Conversations using intonation rather than words.
Friday I had an entire conversation in the elevator by grunting. It interested me because I already knew that with comprehension I could either do words and no tone, or tone and no words.
There’s a stereotype that not perceiving tone at all is the only configuration for autistic people. The reality is more like the autistic people able to talk about the matter are far more likely to be stuck in a mode where comprehending words takes priority over tone. But even Temple Grandin says that she can do words or tone but not both. My brain’s preference is tone over words, but I can switch into words over tone sometimes.
Anyway, until Friday I had very little idea that this could apply to not just understanding but also talking. I knew that when I could talk, I often had no intonation except when echoing people in certain ways. But I didn’t know (or didn’t know the extent ) that, now that I can’t talk, I can use intonation. I’ve met nonspeaking autistic people who could mimic the music of a conversation quite accurately, but I never connected it to that similar issue with language comprehension where I can only hear either words or the intonational music but not both. And I never saw this ability in myself until right after I’d done it.
The conversation basically went:
“How are you?”
“Well, I’m not doing too great actually…”
Another important thing: I suck at those conversations when I type. So badly that I once scored the lowest possible on a test of communication skills because it revolved around stuff like that, and “thanks” and stuff. I already knew most people grasp what I mean if I thank them by grunting. But this is the longest conversation I’ve had with a stranger by grunting and yet he understood every single thing I said.
Apparently there was a period in my early development when I grunted instead of speaking. I know I didn’t understand words back then so I wonder if I was reacting entirely to tone. Even today I have a tendency to exasperate people by grunting and gesturing in ways they can’t understand.
But what they really don’t understand is the amount of brain reorganization and cognitive pain that typing often requires. Sometimes it is so difficult that it translates into worsening any physical chronic pain I may be experiencing. So when they say “Just go get your keyboard and type it!” I sometimes growl at them and they don’t know why.
With my friends, communication is a whole different matter. Several of them have independently told me that they sometimes go between half an hour to a couple hours without realizing that I haven’t typed a single word. That is less about grunting, and more about their ability to get the basic idea of how I’m feeling or thinking, through my body language. Another thing autistic people are supposedly unable to do, but that we can often do quite well with each other. I value friendships where we can communicate well without words.
But it seems that there are total strangers who can have a basic conversation with me, and understand my “words” through intonation alone. And I can carry on conversation types that I can never do in words, as long as I stick to grunting and intonation.
And now I’d better post this because I’ve fallen asleep during every single sentence at least once, and had to edit things because if typing random letters or responding to hypnagogia.
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