It’s all about the language

I posted recently about words and communication. As I mentioned in that post, words aren’t necessarily the “first language” for many autistic people, and can be difficult to deal with – especially the nuanced, colorful language most NT’s use. Within a few days, I came across another post, and several comments around the issue of non-SPECIFICITY of language and the confusion it causes for autistic people of all ages.  Blogger “Outrunning the Storm“, referring to her child having difficulty accepting compliments because he perceives the compliments as untrue, wrote “What if this was a case of me, of all of us, not being specific enough in our language.”

Boy, do I get this.

My son has very strong language skills, great vocabulary, loves to read, etc. BUT, his pragmatic / expressive language is where he has his challenges – you know, the type of language we NT’s use to communicate constantly. He is very literal. He honestly does not really understand figures of speech, so I have to explain their “translation” to him. I ended up having to explain what a figure of speech is.

Really, I get the desire for colorful language, but check out the definition of Figure of Speech: “the expression of language, such as simile, metaphor, or personification, by which the usual or literal meaning of a word is not employed“. Oh boy!

I’ve been working hard on being as specific as possible when I ask my son to do things, thanks to this eye-opener regarding literal thinking and speaking. For example, when it’s time to head out on errands, in the past I’ve said, “Let’s go”. It seems obvious what that means – to me – but when I asked my son which he liked better, “Let’s go” or “Time to get in the car”, he preferred the 2nd, which actually says what is going on.

When I want to compliment my son, I’m going to focus on what he is specifically doing well, and speak to that, because he doesn’t believe a compliment applies if it is too general. Vague just doesn’t get the job done.

I really think this is something that we need to consider when we communicate with our NT kids, and with each other as well. Parents – have you ever told your young child to “behave”? Stop and think – what the heck does “behave” mean, anyway? It tells a child NOTHING about what behavior is actually expected. At the office, does “good job” feel as good as “you did an nice job illustrating the whoozy and how it worked with the whatsy”?

Information, expectations, specifics, not assuming. If we think a little harder about how we communicate, if we pay attention to whether we are actually saying what we mean, ALL of us might have an easier time in general.

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