Yes, folks, ask me a question here, on FB, by email, or even in person, and it might be the title of my next blog post. This question comes from my friend Rebecca. What’s funny is that I was already thinking of this topic when she asked.
Communication issues vary throughout the autism spectrum, but even at the higher-functioning end there are still struggles. Kanner’s syndrome (classic autism) typically includes delayed speech development, but those with Asperger’s syndrome learn to speak at the same time as their peers, if not earlier. Children with Aspergers syndrome are likely to develop a strong vocabulary early, especially in their areas of interest. Children with hyperlexia may even take it a step further. Hyperlexia is sometimes affectionately known as “walking dictionary syndrome.” When I was diagnosed, my autism specialist noted that I have hyperlexic tendencies. I actually read dictionaries as a child and still enjoy reading technical manuals.
I would like to start by discussing my writing, as this may help some of you better understand my blog. I sometimes joke that I understand connotation only as another word in the dictionary. The joke isn’t far from the truth. I know what the dictionary definition of connotation is, and I understand that some words evoke emotional reactions in some people, but I generally don’t follow the process by which that occurs. As a result, I tend to select words based on denotation without regard for connotation. This means that you don’t have to read between the lines because I don’t write there. You can take my words at face value, and I consider it fair to ask me to define my terms. In terms of writing, the problem comes when others read something that isn’t there, which brings a story to mind…
When I was working on a help desk for a previous employer, I received a help request by email that made no sense to me. I responded: “I’m afraid I don’t understand your complaint. Could you please elaborate?” I thought I did pretty good job at writing a polite request for clarification, but the customer disagreed. My boss came to me an hour later to ask why I called the customer a whiner. After some discussion, he told me that the offending word was “complaint.” To me, a complaint is a declaration of a condition that causes distress (and that’s more or less what you will find in the dictionary), which is what the customer’s email was. I never said she was a whiner, so the whole thing was a surprise to me.
Face to face communication can get a bit more complicated. I still select my words based on denotation without regard for connotation, but that’s only the beginning. Face to face communication includes body language and facial expressions. The diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome include “marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction.” It is easily possible for me to miss or misunderstand non-verbal signals. It is also very likely that others will misunderstand my non-verbal signals, especially when I’m highly stressed, frustrated, or overloaded. Sadly, this means that, at the times I may need help or understanding the most, I am most likely to be misunderstood. I’ve been told that I seem threatening when frustrated. My size and appearance probably contribute to that, but I wouldn’t hurt anyone intentionally.
It has been a long day, so I think I’m going to end here. I am quite certain I’ll pick this topic up again, as it is a core issue with Asperger’s syndrome.