Autistic Language Hypothesis

The Autistic language hypothesis (ALH) is a new alternative approach to autistic communication. Framing autistic verbal language as different, not disordered compared to allistic people (non-autistic).

The hypothesis takes a Neurodiversity affirming approach to autistic verbal communication. The neurodiversity movement views autistic people and other neurodivergence such as ADHD as natural variations in human neurology

Viewing autistic verbal communication through a neurodiversity lens, autistic communication is a natural divergence or variation in human communication.​​ The ALH argues autistic verbal communication is functional and effective but different to allistic (non-autistic) communication.

Autistic neurology, behaviour, and communication are currently pathologized under the medical model. Framing autistic people as disordered and exhibiting ‘deficits’ compared to non-autistic people. This approach has been damaging to #ActuallyAutisticPeople and has perpetuated stigma, discrimination and harmful stereotypes.

The ALH builds upon the work of Damian Milton and the brilliant Double Empathy Problem. Milton proposed that when people interact and they have very different experiences of the world, they will struggle to empathise with one another. This mismatch in empathy can lead to communicative difficulties between autistic and non-autistic people.

In a similar vein to the Double Empathy Problem the Autistic Language Hypothesis frames autsitic verbal communication as different not disordered. The ALH argues autistic people have a unique and effective way of communicating. However this has been deeply misunderstood by researchers taking a ‘outside looking in’ approach.

Cullen Consultancy on autistic experience

To further explain the double empathy problem, Rachel Cullen has devised a theory that Autistic people speak a different language to non-Autistic people. This further disproves that Autistic communication and socialisation is ‘deficit’ or a ‘disorder’, it is simply different, as well as explaining Autistic need for literal language. See also Double empathy problem.

Resources/books/articles – Aucademy

Disclaimer: the Autistic language processing hypothesis has not yet been substantiated in research, which would allow the hypothesis to be generalised to Autistic people. Therefore, it is only a hypothesised version of Autistic language processing and not a full theory as of yet. This also does not take into account co-occurring language differences such as an Autistic person who is also dyslexic.

Training offered – Page 14 – Aucademy

Autistic pragmatic language hypothesis: Rachel Cullen’s theory helps explain the double empathy problem. It explains that perhaps non-autistic people are processing language polytropically (e.g., less detail focussed, able to split attention): seeing the bigger picture, not the detail; parsing (processing) sentences as a whole; where the context exists both in and outside of the words e.g., who is asking? where are we? what’s the tone of their voice? etc. 

Autistic people, conversely, are processing language monotropically: seeing the finer detail; parsing (processing) at the word level; where the context, for many Autistic people, is in the words only. 

And so, Autistic pragmatics versus neurotypical pragmatic languages:

  • Autistic: context is in the words; processing each word in a sentence; literal; need for specificity of words and sentences:
    • “How are you doing?” becomes a huge sentence to parse each word without specificity, as we might not process who is asking; where we are; etc. Autistic brains tend to try and process all the words and their possible meanings: “When do you mean? Doing what? Why are you asking me? etc.”
    • Be specific: “Did your dentist appointment go OK this morning?”, and be prepared that questions may be asked to clarify what is being asked e.g., “What do you mean by OK?”.
  • Neurotypical/non-autistic: context is in what is not said; processing at the sentence level as a chunk; figurative and subjective:
    • “How are you doing?” – asked by your boss, in the office, you’re both wearing suits: “I’m great, got that report done you asked for”. 
    • “How are you doing?” – asked by your friend, at home, you’re both in pyjamas: “Awful, my boss wanted loads of work from me”.
Theories about Autistic experience – Aucademy

What if pragmatic and other language differences found in autistic people are linguistic markers for a different but functional pragmatic system?

A functional way of using and interpreting language unique to autistic people?

The Autistic communication hypothesis: Rachel Cullen educates Annette & Chloe of Aucademy 23.10.2021 – YouTube

Further reading,

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic retired technologist turned wannabe-sociologist. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they