Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We Speak Different Languages - Come Visit My Planet Sometime!

Today was a big day of challenge for me. It seemed like no matter what I tried to say, it was misintrepreted.  No matter what I wrote, it was taken the wrong way.  As my son would say, my day was an EPIC FAIL!

If Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, then I must be from Pluto, where people still debate if it's even an official planet worthy of inclusion in our solar system!

Yes, that's how I felt today and I wanted to briefly mention it not to ask for sympathy but to mention that it happens a lot to adults, teenagers and children on the autism spectrum.  Some days it really stinks!

I was telling John earlier today when trying to convey to him how I felt about something without having it be misinterpreted that for as long as I could remember, I had spent my life trying to read, speak, write and interpret what felt like to me a foreign language.  I call it "societal norm" language.  In order for me to appropriately process and convey my own thoughts, opinions and feelings, I have to take the "societal norm" language, translate it into my own language and then translate back to "societal norm" language so that I could be appropriately understood.  Of course most of the time this is done subconsciously but when faced with confusion, stress or a wave of emotions, it becomes much more difficult, sometimes impossible.

There are some people on the autism spectrum that have learned through social scripting, experience and perhaps instinct to be able to meet neurotypicals in their world.  They've learned to speak at least some "societal norm".  However, there are many on the autism spectrum that either cannot or will not be able to do this. If you want to effectively communicate with them, you often have to create a third language (my oldest son would visualize this as a computer interface) and/or go into their world because they struggle so hard and may be incapable of grasping the intracies of the NT world.

"Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift. Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club -- the community of speakers of that language."  Frank Smith, psycholinguist

Imagine yourself going into a foreign country and not knowing a word of the language or the culture.  What would you do?  How would you connect?  What if you didn't have a translation book?  Welcome to what it's like in the life of many people with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome every day of their lives.  Although some are able to learn the foreign language and adapt even though it is not their native tongue, it takes years of practice and it's never truly perfected.  In my case, translation into "societal norm" often feels fake or not true to myself. 

While learning a new language, it is natural to make mistakes. Some people will understand and try to help.  Others will critique and will imply if you want to be here, learn the language.  Of course one hopes that the people you are trying to communicate with will understand you, be patient, not use your mistakes against you or ostracize you.  One hopes they will also forgive if you ask to "please undress their wife" when you really meant please "turn off the light"! 

For Autism Awareness month and beyond, I encourage you to take a day and immerse yourself in the world of someone on the autism spectrum, whether that be a child, teenage or adult. If possible, try a heart-to-heart. Put on a pirate costume like Max Braverman does in Parenthood. Spin and stim. Get involved in a special interest. Cut your toast 6 ways and put your dinner on 3 plates with separate forks.  You just might find that it DOES taste better that way.

Thanks for reading my blog....  I invite you to visit again! 

Hopefully my translation came through and my language made some sense!

If you do or even if you don't get me, let me know!  But be nice please!

Karen

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