Autism & Language

Written by Lavinia Dowling

It is only in this last decade that Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Community Paediatrics are now screening and diagnosing Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)/Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). And once they have completed their diagnostics, they discharge.

This is a little surreal in the respect that families ask to be referred for diagnosis, and have an expectation that after diagnosis, there will be support in adapting and adjusting to the newly acquired diagnosis.

The reality is a hard no.

Diagnostics complete, and so discharge it is. Families are left feeling bewildered, abandoned, and terribly isolated, with the young person feeling more helpless despite having a diagnosis explaining why they are struggling but with no tools to work with.

Despite my several decades of working within Mental Health and the last five predominantly in Autism with Mental Health (my two favourite subjects), I am still not hearing clinicians or professionals talking fluently about both. This is a real concern. There are lots of support groups run by parents for parents, parents for professionals, professionals for professionals, professionals for parents and those wannabes focused on fame and fortune and hearing the sound of their own voice.

Forgive my sarcasm from a clinician, a Mother, and an individual on the Autistic Spectrum who has experienced debilitating mental ill health. I want you to consider young people in the UK education for the majority. This is rich fodder for observations and learning development of how to make things better for the next generation!

Young people come to TMW on a daily basis for a Mental Health Assessment and, invariably, an Initial Screening. Some go into therapy with TMW and really start their lifelong journey of learning development. Young people on the spectrum experience three things that are NOT taken into consideration by these wretched people (previous paragraph I have referred to) :

  • Processing time
  • Amplification
  • Language

Language is something else as it can be deciphered in a number of ways. Take the young person who is sitting in mainstream education and trying, against all odds, to listen to the teacher and not be distracted, misconstrue or get it wrong. Many say that at the time of being taught, things “made sense” but when they revisit the work later through homework, they cannot remember a jot of it.

Why is this? Some get half of the gist of what is being relayed by the teacher, and so, like dementia, there are holes in the memory meaning there is a sequence of missing beads. Before you get carried away, I am not suggesting that being Autistic with a lousy memory means you have early onset dementia, it is just a way of describing a picture of what I am trying to relay (you know because I am Autistic and need you to understand what I am trying to explain).

Don’t forget Processing time (another blog) is something else that does not appear to be factored into by those others, and, certainly not mainstream schooling who state they can meet the needs of those on the Autistic Spectrum.

So, to help you understand this a bit better if a teacher teaches a lesson in a timely 50-minute session to neuro typical young people – this has been tried and tested and appears to be a satisfactory amount of time for the lesson to be given for young people to listen, process and act accordingly with the directives. Great! But nobody has clearly tested the sessions for effectiveness for those young people on the Autistic Spectrum. Guaranteed, I have been doing this job long enough now to know that it takes FOUR times longer for an Aspie to listen (don’t forget the sensory issues competing along with the being easily distracted), process, and action (with aversions to handwriting, creative writing, or spellings!!!!).

Why is this so lengthy???? Because an individual who is on the Autistic Spectrum has an internal different language. We know this when they often have learned over time that people misunderstand them, and they themselves get confused with what others are trying to say verbally and facially. Speak to a Neuro diverse individual is a challenge in that they are desperately trying to make sense of what information is coming in, to translate, find the correct answer, translate it back to Neuro typical language to then give the answer, in the hope that it is the expected correct answer.

Over time, this attacks self-esteem and pretty soon the anxiety flows in and embeds itself. With no understanding of these difficulties, from the individual on the spectrum and those out there, it becomes a deteriorating situation from mental ill health to chronic mental ill health and induces some nasty pesticides called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, Major Depression, Self-harming or worse, Suicidal Ideation and Plans. Yep, Mother Mental Health can be swiftly turned into a miserable consortium to unbearable torture of misery and traumatizing distress.

Language then is an important consideration. It almost feels like to me that what I want to say is two or three sentences behind, and that annoying individual who does not give me time to either finish my sentence or tells me what I should be thinking/saying/doing just drives me insane and makes me feel even more stupid/pathetic/useless and ……………..what’s the point????????????

Like all good Detectives, as parents, professionals, and individuals on the Autistic Spectrum, we need to be:

  1. Mindful that those quirky enough to be In the Club, speak a quirky language (you know, the made up words, the odd expressions, the literal thinking)
  2. Make time for the processing knowing that it takes at least four times longer (possibly longer)
  3. When animated, it might not sound English but more gibberish in our excitement to get it out
  4. When masking, we might go mute, but our minimalistic behaviour to the expert eye (that will be TMW) will reveal a very different story to the one others “see” or “hear”
  5. We are always looking for hard evidence, as well as tried and tested methods that provide positive coping strategies
  6. Willing to adapt and adjust our expectations to those like us in the quirky club and not compare ourselves to the Neuro Typical Club (I mean, please, make it a fair arena)
  7. Be brave and colourful in our language learning that we are bi-lingual quite literally and it takes time to become fluent and proficient in translation, processing, and translation


My kicking Anxiety away list

Laced with poison

A small personal victory

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