Tonal Whiplash

Have you ever wished you could take something back? Not to not say it, but to say it differently? Or have you ever thought you said something very nicely, but were accused of being aggressive? Of course, the former has probably happened once in your life. Any neurotypical has probably once said something that came out wrong. You wouldn’t be human if that didn’t happen. But there are very few neurotypicals who think they say something in a way, and have it completely misinterpreted that way. No, that is something the community of autism has probably experienced the most.

Like saying “Is this stir-fry all fresh vegetables?” What does that mean? “Wow, it’s all fresh veggies, and some crushed peanuts, too! Isn’t that thoughtful?”, or “I don’t like fresh vegetables! Where are the frozen ones?” Or, it can be a little of both. Like “That’s really healthy! I’m glad I have all fresh. Of course, maybe I could add cashews and some baby corns from the tin, because I like those too.” Like today. I didn’t mean for my voice to make it sound cross, because I WAS happy to have a stir-fry made of completely fresh vegetables. But no, just asking that question meant I had to sit through being yelled at for being ungrateful, when all I wanted to do was say how lovely and thoughtful it was to put in all that hard work when it would have been so much easier to just toss a few frozen veggies.

I’m not even going to count the twenty-odd times that everyone says I’m angry, when I only got angry after I was accused of being angry – I was fine before then. It’s not worth dwelling on it for that long. It’s just too many times.

Keep in mind, this problem with tonal regulation doesn’t happen to everyone with autism. But it happens to a few others. And it’s not always an aggressive interpretation (although I have known a little boy that always looked and sounded cross). It might be an interpretation of lifelessness, no matter the real energy level. Or always on the verge of crying (I’ve received that question, too) when the real mood is neutral.

My point is, if people don’t take into account that some people with autism can’t regulate their tone and their volume limits what expressions they can choose (which is a problem, seriously), then someone is going to get hurt. And it will be the person with autism, and I am getting hurt. And I’m not going to stand for it!

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