The #autistic feel of the words

paper with quill pen and inkwellI’ve been immersed in an intense and overdue writing project for the past week, and it’s been eye-opening looking at passages I wrote months ago, but didn’t get a chance to re-read until recently. It’s been tough going. What I thought would be a pretty straightforward exercise is taking me 2-3 times as long to get done. But at least I’m making progress.

I’ve noticed something really interesting about my writing, that’s only come into focus over the past year, since I got formal confirmation that I’m on the autism spectrum.

Namely, that I’m way more repetitive, even palilalic, than I realize.

And I do it in writing, as much as I do it in spoken words.

Palilalia is apparently a “sibling” of echolalia (which is where you repeat back words from other people (or movies or other quotes). Palilalia is where you repeat yourself.

According to Wikipedia (sans the “disorder” language):

Palilalia (from the Greek πάλιν (pálin) meaning “again” and λαλιά (laliá) meaning “speech” or “to talk”),[1] . . . is . . . characterized by the involuntary repetition of syllables, words, or phrases. It has features resembling other complex tics such as echolalia or coprolalia, but, unlike other aphasias, palilalia is based upon contextually correct speech.[2]

It was originally described by Alexandre-Achille Souques in a patient with stroke that resulted in left-side hemiplegia,[3] although a condition described as auto-echolalia in 1899 by Édouard Brissaud may have been the same condition.[1]

Apparently, Messrs Souques and Brissaud didn’t have much contact with #ActuallyAutistic folks like me, or they might have encountered it sooner. And not only in stroke survivors. Which might have helped avoid the pathologizing tendency (one can hope, anyway).

I am very, very, very palilalic. I repeat myself. A lot. And as I’m editing my work, I’m finding lots of sentences — even whole passages — that are basically repetitions of what I’ve said before, in different words. I do it so much, I sometimes literally remove every other sentence, and end up with a paragraph that says what I meant to say, to begin with — just in more succinct terms. While falling asleep the other night, it occurred to me that I could write a script to remove every other sentence from the book, and it would read much better.

Automated editing. But I have to suppress the urge to do more “hobby programming” until I actually finish this piece. It’s gone on for far too long.

Anyway, back to my palilalia. That’s my new word for the day, and I want to better understand the mechanisms of it. It’s like I tap into a concept, and that delights me. I have a visceral experience of the idea — an actual physical sensation. A form of synesthesia, perhaps? It’s like I’ve found a sweet-spot of sensed meaning. And in my joy and delight, I need to explore that concept from every . possible . angle, to make sure I’ve explored the full spectrum of the concept. I want to dwell in it… really let it sink in… and bring it home. And I also want to share it with others.


Please Note: I’m Autistic. Way Autistic. And contrary to the popularized definitions of Autism, I do want to share. I do want to reach out to others. I do crave a kind of connection with people outside my immediate circle of me-myself-I. So, let’s just get rid of the idea that Autism is about not wanting / needing to share. I do. We do. It’s just that others aren’t particularly interested in going the extra mile to make room for my Autistic ways.

Of course, my delight in having a sense, an experience of a concept isn’t necessarily shared by my readers. Maybe the Autistic ones… but certainly not the neurotypical ones. Non-autistics seem surprisingly happy to leave many, many conceptual “blanks” in their communication, sacrificing accuracy and thoroughness for speed. Non-Autistic exchanges generally feel like a frenzied experience of Let’s just get to the next idea, shall we? Never mind that nobody understands what’s really being said. 

Of course, there’s nothing I can do change the sensibilities of others. People tend to be generally fine with their own ways of perceiving things (heaven help us), so it’s up to me to speak to them in a way that makes sense to them, as well as what expresses my ideas. It’s deeply frustrating, because I want to convey what I’m experiencing, and I want to do it fully. Thoroughly. Intensively. Using different words to say just slightly different things about the same thing, so there’s a comprehensive representation of what I’m not only thinking, but also feeling.

I want my readers to have as much delight as I do.

But that’s not going to happen the way I want it to. Because not everybody is palilalic. And a lot of readers don’t get the nuances between different words. Truth be told, I need to be careful about using all those different words, because sometimes I have a completely different understanding of what a word means. I learned a lot of my vocabulary from books, when I was growing up, and I frequently mixed up meanings I derived by contextual inference, rather than explicit instruction. But I still used the words, anyway. And I still do. So, sometimes I have the wrong meaning. But it feels right, so I go ahead and use it — to the detriment of my writing.

Yeah, I have to be pretty careful about my writing and editing. And realizing just how palilalic I am, how good repetition feels to me, how intent I am on exploring all the facets and vagaries of concepts… it gives me a much-needed pause. It makes me a better writer.

Still, I have to wonder… is there in fact an Autistic way of writing? Do we have our own styles? Our own syntax? Our own pacing? I wonder… Just like people who speak certain languages may write a certain way in other languages, maybe Autistic folks have a “language” all or own, which then shades how we express ourselves in the written word.

It’s an idea.

But enough rhapsodizing. Gotta get back to work. And cull all that repetition. It’s the kind thing to do for my intended audience.

8 thoughts on “The #autistic feel of the words

  1. Tracy

    Blimey! I’m so glad I read this! I repeat myself verbally and when I’m writing. I’ve literally just finished editing a post and I’ve repeated myself numerous times. My OH is always commenting on me repeating stuff. My mother did it too and as soon as I realised I was autistic, I knew she was too. Thanks for writing this! Another mystery all wrapped up. 🙂 X

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think I do that, I’m not sure. I think what I do is explain the same thing several times in different ways. I don’t repeat myself exactly but I go over the same territory several times, just to make sure I really get across what I want to say and to make sure I’m understood exactly and not just approximately. This vagueness and approximation I observe in others when I’m in a group discussion quite unnerves me, and I want to jump in and make it more precise. So when I talk or write myself, I strive for the utmost degree of precision, and that leads me to say the same thing more than once but with different words – just to be sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VisualVox

      I can relate. I really can. There’s a “shellacking” impulse I have, to keep painting back over a concept, till it really feels like I’ve covered all the territory.

      Willful inaccuracy for the sake of “time savings” really works my last nerve. It’s off-putting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Honestly, I think some people (NT or otherwise) have a conditioned phobia of even deliberate repetition used for specific effect.

    “Non-autistics seem surprisingly happy to leave many, many conceptual “blanks” in their communication, sacrificing accuracy and thoroughness for speed.” To me, THAT seems like a deficit in communication skills. Language is the only thing that really separates humans from other animals, and here are these idjits misusing it because clear communication is too inconvenient or something.

    “I have a visceral experience of the idea — an actual physical sensation. A form of synesthesia, perhaps?” Well, the two autistic people I know best (myself and my twin) both have synesthesia, too.

    “Still, I have to wonder… is there in fact an Autistic way of writing? Do we have our own styles? Our own syntax? Our own pacing?” This is just my conjecture (bordering on hypothesis, because I do pay attention to these things), but it’s probably that we have more distinctive ideolects than non-autistic people do. They each have their own way of writing, too, but the differences among them often seem smaller than the differences between them and us. That doesn’t mean there’s an “autistic language” shared by everyone on the spectrum, only that we’re less likely to conform to how most people do it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      LoL! “clear communication is too inconvenient or something.” That line made my day 😀

      Good point about the ideolects.

      Why oversimplify, when the elusive truth lingers just beyond arms’ reach? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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