The problem with language

Until I started this journey, I didn’t realise that not everyone thinks like I do. I think in pictures and then have to translate my thoughts into words and back again. Sometimes, particularly when I’m upset, the translation process breaks down. Even when it doesn’t, I’m told I need a few seconds longer than most people to process the spoken word. And I can struggle to get my voice heard as many people can’t wait those few seconds.

On the plus side, I’m an incredibly quick reader as I read the shapes of words rather than sounding out. My normal reading speed is around 2,500 words per minute and with speed-reading I can get up to 6,500 wpm.

I also struggle to describe my emotions. It’s not that I don’t feel them – I feel them too intensely much of the time. But language fails me; how can both the spinning kaleidoscope and the cold whirlpool both be described as ‘scared’? To me, they are two distinct feelings and that’s where language falls down.

And I’ve been thinking about language a lot as I’ve started to talk to more people about this whole thing. How to describe what it is I have. I tend to compromise on referring to my ‘condition’. It’s not an illness. And I refuse to refer to a ‘disability’ as I don’t feel disabled. So ‘condition’ kind of works, as a word.

I haven’t even worked out what name to use for my condition. I have a strong preference for “I am…” statements rather than “I have…”. After all, this is part of me; I have recently acquired the label but have always had the condition. But what can I say I am? I have tried “I am autistic”, but that doesn’t quite fit. The mental picture is of someone quite different. And I really dislike the ‘cute’ shortened names for Aspergers Syndrome; if I have to refer to that then it’s an “I have…” statement. So for now, I compromise. I am on the autistic spectrum; I have Aspergers.

Or, if you want to know how I see my condition in my own language, a child’s drawing of a metal scourer.


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