Autism and speaking

Autism mutism and related vocal topics

This started out with my own struggles with selective mutism as I thought about how to explain that. But selective mutism is just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the primary defined struggles listed in the DSM in order to diagnose autism is struggles with communication.
An autistic person must by default, then, have struggles with speaking, self expression, understanding others speech or communications, and responding to such as in a conversation, taking or giving directions, understanding expectations or intent, etc..
We may communicate with written words or sign language, use a message board or an electronic device and be able to communicate, all good.
But a significant number of autistic individuals have struggles, challenges, disabilities, and problems in speaking at all.

Studies tell us up to one third of autistic individuals never speak.

Many to most others( autistic individuals) have specific trouble with self expression, either due to physical or neurological differences, or because of anxiety or sensory processing differences.

Today’s children are being screened and helped much earlier in most places in the USA and much more is understood about how to help with communication skills.
Older adults may have grown up without benefit of professional assistance and my be firmly locked into old diagnoses or misunderstandings and labels about their speech patterns, their difficulties in self expression, about their ability to understand and to be understood.

How many older adults today could be helped though new tools being used to help youngsters in clinical and professional settings today? How many older adults trapped in institutions and care homes or at home in caretaking situations could benefit from today’s understanding of neurological problems with communication and speaking. Once labeled are these folks stuck in non productive and unhealthy patterns that keep them tied to being dependent and misunderstood, frustrated and heavily medicated??
How many could have a better life through better communication now that we have learned so much about autism, speech and communication, and physical, neurological and emotional/ anxiety which lead to difficulties in communication?

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that results in a person’s “locking up” or inability to speak at certain times or in certain situations. Selective does not mean that one has a choice or that one chooses to become mute, but rather that it happens only in select or specific situations or conditions.
In my own experience, it seems to be that my processing of speech and hearing (which are very poor) is not fast enough to meet sudden demands. I tend to lock up when asked to respond with words quickly with expectations from others as I am pressed to respond rapidly and with full understanding.
I just can’t make myself “go” that fast! I called it “deer in the headlights” response because I freeze before I can respond, just as a deer freezes sometimes before it explodes into action.

I am fortunate to be able to speak in most situations and have got better at it with my life experience.
As a child this was truly disabling, to be called upon in a classroom or expected to interact with a stranger and being prompted to “say something” in many situations where my anxiety was already on high alert. I simply could not perform as expected. The more anxious I become the less speech I seem to be capable of, and the slower I am to respond.

Today I can tell people ahead of time that this might happen or wait for the freeze response to pass and explain (not always, opportunity to say something in social situations is often fleeting)

If you struggle today with problems in communication of any form, be assured that you have many alternatives. You can get referred to professionals of all sorts who are able to help you sort out your struggles and help you get connected with tools and training you might need to live a better life through better communication.

If you were given a diagnosis regarding communication problems long ago and told there was nothing to do about it, consider checking with today’s speech and language experts, occupational therapists, psychologists, and other professionals to see if more has been learned since your diagnosis.

There is new understanding of speech and communication today and there are so many new ways to help. There is no shame in reaching out. Self care always first!

Autistic voice

speech. speaking, vocal expression as autistic features



One of the things that the Dr ( psychologist autism specialist) who gave me my diagnosis talked about when he was summarizing and discussing my autism was that my manner of speech was a significant clue to his diagnosis. I have been spending a bit of time learning about autism and speech. These are more clues to use if you are still wondering if you might be autistic.

Depending on studies and opinions, it is believed that from 25 to 50 percent of autistic people never speak. The percentage seems to have come down recently, probably due to better intervention and earlier attention to struggles. Science is getting better at identifying and bringing problems with speech to the attention of those who can help. Great news!

Many adults who missed autisim diagnosis still have speech struggles, from being completely non verbal to problems with pronouncing words, using them, and voice tone, tempo, expression, volume/loudness, and more.

Those of us( autistic folk) who are gifted with the ability to speak can sometimes be spotted by the way we express ourselves. Most of us have heard about “little professor” ways of speaking as being a clue to autism, for example.

Here are some common presentations of autistic speech.

Pedantic speech : Overly formal, using complex vocabulary, situation-inappropriate because of its formality or details, when simple language would do. This is sometimes referred to as “stilted speech” it is considered stiff, detailed and overly complex .

Didatic speech is speech that is like that of a teacher or lecturer… “telling, explaining, giving detailed information in a superior or pompous way. ” Didatic speech is part of pedantic speech.

Abnormal prosody of speech: Pompous, legalistic, formal, philosophical, quaint… are all forms of prosody : it has to do with intonation, stress of syllables or inflection/ expression of speaking rather than the formation of the words itself.

Many autistic people use abnormal prosody. This is what the Doctor spotted in me. I use all my words, I don’t simplify in speaking with others or in different situations. I have abnormal prosody, my speech is pedantic.

I don’t do it meaning to be pompous, I had always looked at my style of speech as “information sharing”. I love to meet others with information to share, but I have learned not many other people do!
Now I know it is inappropriate to speak in this way and I am trying to change to less formal and less information sharing ways, but a 67 year habit is showing itself as difficult to change. (work in progress) .
Have you ever been called a “know it all”??
If your nickname is something to do with encyclopedia, professor, teacher, books, etc, you might have a form of pedantic speech too.

Pitch/ tone/ volume… how loud, how soft, we speak, or if we are variable in these qualities of speech. We may speak too loudly, too softly, or vary the volume from loud to soft without taking our surroundings or our social situation, etc into account. We may not be aware of this!
Have you been told to shush, hush, or speak up at different times?

Then there is the question of “pragmatics”. Intent, usage of words in context or if they are used “creatively” as metaphors, the use of words in traditional ways allows better “pragmatics” or ability to express ones ideas.
If words are mixed, substituted, changed in form, some loss of intent to the hearer or receiver of the speech is possible.
I know many autistic people who use words in non traditional ways to express themselves.
It can be confusing or amusing to others.
Have you been teased because of your word usage, or told that you make no sense?

The more we have self understanding, the better we are able to make adjustments to help ourselves get the most out of life. Diagnosis is the path to self understanding. Diagnosis can be life changing!