Aspie Language

Aspie Language = Images

One day when Abby was about 6 years old, we had a conversation about how a book is written.  She happily piped up, "Well, first the illustrator draws the pictures, and then the author writes a story about them!"  Even though I chuckled, it was a profound moment for me - the realization that Abby processes the world in images, not words.

I had just finished reading the book, "Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism," by Temple Grandin, a fascinating read about how Dr. Grandin, a world famous animal scientist, was able to help farmers solve problems such as why livestock such as cattle would refuse to navigate particular loading ramps at certain times of day.  Dr. Grandin noted that she processes the world in pictures and images, much the same as animals, who do not use spoken language.  She was, thus, able to recognize that the cattle were frightening by the reflection of the sun on a piece of metal at that particular time of day.  It seems so simple, but because the farmers did not understand the impact of the visual images for the cattle, they had not been able to solve that puzzle.  Her work has literally changed the livestock farming industry in massive ways!

The down-side for Temple Grandin, and others with autism spectrum disorders, such as Aspergers, is that spoken language is not natural to them.  Many individuals with moderate to severe autism never actual master spoken language - some never speak at all (they are described as "non-verbal.")  To those of us who are not on the spectrum, the ability to learn language is completely natural part of our development, so it is difficult for us to understand how language could be so hard!

Music as a 1st language.

For Abby, I would also argue that music is also a first language.  She has often described words and objects as musical sounds or pitches.  Abby is a musical savant, meaning she has extraordinary musical talent and ability well beyond that of gifted musicians.  She actually learned how to speak language by singing it first!  I describe this in greater detail in my article "Autistic savant: music was Abby’s pathway to language."

Spoken language = Foreign Language

Those with Aspergers typically have "normal" language development, meaning there is no significant delay in their ability to speak and communicate with others in their formative toddler years.  However, their USE of language is often quite peculiar in various ways.  Even at age 12, Abby still struggles with some of the basics of grammar, and uses verbs in an unusual way.  For example she sometimes turns nouns into verbs or adjectives by adding suffixes.

She recently made the following statement about her attention to detail on a map she was creating for school:  "I'm being very detailic."

Another one we hear a lot is , "I 'thoughted' about that."

When she was younger, she had difficulty with pronouns.  I remember being at a Christmas parade when she was 5, and when she saw a young woman dressed like a princess, she shouted, "Mommy, look at SHE!"

My husband and I have often noted that Abby's use of language is similar to those who speak English as a second language.  It's probably similar to how I sounded when I spoke French to the waiter in Paris, who rolled is eyes and said, "Just speak English."  LOL!  This analogy of spoken language as a second language makes so much sense, though, because speaking truly IS a second language for aspies!  Images, and in Abby's case, music, are first languages.  Understanding this has been crucial in helping us relate to Abby's difficulty with language, and, hopefully, this will be a useful analogy for others, including those on the spectrum.