As I’ve shared with you before, there are many different types of Autism and many degrees of severity of each type. (This is why medical communities refer to it as the Autism Spectrum.)
There’s a certain type wherein children might start speaking up until about two years old, and then they suddenly stop and never speak another word. However, just because they cannot speak doesn’t mean that they’re unintelligent or stunted mentally, or unable to understand what’s going on around them. One such young woman named Carly Fleishmann actually wrote a book about her own autism called Carly’s Voice. The first time I ever heard about her, it gave me goosebumps. (You can find her book here: http://carlysvoice.com/)
The type of Autism that my children and I have used to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome. (Now it’s simply called Autism Spectrum Disorder). This is the only type of Autism that’s hereditary, and I’ve heard — and I believe — that it’s also one hundred percent genetic. Our type of Autism is considered “high functioning,” though I feel that label is quite misleading, especially in educational circles.
One of the things that is usually unique to people with Asperger’s Syndrome is the way they process or interact with spoken words. In fact, though my son’s doctors, teachers, and I all knew something was “wrong” with him from the time he was born, he wasn’t diagnosed until he was in the third grade. (My daughter and I were diagnosed a short time later.) After the diagnosis, I read tons of books on Autism and Asperger’s, and I was floored by how many of those books could have been written by or about either my son Jeremy, my daughter Stefani, or even me. They really unlocked a lot of answers of why we did a lot of the quirky things we did.
Jeremy was diagnosed first by his pediatrician who sent us to a child psychiatrist who specializes in Autism to confirm his diagnosis. Then he confirmed it and sent us to a world renowned developmental pediatrician who also specializes in Autism to confirm his diagnosis.
The latter two doctors both had questionnaires that were about as thick as a small town’s phonebook which asked questions that started with the grandparents’ medical history and worked down through the patient’s current life. When the second doctor and I were talking about Jeremy and I mentioned how he had his own language for everything up until he was nearly six years old, the doctor’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. (In retrospect, I think he was thinking something like: If you knew that, then why are you even here? Of course he has Asperger’s Syndrome!)
Some small children have a hard time saying certain words, and they come up with words that sound similar to the word they’re trying to say. For instance, they might say “nana” instead of banana, or “sissy” instead of sister. These children typically outgrow the inability to say such words by the time they’re two or three and the words are either dropped from their vocabulary and replaced with the appropriate words, or else they end up creating a new nickname for a sibling or other family member, in which case the cute substitute word sticks around.
However, in the child with Asperger’s Syndrome who does this, they don’t drop these words as easily, nor are they anything that sounds remotely like the word that they are trying to say. (Not all people with Asperger’s Syndrome do this… Neither my daughter nor I ever did.) Usually the children who do this make up an entire language, and the parents are left to decipher what they’re talking about.
For example, are few of Jeremy’s words were as follows:
Yogurt = O-tee
Light = Gullah
Bottle = Day-bot
Jeremy = Swedish Germany
Banana Peel = naypaypurr
So, multiply this “language” times a hundred words, and imagine trying to carry on a conversation with this child and figure out what he needs. And the difficult part is also trying to figure out if the child “speaks in this language,” then do they understand what the parents are saying when they speak appropriately. I don’t know the answer to that. Jeremy is nearly twenty-one years old now, and he doesn’t remember his special language that he used through almost the first grade. (Luckily, we got some of it on video to remind him.)
Another thing that’s common to people with Asperger’s Syndrome is that from a young age, some of them may use odd or exceptionally advanced words and have a large vocabulary. Many of them often learn to read from an exceptionally early age and without much formal training. (This is known as hyperlexia. Both my daughter and I fit into this category.)
These people tend to use (or rather overuse) large words that are not necessarily the most common choice for their social setting. They are very formal and pedantic in their speech. I personally did this until I was in my mid-twenties when my friends and family all, at some point, accused me of trying to be a “showoff.” I didn’t understand what they were talking about because I wasn’t trying to do anything. I was merely speaking. And to be quite honest, I felt that because they didn’t understand the definitions of half the words I said, they probably belonged with the group of hillbillies (though at the time I called them rubes, not hillbillies) that stood in the corn field on the old TV show Hee Haw.
However, I now realize that I probably sounded like a walking thesaurus. My birth mother used to get particularly frustrated with me and say I was “using those two dollar words again.” I just figured she was just unhappy because she had no idea what I was talking about. My ex-husband used to get infuriated with me and accuse me of showing off and acting stuck up. And his friends also made similar comments. I figured it was because they were all uneducated (which was true), and I shouldn’t have to “dummy down” my speech just to pacify them.
Now, I realize, however, that most of the world does not speak with such specificity. Slang and colloquial speech are preferred to the pedantic, “highbrow” dialogue of the Autistic person. So, I learned to dial it way back in order to fit in more socially, and I believe Stefani did, too.
Well, thank you for visiting my blog today. Remember, I’ll be back on the first Sunday of next month to discuss more about what makes this Autistic person tick. Until then, in case you don’t know it already, my theme this month is games. I’ll be throwing a different challenge out each day to find certain similarities in various forms of media. (Many Autistic people notice certain patterns, and I’m one of them.)