Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gibberish -- In & Out

One of the key facets that separates Asperger's Syndrome (AS) from other forms of autism is in the realm of language development. While individuals on the higher end of the autism spectrum exhibit significant delays or a complete inability to acquire language and communication skills the AS person tends to pick up these same skills at age-appropriate levels and many of us possess a higher than average vocabulary.

So, it would appear that the individual afflicted with AS would not suffer from language and communication difficulties with the outside world. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. In fact, communication is one of our most persistent challenges, one that we struggle with every single day.

According to Wikipedia,
Although individuals with Asperger syndrome acquire language skills without significant general delay and their speech typically lacks significant abnormalities, language acquisition and use is often atypical. Abnormalities include verbosity, abrupt transitions, literal interpretations and miscomprehension of nuance, use of metaphor meaningful only to the speaker, auditory perception deficits, unusually pedantic, formal or idiosyncratic speech, and oddities in loudness, pitch, intonation, prosody, and rhythm.

Three aspects of communication patterns are of clinical interest: poor prosody, tangential and circumstantial speech, and marked verbosity. Although inflection and intonation may be less rigid or monotonic than in autism, people with AS often have a limited range of intonation: speech may be unusually fast, jerky or loud. Speech may convey a sense of incoherence; the conversational style often includes monologues about topics that bore the listener, fails to provide context for comments, or fails to suppress internal thoughts. Individuals with AS may fail to monitor whether the listener is interested or engaged in the conversation. The speaker's conclusion or point may never be made, and attempts by the listener to elaborate on the speech's content or logic, or to shift to related topics, are often unsuccessful.

I can personally identify with many, if not most, of the issues listed above. I'm frequently told by others to lower my volume, even though my volume sounds fine to me. I have a tendency to talk fast or in bursts. Because of my obsessive-compulsive nature, I tend toward long monologues on, sometimes, arcane topics that no one else genuinely is interested in hearing about.

I can be painfully long-winded. My conversation is peppered with similes and metaphors that usually seem to miss their intended mark. I often start into a long dissertation, only to stop and backtrack to side issues not related to the topic at hand, then to lurch forward again, only to interrupt myself with verbalized internal thoughts.

What is the most frustrating thing for me is that, despite my strong talents in the areas of language -- I scored in the top 20% nationally in the language section on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) -- I often seem unable to get people to understand the specific point I'm trying to make.

I'll go through all sorts of histrionics and examples, only to have the person respond in a way that indicates he/she missed the main point. So, I'll try to explain the point in a different manner, but often end up with the same result!!

This is one of the primary reasons I write so much. While I have great difficulty in getting people to understand me via the spoken word, this problem is mitigated somewhat through the written word. Though I still can be rather long-winded in this format -- as I'm sure many of you have noticed -- I seem better able to get the words in my head down on paper, virtual or otherwise.

This problem also works in the opposite direction. I seem to understand words and intonations differently than most people. If you're talking to me and 4 other people, the 4 others will go away from the conversation generally understanding it one way, while I will understand it a completely different way.

This is a problem my wife & I struggle with constantly. Just last night, I stormed off in a huff when I thought my wife was being overly critical of my attempts to cut a piece of wood. From my perspective, every position I tried, she criticized. She, on the other hand, told me she wasn't being critical at all -- she was merely showing concern for my safety (a common theme as I'm an accident waiting to happen).

I'm fairly certain she thinks I stormed off because I was mad at her. Of course, she wouldn't know the real reason because I haven't said a word to her in over 18 hours (though neither of us has left the house). I stormed off because of my building frustration with my inability to understand what others try to convey to me.

Sometimes it feels like I'm speaking a different language than everybody else around me. The words have the same sound, but a completely different feel.

In essence, I'm drowning in a sea of uncertainty. People keep throwing me words and phrases as they would throw a life vest, but, try as I might, I can't seem to grab a firm hold on any of them.

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