Tag Archives: Language

My Autistic Experience: Repetitive and Steretoyped Speech and Language

I’d almost forget it, but this month, I’d actually intended to share my autistic experience for #Write31Days. I failed at the challenge, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to share my experiences. Today, I’ll talk about speech and language.

I was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome under DSM-IV. Asperger’s is basically autism without an intellectual disability or speech delay. The communication impairments criterion in autistic disorder does not appear in the criteria for Asperger’s. That doesn’t mean Asperger’s people don’t have communication impairments. I could’ve easily met the communication impairment criterion in autistic disorder if I’d been more articulate back when I was diagnosed in 2007. You see, I was asked to name examples of speech and language stereotypies I displayed and could come up with only one, which was dismissed. In truth though, my speech and language can be quite stereotyped.

The most noticeable form of steretoypical language for me is my use of particular words or strings of words in an apparently irrelevant context and/or in a repetitive way. For example, in around 2005, I’d say “Hey folks!” to practically everyone. Later, I also used to say “banana spider” at every opportunity. In time, between my husband and me, it got the meaning to communicate boredom or disinterest. As such, it’s become a kind of script.

My repetitive use of language can be helpful in my interactions with my fellow clients at day activities. My fellow clients are all severely intellectually, often multiply disabled. None of them can speak and many have severely limited comprehension of speech, but they respond with joy to my repetitive use of their names or nicknames in a particular tone of voice.

Speaking of tone of voice, I do not seem to have a monotonous voice, but I do know that my tone of voice can be steretoyped too. For example, I speak to each fellow client at day activities in a different tone when echoing their names.

I rarely if ever experience true echolalalia, in the sense that I’d repeat another person’s entire sentence. I do often find myself repeating one or two words though. I also regularly repeat my own words. Lastly, I do repeat sounds people make.

I have an interesting preference for complicated words over simple ones. Refer back to “banana spider” here. Also, the first word I ever spoke, at ten months of age, wasn’t “Mama” or suchlike, but “aircraft industry”.

Another interesting experience happened at my last psychological evaluation last spring. Not only did I name “Banana spider” as one of the first animals in a naming task, but on the IQ test, one of the questions was who was Mahatma Gandhi. Years back, I’d had the same question on an IQ test and accidentally said that he “fighted” for India’s independence. Now I knew I had to say he “fought”, but again, “fighted” slipped off my tongue. It isn’t that I didn’t know the past tense of “fight” in Dutch, but that the situation elicited this particular brain fart.

I’m sure most people use language in some steretypical ways. After all, the example of steretoypcal language I came up with in 2007, was my frequent use of expletives. That’s not uncommon, which may be why the assessor dismissed it. My use of repetitive language also doesn’t impair me that much and, like I said, it can be an asset. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Spectrum Sunday

Communication in Autistic Children #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day three of the A to Z Challenge, in which I focus on autism. Today, I want to focus on one of the core areas of impairment in autism: communication.

Children and adults with autism have problems in non-verbal and/or verbal communication. Some individuals with autism do not speak at all or speech development is delayed. Others on the surface have great speech with an extraordinary vocabulary, but have problems with the social use of language (pragmatics).

Some common problems with communication in autistic individuals include:

  • Rigid and repetitive language. People with autism may say things that have no meaning in the conversation they’re having. They may repeat the same words or phrases over and over again, or they may repeat what another person has said (echolalia). Immediate echolalia occurs when a person repeats what has just been said, for example, answering a question with the same question. Delayed echolalia means that a person repeats what they’ve heard earlier. For example, they may ask “Do you want something to drink?” whenever they want a drink. Some people with autism use what they’ve heard on television in regular conversation.

  • Talking in a high-pitched, sing-song voice or in a monotonous tone of voice.

  • Being able to talk about certain topics only. Some people with autism can hold lengthy monologues on a topic of interest even though they cannot carry on a two-way conversation on the same topic or cannot talk at all about other topics.

  • >Uneven speech and language development. Some children will not speak at all then start speaking in full sentences. Others will develop a large vocabulary about a specific topic of interest, as I said above. Some children can read before the age of five but do not comprehend what they’ve read (a condition known as hyperlexia). Some people with autism cannot speak but can type.

  • Poor non-verbal communication. Many peopole with autism avoid eye contact, though some can learn to stare at another person’s eyes to fake eye contact. People with autism also often won’t use gestures to give meaning to their speech, such as pointing to objects.

In order to help an autistic child reach their potential in communicative abilities, parents and carers will need to pay attention to a child’s strengths and needs. For example, some children will not use any speech but will be able to learn sign language or learn to communicate using a speech app.

When a child repeats other people’s words, usually at first it has no meaning. However, echolalia can be a pathway to communicaiton, because a child will often ultimately start using repeated word in communicative scripts that do have meaning.

There are many stratgies parents can use to enhance an autistic child’s communication development. For example:

  • Take on the role of a helper and teacher. When a child is still particularly non-communicative, it may be tempting to do things for them without asking whether they need help. It is better to ask whether the child needs help and give them an opportunity to try for themselves first.

  • Encourage the child to do things with others. Again, it is tempting to let the child be completely in their own world, because many parents view this as independence. However, autistic children (and all children!) need interaction to improve their communication. Try to join the child in whatever activity they’re involved in. When the child shows anger, this is a sign that they are interacting and it is better than no interaction at all, so persevere.

  • Slow down and give the child a chance to communicate. Many children with autism are slow to process information, so it helps to slow down. It is tempting to rush, because, after all, as a parent you can’t attend to the child 24/7, but slowing down will ultimately encourage the child to communicate.

  • Give the child a reason to communicate. If you give in to a child’s every demand immediately, they will not learn to interact. It is important to create situations in which the child is encouraged to communicate more than just their immediate needs and wants.

As the child matures and develops more communicative skills, it is important to move from the helper/teacher role on to a role of a partner and to even follow the child’s lead. That way, a child will learn increasing reciprocity in communication.

Ten Patches This Autistic Person Could Use

The Golden Spoons

This is my first time participating in the Tuesday Ten. I’ve been wanting to for a while, but usually I found other things to blog about on Tuesday. Either that, or I simply forgot. The theme for this week is “I need a patch for that”, because this is the weird holdiay celebration tomorrow. Lisa of The Golden Spoons, one of the hosts, wrote ten patches every mother needs. I got thinking about that. I’m not a Mom, so I can’t really expand on those. Then I got thinking: what would I like patches for? And here’s a list of pathes this autistic person would need. Some of them can be seen as “cures” for certain symptoms of autism, while others are work-around patches and still others are patches for the social stigma and misunderstanding I encoutner.

  1. An anti-overload patch. Even though traditional autistic advocates say they would never take medication to hear or feel less, I certainly would. The thing about a patch, however, is that I can put it on and take it off again, unlike the daily medication I currently take for overload-caused irritability.

  2. An energy patch. Stole this one from Lisa, but I too think I could benefit from it. Living as an autistic can be quite exhausting, after all.

  3. A tolerance patch. To put on others when they have a strikingly intolerant attitude. Mostly staff, that is, so I don’t know how I’d get them to put it on, given that their attitude would prevent them from seeing they need it.

  4. A translation patch. I usually misunderstand people and, rather than putting on a “communicate like a neurotypical” patch, I’d like a translator that sits between me and the neurotypical.

  5. An easy text-to-speech patch. While we’re communicating anyway, I’d like to be able to write rather than speak. While text-to-speech apps are already available, I’d like one that I can easily use and that doesn’t make me look like a weirdo. I’d also like it to translate from speech to text (or braille, in my case). I’ve honestly been thinking of wanting a Communicator, which is a device used by deafblind people, but they’re very expensive and I’m not eligible for funds. i’m verbal, after all.

  6. A patience patch. Again, this one is stolen from Lisa, and I’d like to put it on others again, though I could myself use some patience at times.

  7. A perseveration patch. The good thing about patches again is the ability to put them on and take them off. Today, I’ve been looking everywhere for some perseveration, while at other times, I’m totally immersed in my special interest.

  8. An antidepressant patch. I don’t suffer from clinical depression, but I do have days when I’m very depressed. Again, like the anti-overload patch, this would seem like a better alternative to my current daily antidepressant.

  9. A patchwork weighted blanket: Lisa said patches can be any sort, so patchwork quilts are included. I’ve always wanted a weighted blanket, but never took the effort to find myself one.

  10. An executive functioning patch: something like an anti-procrastination patch, but it’ll also break down difficult tasks into smaller, easy-to-follow steps.

Note that every autistic person is different. This is why I referred to “this autistic person” in my post title rather than “every autistic person”. If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person, after all. If you’d like to contribute what patches you could use in life, write a list of ten and hop over to Lisa’s blog to submit it.

What’s in a Name: Dual Sensory Impairment, Deafblindness, or What?

It’s always interesting to see how the language surrounding disability evolves over time. In the DSM-IV, for example, “mental retardation” is the accepted term for what is now called intellectual developmental disorder in DSM-5 and intellectual disability by most professionals and the general public. I had to modify a blog post from 2007 when I republished it here, because it had “mental retardation” in it. This term is totally out of use now.

With regards to visual and hearing impairmetns, there are even more varied terms. “Blindness” and “deafness” are the most common, but “hard of hearing”, “hearing impairment”, “visual impairment”, “low vision”, “partially sighted”, etc. are also used. With regards to people who have both a vision and hearing impairment, the question is asked by Wittich et al. (2013) what term should be used for research purposes: deafblindess, dual sensory impairment, or somethign else entirely? The authors reviewed the literature and surveyed a number of professinals and reseachers in the area of deafblindness/dual sensory impairment/whatever. They found that “deafblindness” was more commonly used in journals speciifcally catering towards the vision or hearing field, whereas “dual sensory impairment” was used in more general journals and in journals with a higher impact factor. Similarly, those people surveyed who considered themselves primarily involved with research, preferred “dual sensory impairment”, whereas rehabilitation professionals preferred “deafblindness”. The study authros themselves propose “combined vision and hearing impairment”.

Wittich et al. do not discuss the cultural implications of each term, which were actually what motivated the DSM-5 committee to change the term for intellecutal disability more than did science. Wittich et al. also didn’t survey people with a combined vision and hearing impairment themselves.

Just my thought, but I find “dual sensory impairment” particularly confusing. I also find “combined vision and hearing impairment” really unnecessarily lengthy unless it serves a particular purpose, such as clarifying that hte individual has some vision and/or hearing. It also wouldn’t surprise me if people with acquired vision and hearing loss would prefer “dual sensory impairment” or “combined vision and hearing loss”. After all, people with an acquired disability, in my expeirnece, insist more on “person first” language, whereas those born with their disability prefer to see it as an inherent part of their identity and use language accordingly. I’ll be curious to know how the terminology in this area evolves over the next so many years.


Wittich W, Southall K, Sikora L, Watanabe DH & Gagné JP (2013), What’s in a Name: Dual Sensory Impairment or Deafblindness? British Journal of Visual Impairment, 31(3):198-207. DOI: 10.1177/0264619613490519.

Love with Actions, Not Words

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18 NIV)

Many people experience on a pretty regular basis that words sometimes contradict actions. I personally experience that the words tht come out of my mouth often even contradict my own thoughts or what I wanted to communicate. Many people with mental illness or developmental disabilities find it hard to comunicate in words and, for some, this especially goes for affective communicaiton. This is why it is sometimes hard for people who do not know the person well to understand what they’re feeling. It is however also why people who know the disabled person well do appreciate hte person’s love and affection, because it is not shown in words but in actions.

I remember when I was yougn, when I and my parents had an argument or a fight, one of us would often say in an emotional voice: “But I love you!” This may’ve been so (I’m pretty sure my parents love me, and I love them), but it didn’t come across to me (or them, when I was the one doing this). Actions did.

These actions do not have to be material, but they do not have to be all immaterial etiehr. I still have a hard time balancing material gifts with gifts of kindness, mostly because I can be pretty, well, inconsiderate without meaning to. I know that the person who showers their partner with gifts, is not necessairly the most loving partner, but just communicating love, through either words or body language, isn’t always effective either.

Then again, a simple offer to help, a “Thank you”, etc. are actions of love that do not literally scream “I love you”. These actions, too, can be done to people other than your partner. Now I am not sure that in our modern society, “love” is the right word for our affinity to strangers, but you can perform acts that indicate appreciation to anyone.

What’s in a Name?: Autism Subtyping in DSM-5

Recently, there appeared an article in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders on why autism should be taken apart. I have not read the article yet – going to do so after I’ve had a good night’s sleep -, but I have read Harold Doherty’s comments on it. They follow the usual autism awareness rhetoric: my child is not like autistic advocates and therefore autism must be taken apart. And oh by the way, the DSM-5 is bad for calling the entire spectrum by the same name.

Let’s focus on that last bit. I own a copy of the DSM-5, and in the criteria for autism spectrum disorder, there are specifiers for:

  • With/without accompanying intellectual impairment.

  • With/without accompanying language impairment.

  • Associated with a known medical or genetic condition.

  • Associated with another neurodevelopmental, behavioral or mental disorder.

Furthermore, most people in the autism community know this, but there are three severity levels with coding of severity on each of the two symptom domains: social communicative impairments and repetitive behaviors.

Let’s contrast this with the DM-IV, which people like for its distinciton between Asperger’s Syndrome and autistic disorder. Anyone who has a communicative impairment, which could be just being unable to hold a conversation, and meets the criteria for Asperge’rs, could be labeled with autistic disorder. In fact, many of the autistic advocates Doherty and others disagree with, have an autistic disorder diagnosis. In terms of severity, also, the DSM-IV is pretty rigid in its focus: you only get the GAF scale, which determines a patient’s global level of functioning. I have a GAF score of 40, which means severe impairment in severeal areas of functioning. It is not stated whether this severe impairment is due to my autism or my borderline personality disorder or even due to the many labels I have on axis III (general medical conditions) and IV (psychosocial functioning).

I am not against subtyping of autism. In fact, I completely see how intellectual disability, language impairmetn, associated medical conditons such as epilepsy, etc., make a huge difference in an autistic person’s functioning. What I am completely against is the dichotomous taking apart of autism that Doherty etc. so often advocaate, where you eithr have Asperger’s (ie. social ineptness) or you have low-fuctioning, severe, classic autism. This dichotomy means that people who have severe impairments in self-care skills but, say, an IQ above 70 and no language impairmetns, are denied services on the basis of being merely socially inept. I don’t need to go into the consequences of this.

Favoring More Capable Autistics in Autistic Literature

I’m currently reading We’ve Been Here All Along, a collection of poetry and essays by autistics over age 35. I may post more about it when I’m finished, but for now, I want to talk about the bias in the publication: all autistics whose contributions I’ve red so far, are reltively capable, eloquent, language-type Aspies. This may seem logical given that the contributions are written, but I for one know of a few non-speaking autistics who can write. They don’t make it into autistic literature as often, but they exist. The bias favoring more capable autistics also a bit annoyed me. Where are those older autistics who aren’t parents or in relationships, don’t have jobs, and don’t live independently? We aren’t all Temple Grandin, you know? This bias is common in autistic literature, but it also perpetuates the myth that less independent autistics need their parents to speak for them.

I for one am a moderately able autistic, being in a relationship but not living on my own or ever having had a job. I so badly want to hear from other autistics who need intensive supports. Maybe that will dismantle the myth that only those who presumably can’t speak for themselves, need or deserve these supports. Then again, there is also the myth that those who need intensive support, shouldn’t speak for themselves unless they say what the staff want to hear. And then there is the idea that those who aren’t as capable and are still speaking for themselves, are more capable than they are. That in particular frustrates me, because this myth contributes directly to my likely not ever getting the supports I need.