Asperger’s Experiences & Personal Growth: Stephen’s Evolution

From Literal to Figurative: Navigating Language on the Autism Spectrum

October 31, 2023 Stephen McHugh Episode 19
Asperger’s Experiences & Personal Growth: Stephen’s Evolution
From Literal to Figurative: Navigating Language on the Autism Spectrum
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Unravel the journey from 'literal' to 'figurative' as we explore together the world of language through the lens of my personal lived experiences with autism. Join me for a transformative ride filled with insights and newfound language appreciation.

Introduction  (0 - 3:06)
In the opening moments of this episode, I take you on a journey into my evolving relationship with language. After introducing myself and my mission to inspire and support those on similar paths, I dive into the episode's topic, which revolves around the deepening of my interest and understanding of language over the years.

Early Experiences (3:11 - 8:54)
This segment transports us to my early years, where I share memorable experiences that encapsulate my literal view of language. From humorous misinterpretations to the challenges I faced in understanding idiomatic expressions and metaphors, we'll explore together the unique lens through which I perceived language in my formative years.

Transformation (8:58 - 13:24)
In this section, we explore the turning points in my life that led to a transformation in my relationship with language. From the struggles of my mid to later teens to newfound opportunities in my twenties, I reflect on how support, determination, and hard work contributed to my improvement in understanding and using language.

Exploring Complexity  (13:28 - 17:30)
During my later years in secondary school, I encountered metaphors and more complex forms of language. In this segment, I dive into how I learned to navigate idioms and metaphors, using my interest in logic and visualization to unlock their meanings. Together, we'll explore the beauty of comparing things through language, painting vivid scenes with words.

Application of Knowledge (17:35 - 22:15)
This section delves into my growing interest in science and how my improved understanding and language skills have empowered me to think critically and express my views on scientific matters. We touch on diverse topics, from the search for life elsewhere in the universe, to the causes and consequences of climate change, and the application of knowledge in various areas.

Listeners' Stories (22:20 - 24:57)
Explore the multifaceted relationship between language and autism as I invite insightful experiences and perspectives from our community, including educators, parents, and individuals on the autism spectrum. I invite people to share their own experiences and insights at their convenience.

Conclusion  (25:02 - 27:08)
As I wrap up our exploration of language evolution, I summarise the key points discussed throughout the episode. We reflect on the progress made in my understanding and appreciation of language and the broader implications for personal growth.

Outro (27:13 - End)
In the closing moments, I express gratitude to our listeners for joining this journey and invite them to subscribe, leave reviews, and share the podcast with others who might benefit. I provide easy ways for them to connect with upcoming episodes and engage with the community.


Thanks for listening. You can find me on my website stephensevolution.com, or on twitter here. You can sign up to receive news of new episodes when they're released here.


Artwork produced by Elena Designe
Music composed by Nela Ruiz

From Literal to Figurative: Navigating Language on the Autism Spectrum

Intro (0 - 3:06)

"Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the Stephen’s Evolution Podcast! I'm Stephen McHugh, your host, and I'm thrilled to be here with you for another fortnightly episode where I delve into my lived experiences. As someone on the autistic spectrum, my aim is to share my journey, offer insights, and inspire those on similar paths.

In this episode, I’m going to explore a topic that's of particular interest  to me: my language evolution over the years. I want to take you on a journey through my experiences and share how my relationship with language has deepened. Being on the autistic spectrum has brought unique perspectives and challenges to my language development, and I'm excited to share my insights with you.

I’ll talk about how my early experiences with language were shaped by my literal view of the world, the difficulties I faced in understanding language, and how this impacted my ability to grasp new concepts. Over time, with determination, support, and hard work, my language skills have improved, and my interest in the nuances of language has grown.

I've found myself drawn to more intricate forms of expression, including idioms, metaphors, and inferences.

I hope that this episode not only provides valuable insights into my personal journey but also resonates with those who may be on a similar path. Together, we can discover the beauty and complexity of language, whether you're on the autistic spectrum or not.

So, without further ado, let's dive into my language evolution, and the deepening of my relationship with language. Thank you for joining me on this journey, if you’ve chosen to do so. Let's get started!"

Early Experiences (3:11 - 8:54)

"In my early years, I had some memorable experiences that perfectly encapsulated my literal view of language back then. I remember a time when I was told  that a posh looking car 'cost an arm and a leg.' Now, to most people, that phrase immediately means something is expensive. But at that moment, I took it quite literally, and I thought, 'Why on earth would anyone pay with their arm and leg for a car?' It's moments like these that highlight the unique lens through which I perceived language.

Another instance that stands out is when I heard people talking about 'holding their breath.' They were discussing a suspenseful situation, but, back then, I couldn't grasp the metaphor. I wondered how they could physically hold their breath for so long.

These experiences might seem comical now, but they underline the very real challenges I faced in understanding idiomatic expressions and metaphors. At the time, it felt like I was trying to decode a foreign language. But it's these moments that mark the starting point of my journey towards a deeper understanding of language and the beauty it holds."

In my early years, as well as the challenge of interpreting idiomatic expressions, but also a broader struggle with language comprehension that extended into various aspects of my life, including my education. More often than not, it took me longer to understand what I was being asked to do in different situations. This was particularly evident when I encountered new concepts, and no subject illustrated this better than mathematics.

I vividly recall those moments when one teacher in junior school would introduce a particular concept. While there were classmates who  seemed to grasp the idea effortlessly, I often found myself in a state of confusion. It was as if I was trying to decipher a new language. Applying these concepts to problem-solving seemed like an insurmountable task. 

Over time, I discovered that it wasn't just about memorizing written text in text books; it was about bridging the gap between the abstract world of mathematics and my understanding of it. My early experiences were a testament to the formidable challenge that language posed for me, a challenge that I would later overcome through determination and varying degrees of support.

Throughout most of my education, out of sheer desperation, there were times when I resorted to memorizing sections of textbooks and worksheets, without truly comprehending the written material itself. 

My journey was marked by moments of frustration and the realization that my path to understanding would be a unique one. 

Back to my early years, I grappled with even the fundamental building blocks of language. I didn't really understand that adjectives were words used to describe things and people, while nouns were about naming things. These basic concepts that many take for granted were more of a mystery to me.

While there were others in my class at the time, who seemed to effortlessly use adjectives to paint vivid pictures with their words and skillfully employ nouns to label the world around them, I felt like I was navigating uncharted territory. It was as if I was handed a paintbrush and a canvas, but I just couldn't comprehend the colours and shapes that others saw.

After those early challenges, I want to take you on a journey through some of my experiences, shedding light on how I evolved and grew as I worked to deepen my relationship with language. It's these very challenges that really fuelled my determination to connect with the intricacies of language and appreciate its beauty and complexity. So, in this episode, we'll delve deeper together into how I've overcome these early obstacles, how my relationship with language has evolved, and the ways in which I've come to appreciate the nuances of communication.

Transformation (8:58 - 13:24)

"In my mid to late teens, I found myself in a somewhat solitary world, more often than not struggling to fit in with my peers. It was a time of frustration and sadness at times, and it felt like others could effortlessly navigate the social landscape, while I felt like an outsider. The question often loomed in my mind was whether my place on the autistic spectrum and my delayed language development had something to do with my social challenges. I read about how individuals like me might have difficulty understanding the viewpoints of others, and it kind of began to make sense. But I also knew that I wanted to change the narrative.

As I transitioned into my twenties, opportunities to engage in social gatherings started to emerge. It was during this period that I learned a valuable lesson - the importance of listening. I realized that, in conversations, there's a rhythm, a flow, and an unspoken cue. If you had something to say that was related to an ongoing discussion, that would be the perfect moment to contribute. This simple yet powerful realization started to open doors for me in social interactions.

My journey wasn't limited to social development. I also made strides in my education. I began to see improvements in my grades, especially during resits, and my essays became more cohesive in certain subjects. My language skills and my ability to understand and apply new knowledge were on the rise. Mathematics, a subject that had once seemed like a foreign language to me, became more accessible. I achieved a GCSE pass a year early and even scored a decent AS level grade, nearly passing the full A level.

Looking back, I can't help but think that various parts of my brain may have become better connected over time, forming links between them. While I can't say for sure if that's the reason behind my transformation, it's an intriguing possibility.

I must also credit my mother for her unwavering support. She played an important role in honing my writing skills. She would find illustrations and encourage me to describe them in my own words. This exercise helped make my writing more logical, descriptive, less confusing and a lot less repetitive. She also inspired me to explore creative writing based on my personal experiences and interests.

One notable achievement from my junior school years was a talk I gave about telescopes. It was judged to be very good, and my powers of retention during the talk were commendable.

All these milestones, both in my social development and education, represent a significant transformation. For me they signify a journey of self-discovery, growth, and a deepening understanding of language and its intricate beauty. The challenges I once faced have led me to these moments, and I'm excited to be sharing them, about  how I overcame them, with the aim of offering  inspiration to others who may be on a similar path."

Exploring Complexity Segment (13:28 - 17:30)

"During my later years at secondary school, I began to encounter metaphors in written and spoken language. Metaphors, as I now understand, are creative ways of comparing things and people, and are often used to create vivid and interesting imagery in writing. At first, metaphors were quite confusing to me. While I was improving my language skills, grasping the complexities of metaphors proved to be a challenge.

Beyond secondary school, as my language abilities continued to evolve, I developed a growing interest in exploring more complicated forms of language, including idioms and metaphors themselves. It became a delightful puzzle to me. When I encountered a metaphor, my approach was to stop, not take it literally, and try to visualize it in my own way. I used my fascination with logic to deconstruct the metaphor, to understand how it compared two seemingly unrelated things. What I found particularly captivating was the opportunity that these forms of language provided to compare and 'paint pictures' in the minds of others.

For instance, when I hear the phrase 'A mountain to climb' in a particular situation, I pause to think about it. I visualize the layout of a mountain, the rocky and uneven terrains, the steep climbs on the way to the summit. I consider how difficult these challenges must be if one was faced with climbing a mountain. And from this, I can infer that when someone has 'a mountain to climb,' it means they're facing a particularly tough and challenging task.

Another example, from a wedding ceremony I attended some years ago, is the use of the word 'blossom.' I thought about how, in a marriage, when a couple possesses different yet complementary skills that support each other, they can 'blossom' together. This metaphor, I deduced, represented the idea of 'a wonderful marriage' overall. I drew inspiration from the image of a cherry blossom tree in full bloom, with all its petals on display. The beauty of the cherry blossom painted a picture of a harmonious and flourishing partnership.

Exploring these complex forms of language has allowed me to appreciate the artistry of metaphors and idioms. It's a way to convey deeper meanings, share experiences, and connect with others through the power of words. It's a fascinating journey into the intricate world of language, and it continues to inspire me to find new ways to 'paint pictures and scenes' through words.

Nowadays, I welcome the challenge of working out metaphors as a way to test my continuous improvement and gauge how far I've come in my journey with language. For me, it's a rewarding exercise that allows me to explore the intricate beauty of words and their hidden meanings."

Application of Knowledge Segment (17:35 - 22:15)

"Science has always held a special place in my heart, but my journey with it has been far from straightforward. Back in secondary school, science wasn't just about memorizing facts and figures for me. I often attempted to commit those materials to memory, but when it came to applying my science knowledge, my language and comprehension difficulties presented formidable challenges. It was a struggle to formulate sensible and reasonable answers.

However, as the years passed and my understanding and language skills continued to improve, I found a renewed passion for science. I discovered that I could leverage my enhanced understanding to explore and develop my own views on scientific matters and questions. Questions like, 'Could it be possible to find other life forms elsewhere on planets around other stars using more complex instruments and telescopes?' or 'What is the likely fate of the universe?' I became engrossed in the causes and consequences of climate change and what we could do to reduce our carbon footprints. Topics like keeping cool in hot weather also piqued my interest.

I translated my curiosity and newfound understanding into blog posts, exploring these scientific topics and more. My blog became a platform for self-expression and self-improvement, where I not only explored my scientific interests but also delved into my developing interest in language.

One of my most popular blog posts to date was an endeavor close to my heart. I crafted a collection of short idiom stories myself with a specific aim – to help individuals with autism understand idioms more easily. The positive response from readers gave me great encouragement.

Beyond blogging, my journey in the realm of e-commerce has also seen positive changes. On eBay, I've gained the confidence to communicate more clearly when interacting with buyers, along with understanding their questions. My improved language skills have allowed me to convey my thoughts and responses effectively, ensuring that my interactions with customers are smooth and productive.

Science, blogging, and e-commerce have been the arenas in which I've not only applied my knowledge, but have also celebrated the triumph of improved language skills. They have given me opportunities to express myself, explore my passions, and connect with others in ways that I once thought were out of reach. For me it's a testament to the transformative power of language, and the boundless possibilities it opens.

And finally, in this section, intriguingly, even without formal education in economics, certain concepts have resonated with me. One such concept is the fundamental principle of supply and demand. I can now discern why some businesses may charge more for their services or goods compared to others offering similar products. It's not merely about arbitrary pricing; it often comes down to the quality of service provided. 

By offering a better service, businesses can attract more customers, which, in turn, can justify the higher cost for their offerings. This understanding of economic dynamics has added a new layer to my appreciation of the intricate connections between language and real-world concepts.”

Listeners' Stories (22:20 - 24:57)

"Now, it's time for my 'Listeners' Stories' segment, where I invite you, my valued listeners, to share your own experiences, insights, and stories related to language development in the context of autism. I believe in the power of sharing and connecting, and this is a space for your voices to be heard.

If you or someone you know has experiences to share about delayed language and understanding, literal interpretations, or the challenges and triumphs related to language development while on the autism spectrum, I’d like to hear from you.

For those working in the field of education, I’m particularly interested in hearing about any approaches and strategies taken to improve language and understanding skills in autistic pupils. What methods have proven effective, and what insights can you share with my community?

Parents and caregivers, I’m  equally eager to hear from you. Your perspectives and experiences in supporting children who may be on the spectrum with their language and understanding skills are invaluable. What strategies have you found to be successful? What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Your stories matter, and they can inspire and educate others who may be on similar journeys. If you'd like to contribute to this discussion or share your insights, please reach out to me through my website stephensevolution.com or my social media channels. You can find links to my social media channels at the footer of my website, along with a link to my email there.

I believe in the power of community and shared experiences, and I’m excited to hear from you. Your stories can be an essential part of this podcast, and together, we can support and inspire one another on our unique paths with language and autism."

Conclusion (25:02 - 27:08)

In this episode, we've embarked on a journey together through my experiences with language development on the autistic spectrum, from my early years filled with literal interpretations to my transformation and newfound appreciation for language's complexity. Together, we've explored how I like to apply my knowledge, especially in the world of science.

Through 'Listeners' Stories,' I aim to connect with the experiences and insights of this incredible community, to highlight the diverse paths and challenges in the realm of language and autism.

In this journey, we've witnessed together the power of determination, support, and a growing interest in language to foster growth and transformation. It's a reminder, for me, that language is a dynamic, beautiful force that can be harnessed to express, connect, and inspire.

My hope is that this episode has resonated with those who share similar experiences, providing inspiration and understanding. Language, as we've seen, is a bridge that connects us all, and I invite you to join this wonderful community, sharing your stories and insights. 

Together, we can continue to support one another on this unique path of language and autism. Thank you for being a part of this journey, if you’ve already chosen to do so. Remember, your voice and experiences will matter. Stay tuned for more episodes as we explore new facets of language and life together."

Outro Segment: (27:13 - End)

"As I wrap up this episode, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to all my listeners for tuning in. Your support means the world to me, and it's very important in helping to keep this podcast going.

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Thanks once again for being a part of my wonderful podcast community. I look forward to sharing more engaging content with you in the future. Until next time, take care and keep exploring the world of language and life with us."


Introduction
Early Experiences
Transformation
Exploring Complexity
Application of Knowledge
Listeners' Stories
Conclusion
Outro