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Friday, April 19, 2013

"What?" and the meaning of tone

The title of this blog is important. Sadly, because the medium of writing doesn't allow me to use tone, I'm going to have to explain in rather great detail why such a title is so important. I've mentioned this several times in recent presentations and a couple nights ago I came up with the ultimate description as to the answer of "what?" First, I have to explain what the big deal with what is.

It seems I am not alone in my usage of what because when I mention this parents smile and nod. So okay, let's say you enter a room where a person with Asperger's is doing some activity be it reading, writing, watching television, or playing any of an infinite amount of possible games and you say their name, in my case, "Aaron." What type of response are you expecting. So often I would respond with a "what?" but what you can't get in text is the tone.

The way I said "what" was never in the tone of, say, the way a game show host would start a sentence like, "What president..." nor did I use it like a parent would ask, "What would you like for dinner?" The way I delivered "what" was in a tone that implied an irritation or anger. It is in this description that parents often agree with me and here's the thing; there may be some irritation and there may be a hint of anger but it isn't directed at you?

Okay, so what is this frustration directed at? First, I have to state my disclaimer which I haven't in a while and that is, "if you've met one person with autism then you've only met one person with autism." so this means that what I'm about to say could apply 100% or it could be 100% opposite to the next person you meet. Anyway, at least for myself, my delivery of what in an tone that hinted anger was never meant to imply that I was angry at whomever had just spoken to me. Here's the thing; focusing and concentrating for me is a fine art. When I am focused on something it is hard to unfocus and that being the case when a person comes in and says my name I am having to redirect my attention which requires more mental energy than you can probably appreciate.

When I change my focus it requires energy and it's in this redirection that causes my tone to sound as if I am angry. A couple nights ago while presenting in Clinton, Missouri I came up with a way to describe it; if you are about to pick up something very heavy you may let out a verbal grunt as you exert all your might to move or pick up whatever object it is. So too does this apply, for me, when I am changing my attention.

I fully understand why parents and teachers get upset with us and our tone but quite often you can't go by our tone because it might not be directed outwards but rather inwards. There will be times when you say our name and the tone of our response may be that of anger because it is, but for me, most of the time, it isn't directed outward but is my body adjusting to the change. This is easy to remember; change is difficult and changing focus requires mental force just like picking up an object requires physical force.

This is something about the autism spectrum that I don't think has been touched on all that much. I hope this little post on the matter will open the eyes of anyone and everyone on the matter because I'm sure there have been countless times a person has responded with what appeared to be a hostile tone when no hostility was intended so please just keep this in mind and be on the look out for this because I know I'm not the only one who has irked his parents by stating, what I thought, was just an innocent, "What?"

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