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My Lived Experiences with Autism Speech Pattern Challenges and Humor

Updated: Jun 25

Growing up as an autistic child, my diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder became official as a child and going into my teen years, I was learning about myself as I went along. The education and resources regarding the autism spectrum were not as progressed as it is today, so my support at the time aligned with that level of knowledge.

While I received very good support services in my various Special Education programs in school, such as social skills courses, which were called Speech Therapy in the schools I attended, occupational therapy, as well as behavioral therapy outside of school, it was not easy handling and navigating social situations at the time.

I dealt with mean-spirited reactions from my peers, as well as adults in school too, and a large amount of those reactions boiled down to two aspects: my lack of situational awareness before I matured, and the lack of awareness from others regarding what I was going through.

I can recall a plethora of social situations where that lack of awareness about how my tendencies were being perceived by others resulted in a poor outcome, leading to me feeling humbled, a bit humiliated, and losing self-esteem by the day.

One of the major impediments I struggled with relates to a common deficit amongst many in the autistic community, my communication style and how my vocal delivery was being received. Similar to a lot of autistic people, I often spoke with a lack of vocal pitch and inflection, which entailed a monotone delivery of my words that my neurotypical peers and school staff weren't accustomed to.

Especially as a junior high school student, specifically in seventh and eighth grade, my attempts at being sarcastic and facetious were met with unpleasant reactions from those who perceived my humor as being a "wise guy."

This example is a good lesson for the autistic community, when trying to be humorous, trying to change your vocal inflection is crucial to being received the intended way. I experienced what the majority of neurotypicals do not find funny about being sarcastic, and that there is a difference in communicating kindhearted humor as opposed to sounding equivalent to a wise guy, and arrogant at the same time.

I also learned that possessing a communication filter, as in knowing what to say and in which situations, is important for situational awareness and being perceived the intended way. According to the Mayo Clinic, an estimated 5% to 10% of people in the United States struggle with this communication filter, which could be due to a combination of autism and a related speech-language disorder (1).

A lot of autistic people do not have such a filter, or at least, developing the mentality to have that filter, and in a lot of scenarios, that lack of filter and awareness presents unpleasant outcomes and repercussions, especially when coming off as either impolite or derogatory to others.

An example of a proper communication filter would be if an autistic person notices a detail about something a teacher says in a classroom setting that the autistic person either disagrees with or doesn't want to hear and does not interrupt the teacher's lesson to candidly point out what the autistic person disagrees with or doesn't want to hear.

Since many autistic people live without that proper communication filter, in a lot of situations, the student on the spectrum would interrupt and be disciplined for that choice, since it is considered impolite to speak out to a teacher that way. Living with a proper communication filter entails knowing when to speak your mind, and when to keep unexpected and inappropriate thoughts to yourself.

Many autistic people find themselves in unfortunate situations due to the lack of filter, where both their peers and teachers, and others, get upset over the autistic person's perceived lack of respect when that is not the autistic person's intention a lot of times. I dealt with that lack of filter, and the aforementioned hostile reactions, for a long time until I developed the proper communication filter.

Communication filter training comes with practice in reading the non-verbal cues of someone the autistic person interacts with, and if those non-verbal cues are perceived in an unintended way, the autistic person needs more training and practice to recognize them in an improved manner.

Respect is earned in this world, so for a lot of autistic people, developing the skills of vocal inflection and a filter in most situations will allow for progress, more understanding, and the ability to earn respect from others.

Those skills will take time, and for certain autistic people, a lot of effort and practice; however, when those skills are learned effectively, the autism acceptance notion will be more embraced. My learning experiences with those speech skills, and the filter, while not easy for me and taking a lot of feedback about how to approach it appropriately, have afforded me more social friendships and more earned respect as an adult.

The most effective environment to teach autistic students these speech skills that will benefit them later in their lives is a Special Education-style social skills course. The Speech Therapy I learned in offered an educational book about social communication and the opportunity to learn with fellow autistic peers and while a traditional classroom could be considered a good environment as well, given my experiences, I disagree.

I disagree because, in a traditional classroom setting, autistic students could easily be distracted from learning speech skills by their neurotypical peers, and the traditional classroom is not the most conducive place to offer that type of service, a separate classroom is the most ideal.

It is a matter of helping neurotypicals understand these speech challenges, and what the autistic community does not naturally recognize as well about their social communication behaviors, which will allow for more social opportunities for the autistic community and decrease the miscommunications, as well as misjudgments, about the autism spectrum.

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