Oh! The Meaning of the Meaning of Words… by Lisa Morgan

Words have meanings!  Unfortunately, they have lots of different meanings for people, making it a challenge to communicate. There are phrases such as, “Let’s go for coffee soon,” which somehow usually means “Hi, it’s good to see you; I wish we could spend time together, but it’s impossible right now”. Also, “We need to talk about goals soon” can mean “I’m really busy and this is going to have to wait”. One of my favorites over the years has been, “Text (or call) you later” meaning “goodbye”.  Where is this all written down?  How do other people know this language within our language? I don’t know, but what I do know is, when I take people’s words at face value, it can get very confusing.

Words also have meanings when used alone, independent of phrases, and in my world, are used to label people.  Lazy, intelligent, creative, friendly, invisible, young, passionate, overweight, naughty, weird, and talented are just a few of the thousands of words available, I guess, to use in whichever way people want or need to use them in describing themselves or others.

People who are different, tend to get a lot of words thrown their way, perhaps in an attempt to understand the uniqueness and label the unknown to make it more comfortable for whom — the un-different?

I am autistic, which is associated with phrases such as, “fitting a square peg into a round hole”, due to me being different than the norm (un-different) or “can’t see the forest for the trees” because I am very detail-oriented. For me, I’m happy to be unique and detail-oriented, they are very good qualities to have when being creative and for coming up with fresh, new ideas for solving problems.

Again, being autistic, I’m labeled with words such as sensory processing disorder, inflexible, awkward, socially inept, misunderstood, cure, stimming, rigidity, and of course — different.  These words are descriptive of behaviors of autistic people due to the inherent criteria of autism, not of autistic people themselves. Sometimes it’s easy for me to get caught up in all those labeling words, especially on days when I feel so out of place in this world.

When an autistic person faces life with these defining words, it’s easy to give in and feel like it’s impossible to be successful at anything. It feels like life is already scripted (another autism associated word), and there’s nothing that can change how hard it’s going to be to strive through life.

Living with sensory processing disorder feels like everything in the environment is uncomfortable and scratchy. Lights are too bright, there are too many sounds all at the same time and most of them are too loud, tastes are harsh and unpleasant, and clothes are uncomfortable. There’s confusion, and it’s like being in a fast-forwarding B movie where the plot makes no sense, the cast all speak a different language, the setting is all scratchy, pointy, and loud — with no way out.

But! There’s so much more to living with sensory processing disorder. There’s resilience. Resilience is one of my favorite words associated with autism. Imagine having a day of confusion, misunderstandings, hurtful comments, sensory overload, feeling like you don’t belong to this world or anyone in it. We’ve all had those days, right? Now imagine living that day over and over and over again as your normal type of day. It takes resilience to face that kind of social / sensory onslaught every day. Resilience!

Inflexible, awkward, rigidity, yes… these words truly can describe an autistic person’s behavior, and to live in this world being defined by these words, takes courage, persistence, and… wait for it… flexibility!! Imagine that, an autistic adult being flexible while being labeled inflexible — showing evidence that labels are a farce. People, including autistic people, are fluid, learning all the time — becoming their best self-one step at a time.

What was another label? Oh yes, socially inept is another word phrase associated with autism.  Socially inept compared to whom? Compared to the dog-eat-dog mentality of business people? Socially inept as compared to the clique mentality of the teen years… which moves into the adult years without much growth for many people? Perhaps inept as compared to the over enthusiastic sports moms and dads screaming from the benches at their kid, the other team’s kids, the coaches, or the referee?

The burning question I’ve had for years is — socially inept as compared to whom? I live by the rules, as many autistic people do, because I have little intrinsic knowledge of what is socially acceptable, hence I know the rules and live by them! I have a huge knowledge base of what is right and wrong socially and my problems arise when non-autistic people don’t follow those rules. Just like words and word phrases having no meaning, many social rules seem to have no meaning to many other people. It’s something to ponder… who is truly socially inept? I believe the idea of being socially inept can be pervasive to neurotypical and neurodivergent people, more focused on individuals in the moment, not an overall label for anyone.

Cure? No! Not for me, not for other autistic people, we are not a disease or a disorder, we are a people group who are unique, creative, resilient, successful (yes, success is relative and is still success), thoughtful, giving, striving and thriving, meaningful, resourceful, and those words are just a few of the thousands of words that describe not label — us.

I love words. I love that words have meaning. That old saying from when I was a kid, “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you” is bogus. Words hurt. Words can be confusing, labeling, and demeaning. They can also be enlightening, descriptive, and meaningful. People, all people, will have their moments to shine, times of social ineptness, resilience, and striving. In honor of growth, I’ll try to use the hidden curriculum of word meanings that have been so confusing to me over the years. Here goes… Text y’all later!! Lol.

About Lisa Morgan

After working as a software engineer for a few years in the mid-eighties, Lisa stayed home after her first child was born for the next thirteen years homeschooling her kids.  Now, four kids later and a master’s degree in the Art of Teaching, she has taught in different school settings for 15 more years.  After experiencing the loss of her husband of 29 years to suicide, Lisa authored, Living Through Suicide Loss with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Now, Lisa, an autistic adult diagnosed late in life, has become an advocate for other autistic adults who have had similar experiences.  She has started a conversation with several nonprofit organizations in the US to help enhance the suicide prevention and postvention resources to be a better fit for autistic adults, as well as, to spread awareness of the resources available to the autism community.

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