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01 Sep 2011, 12:02 pm

It's such a fancy description but what does it mean?

"the use of conventional words or phrases in unusual ways to convey specific meanings"

"charging words with personal meaning which alter their meaning"

Children with autism frequently have difficulty understanding imaginary thoughts (e.g., friendship) and abstract forms of language (e.g., pronouns). Some children with autism learn language by associating an object or event with a label. This label may be characteristic rather than one that has general meaning. For example, a child may associate going outside with their mommy and may say “mommy” to request going outdoors.

This is a well-hidden but massive communication difficulty for me.

What's it like for you? I can't be the only one. This is such a major aspect of my autism.

This is how it is for me:

I express my thoughts and I am sure about the words I use and the context I use them in. It doesn't occur to me that there are other ways to define the words intuitively. But when people hear or read these words and phrases they mean something slightly different to them.

One of these often happens next:
1. Despite that there are minor differences in how we understand the words, people still get what I mean. If they misunderstand it doesn't have any major consequences.
2. The words and phrases mean something very different to others, somebody is frustrated but we'll never know there was a misunderstanding.

3. The words and phrases mean something very different to others but we notice and try to work it out.
4. People flat-out point out what I said is illogical or gibberish. My words are not to be used in the contexts I used them in and my phrases are meant to express something else.

My understanding and use of many abstract words and phrases unwittingly differs from what they mean to other people. It often feels as if I say something and suddenly people, referring in detail to what I just said, start talking about something else entirely. It can be so very frustrating.

Autism + ADHD
The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it. Terry Pratchett


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Joined: 18 May 2011
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01 Sep 2011, 4:34 pm

I think that a lot of the differences in language usage come down to "persistent preoccupation with parts of objects". For example, I speak and write like I have a bunch of blocks and I am stacking them into structures. Words are blocks, and I am just arranging and rearranging them into structures that are phrases. Autistic language usage may be more partite than NT language usage. Like NTs might say "all or nothing, black and white thinking". They consider these phrases to be whole things that cannot be further broken down. Autistics might break the phrases down and rearrange the individual words to say "nothing or all, white and black thinking", which means exactly the same thing. Or even "non-1771-lal, Tris-255-Tris-0 inquieting", which has obviously pushed beyond the limits of comprehensibility. It all makes sense in my mind, but sounds like gibberish to others.

I think associative thinking plays a role too. You have to associate white with (255, 255, 255) in the RGB color system or also make up your own words like inquieting for thinking. In this system, inlouding is feeling, outlouding is speaking, and outquieting is using non-verbal communication. So I like to say that the best inlouding in the world is the inlouding of inquieting, or that I always outloud exactly what I am inquieting, or that if you inloud and inquiet (aka read into) my outquietings, then you will fail to inloud and inquiet (aka understand) my outloudings, which are far more inloudable and inquietable (aka meaningful) than my outquietings. As you can see, the system isn't entirely self-consistent in the meanings of the words and phrases, and it doesn't have to be, because it's idiosyncratic, purely my own. Of course, no one has a clue what I'm talking about when I use it.

A more complicated example is if I wanted to mean that someone had to fight without any weapons, I might say, "Red in Tooth and Claw Sans Tooth and Claw". Or if I wanted to mean that someone couldn't speak due to some kind of brain abnormality, I might say, "Gray and White Matter Sans Broca and Wernicke". It's questionable whether these phrases can be understood by anyone other than myself. And it's not completely literal or precise. It's got a lot of fuzziness. Maybe the brain abnormality is autism or a Broca's area lesion having nothing to do with Wernicke's area, but in all cases of not speaking due to brain abnormality, I will use my idiosyncratic phrase.

Then, there is also the stereotypy. The repetition of single words, phrases, or sentence structures into which you substitute different words but maintain the same structure for an entire paragraph.

These are just some random examples off the top of my head. I know that my language is full of them, especially when I am speaking in large volumes or writing over large areas. :twisted: Also have a propensity to use song lyrics or quotes from books/movies to express my meanings. Let's not forget non sequiturs, sudden transitions due to associating one thing with another seemingly unrelated thing. It's just the natural way to use language for me. All in all, the pattern can be described as "stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language".

Here's a written example that has my style but can actually be understood by others. I bolded the parts that might be considered stereotyped or idiosyncratic beyond standard usage. Language with symmetry and pattern and numbers are important too.

Talking about tigers at the zoo:

Even with frozen blood lollipops to chomp down upon during the summers and heated humidified dens to snuggle up within during the winters, life at the zoo was no bed of roses. The only pleasure cruises were the frustratingly infrequent, occurring only once, twice, or thrice per nine lifetimes, but unroarably scintillating romps in the water whenever a loud boorish visitor leaned too far over the railing and fell into the moat.


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Joined: 26 Feb 2011
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01 Sep 2011, 7:54 pm

This thread made me feel less like I live in an invisible bubble--so thanks :D

Sora wrote:
What's it like for you?

I've learned how to put words together so that they sound like they fit a conversation, or at least sound meaningful. I unconsciously copy language patterns--many of which I don't actually understand the meaning of. I "borrow" a fair bit of other people's language when I speak (less so when I write).

My thinking is extremely concrete, and I have to associate words with things I can directly my understanding of words and phrases can be anywhere from a little bit wrong to completely off the mark. (I thought "humbled" and "honored" meant the same thing until early this year).

More and more often, I realize when I'm using words in a way that might not be understandable to others, but I still struggle with this--because I don't really know how most people understand words.

btbnnyr wrote:
I think that a lot of the differences in language usage come down to "persistent preoccupation with parts of objects". For example, I speak and write like I have a bunch of blocks and I am stacking them into structures. Words are blocks, and I am just arranging and rearranging them into structures that are phrases.

This makes a lot of sense to me.....When I use my own language in speech, or when I write, it's like stringing beads together (creating word-strings), or building something with lego (a diagrammatical word-picture where each lego block is a word or small group of 2 or 3 words).

In terms of how my understanding of words affects my conversations:

People sometimes understand the idiosyncratic things I say and simply rephrase my comments in a more "standardized" way to double-check my meaning....if I understand this re-phrasing, then it's all good.

People sometimes misunderstand me and neither of us realizes the misunderstanding has occured--at least not until much, much later (this late realization can be catastrophic--depending on what it's about-- because it's so hard to figure out how the misunderstanding occured--i.e. what was said and how it was misunderstood)

People often misunderstand me and only I realize it (usually after the conversation has ended, or gone so far down a different track that I'm completely lost and there is no point in trying to clarify)....
Sora wrote:
It often feels as if I say something and suddenly people, referring in detail to what I just said, start talking about something else entirely. realization comes from how whatever the other person says in response to my words is a complete non-sequiter in terms of what I had intended to communicate.

I'm not often told that I make no sense, but it does happen sometimes...usually when I'm using purely echolalic speech or if I've asked, "Am I making sense?" when trying to see if my words are effectively conveying what I want them to convey.