People whose language is a mixture of strung together sentences (the system I learned after age 9), their own made up words and stored phrases from songs/jingles, heard conversations, documents (my language age 5-9), parallel systems (ie saying ‘airports’ to describe different pathways of information) etc are always misunderstood by those using non-autistic language systems (even many with Asperger’s Syndrome who don’t have a Semantic Pragmatic language disorder).
1) think they always know the social implications of their literal speech
2) that stored phrases used to fill retrieval or syntax gaps are always fully meant as traditionally used
3) that the person is not stable.
Fact is, none of these are consistently true, if ever true.
When I worked as a waitress, I got beaten up once by a work colleague for repeating a funny phrase at her mother, saying ‘Marion, you old chook’.
I meant ‘Marion, your laugh is so funny, it sounds like chickens’.
I didn’t have that syntax or if I did, the stored phrase of ‘you old chook’ seemed to capture my meaning ‘sounds like chickens’ and all I had to do was add her name so she knew who I was referring to and it’d all be understood. Little did I know.
When Marion didn’t cope, I thought she was just being ‘too serious’… she’d said that to people ‘oh don’t be so serious’, so it seemed right to help her chill out and repeat my gem so she could ‘share the joy’. After all, its very exciting and funny if someone sounds like chickens. Quite a skill. Might even be employable somewhere.
I ended up punched up by Marion’s daughter and then after I ran down several flights of stairs to my boss, her mother, was sacked by the mother who had apparently ‘held her temper’ and ‘completely understood her daughters feelings about this’.
So sometimes its so hard, I think I’ve learned a new word, or a new sentence (which I get in rote learning style) but then when I apply them they are hit and miss whether they will go down well at all. My language is like a make-do patchwork quilt.
Remember just always check what that person meant and if in doubt, don’t take it too personally.
🙂 Donna Williams *)
author of 9 books in the field of autism