Thursday, March 13, 2008

On Amanda Baggs' Verbal Abilities

Okay, Amanda Baggs herself has contributed a little more information about the video that I found on the blog of her #1 Fan that I wrote about yesterday.

If I'm following this correctly, "Being able to sing, or to repeat words that someone else is saying to you, is not the same as being able to use speech for communication purposes."

True.

This is a phenomenon present in a great number of exotic BIRDS, but again, deserving of a bit more explanation in this case.

And what I mean by that is that the TOPIC is deserving on an explanation. Amanda as an individual doesn't owe anyone anything, except to the extent of anyone who has chosen to be in the public eye and present information that leads to some real head scratchers.

She does mention some blog posts she has made on the subject. However, Amanda is quite probably the most prolific writer I have stumbled across since Isaac Asimov and it is frequently difficult to digest large portions of this writing without the equivalent of a trained staff of paralegals.

Now ... back to the original intention of my post ... :)

Does anyone else reading this suffer from a similar phenomenon?

Is it just stage fright to a much greater degree?

If a person is capable of singing and speaking French, it looks like the raw connections from the Broca's area to the vocal cords are intact - then where is the "pipe clogged" that would prevent a person not from, say, speaking in front of a crowd of 3000 people, but rather, say, simply from walking up to the counter and ordering a Big Mac or some such?

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21 Comments:

At March 13, 2008 at 10:30 AM, Blogger Maddy said...

Newbie - mine could read a French word [or other language] and repeat it perfectly [whether or not they understood the word] They can also sing a song if they've heard it from memory / echolalic. They have never ordered anything in a restaurant verbally [yet]
Cheers

 
At March 13, 2008 at 10:37 AM, Blogger Niksmom said...

I am not autistic but my four year old son is. I can sing in fluent French and Italian...but could not even begin to communicate in any meaningful fashion in either of those languages. It has more to do with the rhythms and patterns for me than the actual understanding of it (the language).

My son is non-verbal but can perfectly imitate tunes and rhythms quite accurately. In fact, we often use music as a means of communicating simple things like needing his pants changed, mealtimes, brushing his teeth, etc. I don't mean only in the sense that **I** sing and he simply follows directions; he will initiate the tunes to alert me to being wet/dirty pants, wanting to go to bed, and such. I truly believe he will sing before he is able to converse —if he is able to achieve that milestone. Right now we are just embarking upon augmentative communication devices for him.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 11:06 AM, Blogger S.L. said...

My daughter is verbal now, she *CAN* speak, and does okay with her family. In public settings, it would be easy to presume she is nonverbal. Likewise, her articulation varies from day to day, setting to setting. She has a lot of scripted speech, odd sounds, & echolalia as well and is great at labeling. So even though she is verbal, functional communication is lacking, but improving each day.

Her speech therapist *strongly* encouraged singing songs to her & having her sing. She loves singing and music. She can carry a tune, her articulation is clearer, and she remembers the lyrics. Whereas, a basic conversation (Hi, how are you? etc.) can be extremely difficult for her, can sometimes lead to her having a meltdown, and her articulation varies to where you may not understand some or almost none of what she says.

One last, slightly unrelated, bit is someone my husband once knew. He had a major stutter, every time he spoke. Yet, he was able to sing without even a hint of his stutter.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 11:42 AM, Blogger Bev said...

Hmm...I don't really understand the "clogged pipe" analogy; humans are a bit more complex than toilets.

Not much of a singer myself, but I think this is similar to what I wrote about in
this post
or
this one.

I do understand that this is hard for people to grasp who have not experienced it. I am not able to offer an objective, scientific explanation. I don't "suffer" from communication differences, but I have been subjected to discrimination and cruelty based on assumptions others have made about these differences. I have sometimes suffered from those things.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no specialized knowledge in this area, but it brings to mind the way people can usually recall whole songs they heard a lot as kids, when they can't recall other details from the same time period; or the way memorizing something as a song is usually easier than memorizing a list. There's something about singing that seems to ring a certain bell in the brain.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 3:58 PM, Blogger Kassiane said...

I can sing in Greek, French, Italian, Latin, Swahili, church Slavonic, and Arabic (can we say "too many years of choir"?). Can't even seperate the syllables of most of those languages in speech though, much less speak meaningfully. I also run into periods of intense can't-get-the-words-out in speech, which I've never experienced singing, ever.

I'm autistic but I suspect that this isn't just an autism thing, because otherwise they wouldn't teach the alphabet and other bits of information to song.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 9:12 PM, Blogger Axinar said...

"One last, slightly unrelated, bit is someone my husband once knew. He had a major stutter, every time he spoke. Yet, he was able to sing without even a hint of his stutter."

Interesting ... almost implies there are separate areas of the brain in charge of "ordinary" speaking and singing.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 9:15 PM, Blogger Axinar said...

"Hmm...I don't really understand the 'clogged pipe' analogy; humans are a bit more complex than toilets."

Well, yes, but to the uninformed (and I increasingly am a member of this group), it does seem to be a contradiction on the surface when you have someone who claims to be unable to speak who is quite clearly able to sing.

Now, thanks to the many comments on this post, I'm slowly but surely getting filled in that this happens all the time.

So the question I begin to contemplate is how such a combination of ability and disability can be formed.

The simplest analogy would be in asking what "blocks" the speech that doesn't block the singing?

 
At March 13, 2008 at 10:19 PM, Blogger AnneC said...

I have more functional speech than Amanda does (though I would prefer to speak less since I find it very tiring and less accurate and reflective of my thoughts as compared to typing), but I have experienced phenomena very similar to what she has described. For the record, I am 29 now, and I have been diagnosed with PDD-NOS and Asperger's -- I'm not sure which takes precedence, but that's really neither here nor there as far as this discussion goes.

Anyway, I don't know all the details regarding how my speech developed as a youngster, but based on what records I do have (and on things my parents have told me, and on some of my own memories of being very young), I do know a few things that seem pertinent. E.g., I:

- Reversed pronouns (often mixing up "you" and "I")

- Talked about myself in the third person

- Used complex "whole phrases" that sometimes seemed context-appropriate (but not always)

- Learned to read very early (prior to age 2)

- Had extreme difficulty answering "simple" questions (like: "What did you do at school today?")

- Had extreme difficulty answering questions about how I felt (emotionally or physically)

- Could recite "innumerable nursery rhymes" as a toddler, and sing many Christmas carols

To me, the very question as to what "blocks" speech but not singing is difficult to parse because to me, the two activities are so radically different in terms of how they feel internally. It is a very, very different thing to sing (or recite) something that you have all the words memorized/prepared for in advance than to spontaneously produce accurate, descriptive, communicative speech.

I have a lot of trouble producing accurate spontaneous speech (and always have) -- this is why as a kid I could recite nursery rhymes (which were memorized) but not produce much of a response when asked about what I'd done at school. Recalling information about one's day and translating it into spoken language "on the fly" is extremely challenging for me. And there are times when I can write about something but not speak about it, along with times when I can't answer any questions verbally at all, and times when I am incapable of asking questions. Initiating conversations is also really difficult for me, as is keeping track of conversational timing. Etc.

For me, all this fluctuates rather a lot, but as far as I can tell, speech fluency just seems like one of the first things my brain "deactivates" when I am tired or paying a lot of attention to other activities, or when I am in a situation where I'm having to process lots of inputs simultaneously. There's also an "inertial" quality to it in my case -- e.g., sometimes I know I am supposed to talk about something, but I can't until someone else starts talking about that thing (maybe it activates the corresponding vocabulary module in my brain or something?). Speech is a weird, weird thing and it isn't surprising that a lot of people are confused about how it works (or doesn't work) for different people.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 10:25 PM, Blogger Axinar said...

"Recalling information about one's day and translating it into spoken language 'on the fly' is extremely challenging for me."

Well, let's break this down into something a little simpler, shall we?

Certainly from watching The Old Man I know "small talk" is a bit of an issue for people on the Autism Spectrum.

My mother and I have, in a way, the opposite end of this issue as we never know when to shut up.

However, I guess what I'm interested in is something simpler.

Say you walk into a Mickey D's and want to order something. What happens that makes it difficult or impossible to place your order?

 
At March 13, 2008 at 10:44 PM, Blogger AnneC said...

Say you walk into a Mickey D's and want to order something. What happens that makes it difficult or impossible to place your order?

Well, in my particular case (I don't know what Amanda's answer would be, obviously, but this is my answer) I might or might not be able to make the order. If I am able to make the order, it will be because:

(a) I've decided what I want before getting to the counter, and
(b) because I've mentally "prepared" the speech in my head necessary to make the order, and
(c) the environment isn't too overloading.

Things that could end up making it difficult or impossible for me to order would be:

(a) The restaurant being out of whatever it was I'd ordered. E.g., if I ordered a small salad and they said, "We're out of salads -- would you like something else?" I'd be at a total loss for words. In which case I would probably either repeat that I wanted a salad, take a long time to answer, not be able to answer at all, or end up babbling whatever random phrases I happened to have available in my internal buffer (which I can't always control or predict).

(b) The person at the counter trying to make small talk with me, or trying to rattle off a list of "specials" to me and then asking me if I wouldn't rather have something else other than what I intended to order. In this case, it would be a matter of being expected to produce spontaneous responses that involved wording other than what I'd already prepared to make my order. And my brain can't do that on-the-fly speech-generation stuff reliably.

(c) The restaurant being noisy/crowded. That kind of environment can make it difficult for me to even prepare speech in my head, let alone produce speech.

There are probably other things as well, but those are the ones that immediately came to mind.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 11:22 PM, Anonymous Amanda said...

I'm reminded of what Larry Bissonette said about speech: That he might use speech to order a pizza, but he'd use typing to give his opinion about the poor working stiff who delivers it.

As for what prevents me from ordering by mouth, that's just not what speech does for me, speech is that stuff that generally comes out totally unrelated to what I'm thinking when it comes out at all. I don't know why I have such a direct line to typing but not speech, but from my experiences among other autistic people, it's so common to have a pretty big discrepancy there, that I get pretty surprised when I run across people who think it's a contradiction.

 
At March 13, 2008 at 11:34 PM, Blogger AnneC said...

I don't know why I have such a direct line to typing but not speech, but from my experiences among other autistic people, it's so common to have a pretty big discrepancy there, that I get pretty surprised when I run across people who think it's a contradiction.

Same here. I actually only learned that most people actually found speech easier than typing a few years ago at (after getting frustrated by the fact that people did not read my e-mails and would instead come up and ask me questions about what I'd already explained in writing thoroughly).

For years I actually thought that e-mail was going to replace the telephone, etc., because typing was so much "easier" and more straightforward than talking, and it puzzled me to realize this wasn't happening!

 
At March 17, 2008 at 8:20 AM, Blogger abfh said...

Anne, there are some people who have such a strong preference for speech that they totally hate it when coworkers send e-mails instead of talking. I know one person who feels that way. He was complaining to me that his coworkers were "too lazy to walk down the hall to have a conversation."

I tried to explain that some people find it easier to put their thoughts into writing than to use speech, but I'm not sure he fully understood the concept.

 
At March 17, 2008 at 12:49 PM, Blogger Axinar said...

"He was complaining to me that his coworkers were 'too lazy to walk down the hall to have a conversation.'"

Interesting ...

What other characteristics does this person have?

 
At March 17, 2008 at 1:16 PM, Blogger abfh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At March 17, 2008 at 1:18 PM, Blogger abfh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At March 17, 2008 at 1:21 PM, Blogger abfh said...

Sorry about the deleted posts. I was trying to embed a hyperlink in a sentence, but Blogger has a glitch that sometimes messes up links in comments, and it happened twice. I'll just post the link at the end, instead.

The person I mentioned is an extremely talkative alpha male and a software engineer. There's quite a personality clash with his geekier coworkers.

Kristina Chew just wrote a post about the brain structures involved in singing. I think you might find it interesting.

http://www.autismvox.com/birdsong-and-vocal-learning-not-just-for-the-birds

 
At March 17, 2008 at 7:27 PM, Blogger Axinar said...

"The person I mentioned is an extremely talkative alpha male and a software engineer. There's quite a personality clash with his geekier coworkers."

That's a pretty odd combination for a software engineer.

What does he do that classifies him as an "alpha male"?

 
At March 21, 2008 at 9:18 AM, Blogger abfh said...

Dominates conversations, argues at great length with anyone who dares to disagree with him, and generally gets his way.

To be fair, he usually is well-informed on his topics of discussion.

 
At March 21, 2008 at 1:08 PM, Blogger Axinar said...

Interesting ... although such traits can often be present in people with Autism/Asperger's as well.

Fascinating, isn't it?

The less autistic a person gets, the more autistic they get ... :)

 

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