In Search of a Common Language

In Search of a Common Language is a research project mainly about language, communication, Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism.

I did some research on Autistic and Asperger communities on-line in the past and I noticed that these three topics seem to be interlinked and strictly connected. Communication is the big issue in AS and ASD, probably the biggest problem in the relationship with the neurotypical community.

If a way of “understanding” each other, a common language indeed, was devised and practiced in workplaces, schools, colleges etc., many disabling consequences in the field of social relationships could be overcome.

Previous research showed on-line, synchronous communication as a favourite means of dialogue and conversation within the ASD/AS communities. Writing, as opposed to face-to-face conversation, is an art well practised by Asperger and ASD people, a technique of expression in which they excel. Many members of the AS and ASD community also write books, blogs, websites and run lively forums. Written expression goes beyond the mere day-to-today communication needs and becomes a fine art of assertion and self-advocacy, the concrete clue that there is not a communication disability per se but a disabling environment that impairs the real capabilities of people in the spectrum.

These are the premises for my research. The cognitive aspect of AS/ASD is not the aim of In Search of a Common Language, nor is the medical-DSM related approach to the issue. The research starts from a non-medical stand and deals mainly with language and linguistic structure used in chat rooms, messaging software, e-mails, blogs and forums.

The people involved in the research are active participants and not “subjects”. The researcher herself is a participant observer, somebody who shares the same language and terminology of her participants, being herself the parent of an Asperger person in an interesting borderline position between communities. Much welcome input is required and accepted during the on-line conversations, which will be transcribed and analysed on a later stage, and via e-mail.

The focus of the analysis is on the language and language patterns used by the participants, in order to find common themes and categories to discuss in the future. Because of the attention on language, I will try to overcome the preconceived assumptions stuck by conventional research on the AS/ASD community, just focusing on the dialogue and on what the dialogue tries to construct. The same kind of textual analysis (Discourse Analysis) will be applied to email, blogs and any other written contribution that the participants will be willing to give. The hope is to find practical and feasible solutions that can be applied to social settings and used in everyday life. An example could be the extensive use of synchronous communication in work and college settings rather than face-to-face interaction. Meetings, reviews, courses etc. could be easily run with terminals and proper software, thus overcoming the disabling environments of crowded classes, intimidating meeting rooms etc.

The problems of isolation will be also investigated. Spending all your social life on-line could involve a sort of “social exclusion”. Many find this risk worthwhile compared to the intimidating task of face-to-face interaction, while other people find the Internet quite a sociable setting that can actually help to fight isolation. Everything will be open to interpretation.

My aim is to eventually to find a common language between neurotypicals and people in the spectrum. A way of communication and dialogue that does not require translation and does not incur in unnecessary misunderstanding.

My hope therefore is that In Search of a Common Language finally meets a neurotypical audience, once it is published. The communication problems and its solutions are, in my opinion, well known to the Asperger and ASD communities but hardly understood by employers and school workers who assume that very stressful and chaotic environments must be accepted as the norm. In reality, even people outside the spectrum nowadays have communication problems between each other and start suffering from social anxiety and depression. This fact alone should be the evidence of the disabling environment that we all have to deal with at work, schools and colleges.

The premises of my research can be found on its relative website, http://www.ucc.ie/en/iscl and on the connected blog http://insearchofacommonlanguage.blogspot.com, where findings and results will be regularly posted. Everybody interested is welcome to contact me and contribute. I am researcher in the Department of Applied Psychology in UCC (University College of Cork), Ireland, where I am currently working for a PhD.

Martina Buckley

Managing with Asperger Syndrome