Verbal communication, autism and sensory overload

If it were up to me, I would talk less and communicate more via signing or text-based communication. I know it’s not a choice for some as far as verbal vs. nonverbal goes, but in my defense: it isn’t for me, either. Life is pure hell when I am nonverbal. I can talk, yes, but to use that as a basis for the reason I should be verbal is ableist—and not even half the story.

In high school, I would pretend I’d lost my voice. I wasn’t completely lying; after third period, I was halfway through the day and overwhelmed. Some days, save for when she was absent or had a meeting, I would go into the GAP sponsor’s classroom for lunch and just…sit there. I had an eating disorder—even though I took food to school, I didn’t eat it at school—and the quiet of the room was just…lovely. It was quiet and familiar.

After half the day was done, I was spent.

Verbal communication has always been difficult for me, and only recently have I been able to explain why.

Allistics communicate without much thought—it’s this natural activity to and for them. For me, an autistic, it’s a plethora of steps—from speaking to replying. It’s like a second language: I pass Spanish to English, then what I want to say from English to Spanish. It’s a longer, more difficult process for me because I struggle with even basic English verbal communication already.

Processing verbal communication

Jillian is saying stuff to me. As she is speaking, I have every other sound in the room, all the while I am literally processing what she is saying—a step I do think about and have to remind myself to do, because it doesn’t come naturally to me; it’s a step I must constantly be aware of, and it often feels like running laps around a high school track—exceeding the comfortable limit and this hitting the stop-now-before-you-pass-out checkpoint.

Once I finally process it, which comes after the pass-out checkpoint, I must go running again—backwards, this time, to figure out how to get the words from my brain to my mouth and as an actual sound.

I also have to factor in how loud to be. Usually, I’m stressing myself, and it’s why I taught myself how to speak in a British accent—which I wish wasn’t a huge deal, so I could speak with any accent I please if I must speak at all—since they put the beginnings and ends of words at the front of their mouths rather than in their throats, like Americans do. I found the accent an easier way to communicate via verbal communication, because talking with my throat was harder. Half the time, I’m raising my voice so the other person can hear me—not because I’m quiet, but because it’s bloody hard to process the necessary volume and actually use it accprdongly. Every aspect of verbal communication is something I have to think about.

And speaking in general? It’s like speaking when running: it takes your breath away.

Verbal communication complicates sensory overload

Most days, I wish the world were quiet—and it’s not for the same reason mother’s like the quiet, but perhaps it is a starting point.

I have little tolerance for the American accent, because of the loudness and general…pronunciation? But I’m guessing that goes back to the accents. The sounds are harder, louder—thunder storms with heavy rain and crackling thunder, with wind gusts and possible hail. Factor in the closeness of allistics, and you’ve a yelling similarity. It feels like I’m being yelled at. My ears ache, and all I can think about it how all the world wants to do is make me more like them instead of adapting to my—and similar people’s—needs.


I don’t know what I’m expecting to get out of this, but…maybe it’ll help you to understand nonverbal people in your life? I’m teaching myself American Sign Language slowly, because I don’t currently have great support or the proper materials for other resources. I made writing my bitch so I could communicate via it better, even though all my family thinks is that I should use my literal voice and save the writing for profitable shit only. It takes baby steps, but I’m getting there. ?

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Comments on this post

Georgie’s gravatar

I am mind blown by this:

since they put the beginnings and ends of words at the front of their mouths rather than in their throats, like Americans do

I guess I have never heard the English accent explained better. And I am really glad that this way helps you communicate verbally compared to your native accent. I personally find my accent “going English” when I need to put more thought into my words, like when I am explaining something or when I am angry and trying to maintain a calm tone. Perhaps this is the reason why – the feeling of having the sound at the front of your mouth.

I find the American accent to be very… I don’t know how to describe it, but I think I feel it the same way you do. The Australian accent is far gentler, from experience. I become very overwhelmed when I hear a lot of Americans speaking. I am not being rude but I notice that they talk at a higher volume than Australians and the English. And when I feel overwhelmed I think it is a bit like sensory overload, like I’m hearing more than I should be hearing. It makes me a little uncomfortable and from what I know, it seems that most Americans are extroverted as well – something which I am 100% not. So, it’s not really a great combination.

Liz’s gravatar

I agree. On with being calm/tone/etc., I find the American accent more angry as compared to the aforementioned accents. They’re just…yeah, harder. I don’t think it’s rude. I think the American culture is to speak louder to make points. I do it accidentally, but usually when someone else is trying to reiterate their assumption of my point and I am trying to decline it. People don’t listen to me when I say no. ?

But then it goes back to my speech class; my professor lectured how “good speakers” speak louder and firmer as an act of confidence. There was a mention of “having no accent”, but that’s really just, like, an American accent with no twang. So…I think it’s a culture thing. It’s definitely why I prefer foreign movies, however.

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