the National Autism Conference in Atlanta and personally meeting and interacting with many adults at the conference which had HFA or Asperger's Syndrome. Because of their willingness to teach parents how it really is to live with this disorder, I learned a tremendous amount of knowledge and wisdom concerning autism from an adult's point of view so that I can have better understanding of my nine-year old autistic son's view on life.

One of the things that I learned in the very first meeting with Martijn Dekker, a man from the Netherlands who has high functioning autism, is that he and other autistic individuals refer to their interaction in the neurotypical world as being similar to a person immigrating from this country from another which has a totally different language background.

So, just as a person who has a Spanish background comes to this country and is completely lost concerning the communication of English with others, so is a person with autism unable to communicate effectively with others because of the same kinds of situations.

What is a "normal" way of speaking for an autistic person is not necessarily the same way for us to speak to one another. Because autistic individuals process their information in their minds differently, there's really not any way that we can totally undestand what they are feeling because we can not feel it.

So, there's a great deal of patience that has to be understood between both autistic and non-autistic individuals when it comes to communication.

I know that in my own case, it is sometimes very frustrating for my son and I to speak to one another. He has the things in mind that he wants to talk about which are not necessarily what I want to talk about. Just because each one of us is wanting to control the conversation doesn't mean that I am right because I am the parent. He has the right to express hiimself to whatever degree that he needs to in order to get his point understood.

I believe that many autistic individuals overload because they are not able to express their inner fears and feelings into verbal language. This is why they may have something similar to a panic attack trying to interact with us in the neurotypical world.

We have to always remember what I have pointed out here, that speech to an autistic individual is like a second language to them. They would rather communicate in their own way be it with sounds, with words of their choice, or other ques. Just because it's different doesn't mean that it's wrong for them to communicate this way.

My son is sitting here rocking in a chair, playing his computer and making some sounds right now that are not verbal words. Is this appropriate? Who am I to say? Surely in the neurotypical world, people would not find this behavior acceptable.

However, autistic individuals need to have a safe haven in which to crash and not be themselves as they really are without having to worry about what is "appropriate" or not. And as long as I am able to provide a home here to allow my son to be "himself", I am sure that he will be able to function as an "alien" in the world outside his safe haven.

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