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17 The Autism Accent

Communication is an indispensable aspect of our everyday interactions, transcending far beyond the mere usage of words. Since my autism diagnosis, I've embarked on a journey to unravel how it influences my communication. Common discussions around autism often centre on body language, non-verbal cues, or a tendency towards literal interpretation and black-and-white thinking. However, this post shifts focus to a less discussed but equally significant aspect: the 'Autism Accent'.

 

The term Autism Accent might be unfamiliar to many. I use it to describe a unique mode of vocal expression commonly found in autistic individuals, distinguished by its variations in volume, tone and intonation, pace, and mimicking patterns. This blog post aims to delve into these four elements, seeking a deeper understanding of their manifestation in autistic individuals and their impact on communication.

 

As with all my writings, this post is rooted in personal experience. It's crucial to remember that autism is a spectrum, and experiences vary widely. What holds true for me may differ for others in the autistic community. This exploration into the Autism Accent is a glimpse into my world, offering a perspective that might resonate with some, while providing new insights to others.

 

Volume

 

Since childhood, I was often labelled as extroverted, a perception influenced by several factors, notably the distinct loudness of my voice. Reflecting on this, I've realized that a common trait among many autistic individuals, including myself, is the challenge of regulating voice volume, particularly during emotional highs and lows. For me, this often translates into speaking louder than intended, though for others, it might manifest as speaking too quietly.

 

This aspect of voice control, or the lack thereof has had a significant impact on my life, particularly on my self-confidence. It’s a struggle that tends to fly under the radar of neurotypicals, leading to it being a frequent subject of jokes or, at times, the cause of unintentional bullying. Such experiences have been pivotal in shaping my understanding of how voice volume, an often-overlooked element of communication plays a crucial role in social interactions and personal identity.

 

Tone and intonation

 

The significance of non-verbal cues and body language in communication is often emphasized, as they are key to deciphering social contexts and understanding others' emotions and intentions. However, the role of tone and intonation in communication is equally vital and, in fact, sometimes overlooked. Tone and intonation involve the use of pitch to alter or emphasize the meaning of a word or phrase, respectively.

 

For example, when expressing uncertainty, people commonly employ a fall-rise intonation towards the end of a phrase, ending on a higher pitch. The rise and fall of our voice within a sentence acts almost like audible grammar, aiding listeners in grasping the structure and intent of our speech.

 

In the case of autistic individuals, there may be a tendency to place unusual emphasis on certain words, or to use pitches that don't conventionally align with the intended the message, such as not raising the pitch at the end of a question. Furthermore, a more monotone voice delivery, which can be a characteristic of some autistic individuals is often misinterpreted as a sign of boredom or disinterest, though this is not necessarily the case.

 

It's important to note that while neurotypical individuals might naturally interpret and rely more on tone for understanding, neurodivergent individuals, including many autistic individuals may focus more on the literal words being used. 

 

Pace

 

Another facet of the Autism Accent is the variation in speaking speed. Some autistic individuals might speak slower as they try to arrange their thoughts coherently. On the other hand, speaking about our special interests (infodumping) can lead to speaking rapidly about topics of deep interest or expertise. This variation in speed can significantly affect how autistic individuals are understood and engaged in conversations.

 

Mimicking

 

Masking involves the conscious or subconscious replication of behaviours, mannerisms, and even speech patterns of neurotypical peers to blend in or be accepted socially. One manifestation of this, extends into the Autism Accent, and the tendency of autistic individuals to mimic language and accents. This behaviour may arise from a desire to connect with others, fit in with peers, or could simply be the result of prolonged exposure to various accents through personal interactions, as well as media consumption like television shows and movies.

 

The resulting speech patterns in autistic individuals can often present as a unique amalgamation of linguistic elements and accents. For example, sometimes incorporating characteristics of accents from regions we have never personally visited. This illustrates the highly adaptive and frequently subconscious nature of our vocal expressions. Moreover, this mimicry goes beyond mere replication of accents; it can also extend to the nuances of language use, including idioms, colloquialisms, and speech rhythms. This ability to absorb and reproduce complex language patterns speaks to the often-overlooked linguistic skills in some autistic individuals.

 

However, it's important to recognize that while this adaptation can be a powerful tool for social integration, it may also pose challenges. The effort to constantly adjust one’s speech to align with surroundings can be mentally taxing, and may sometimes lead to confusion, misunderstanding or teasing among those who are unfamiliar with the individual's background or neurodivergence.

 


The Autism Accent, characterized by its unique variations in volume, tone, intonation, pace, and mimicking, offers a fascinating insight into how autistic individuals perceive and interact with the world through speech. By understanding and appreciating these vocal characteristics, we can foster a more inclusive and empathetic communication environment for everyone.


Thanks for reading,

Nidhi :)


 

References


Cover image: Atlassian (2022) 4 communication styles and how to navigate them in the workplace. Available at: https://www.atlassian.com/blog/teamwork/how-to-navigate-diverse-communication-styles-at-work Accessed: 1 February 2024

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