Monolingual Autism

You can google that if you like and realize that it may not really be a real thing. It’s something that I have been observing for a long time and I’m sure you’ve seen or felt it at different points in your life.

A while back, LifeHack posted about people having different personalities when speaking in different languages. So I thought: Is it possible for a person to be autistic in a particular language and enthusiastic and energetic in another? Sounds stupid, eh? Well, here’s an example that might make it sound slightly less stupid and slightly more relatable:

Think of a kid from India or Sri Lanka or even Russia — or any other place where English isn’t really the first language. If that kid goes to a decent school, he’s probably learning English and his teacher probably encourage him to converse in it when possible. Let’s name that kid Connor.
Connor is 14 years old, he goes to a decent school and converses in English with his teachers simply because it’s a school rule. Connor speaks his native language at home and when among friends and he’s pretty talkative. Connor has no trouble reading or writing in English. But sometimes, e.g. in a group of several people, that he doesn’t know very well, who are confidently speaking to each other in English (although they also know Connor’s language), Connor gets tongue-tied. Connor has to put too much effort into forming every sentence that he then speaks. Connor, therefore, chooses to speak in his own language. The greater the number of such occurrences, the stronger Connor’s belief that he can’t converse effectively in English and the harder it will be for him to do so the next time he is faced with the prospect. At times like this, Connor get’s mildly autistic.

I have a theory. If Connor were to speak to someone that doesn’t know any other language besides English, he probably won’t have this much trouble. I personally believe that all this happens because it feels stupid and illogical to converse with people in a secondary language when you don’t need to. If someone knows Connor’s language then he would prefer for them to speak it instead of English.

This makes it sound like just as much a matter of choice as a question of confidence. So what is the issue? And that, is exactly why I chose to compare it with autism. The thing with disorders is that you can’t just choose to not have them. Sometimes you know you have them and that they are stupid but you can’t just think your way out of it. I believe that this is something like a disorder where the brain just doesn’t accept the idea of doing something as illogical as conversing in a secondary language when you can choose not to. Secondly, every time it kicks in, it is accompanied by nervousness and hesitation and makes you look like this quiet, timid, shy personality and occasionally raising questions like “You don’t say much, do you?” or perhaps even “Is he autistic?”

Can it be overcome? No idea. Does it need to be overcome? Logically? No.

 

Anas Ismail Khan

 

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