How to Speak Drakk

drakksketch 315 x 315NightStorm is a 23-year-old Asperger-diagnosed autist, a watercolor artist and writer of original and fan fiction, a blogger and a lover of storytelling and role play. Like so very many others then, she belies the stereotype that autists lack imaginative thought. Her fiction often portrays autistic characters set in fantasy worlds, yet offers an instructive view of our world as seen through autistic eyes. The following essay of hers takes as its starting point the opening lines of one of her stories, spoken by a character whose people, the Drakkhani, are something of an allegory for people on the autistic spectrum:

“I could speak my own language fluently. The clicks, chirps whistles and growls are part of a complex pattern. Drakk, my native tongue is intrinsic to me as speaking verbally is intrinsic to humans. However teaching the humans the language of the dragon-folk is both a laudable and foolish task.”

Language or lack thereof is one of the core differentiators in Autism. Autists of all colors have problems in communication and language. “Red” or Asperger autists speak like foreigners speaking English fluently. They know their own native tongue but they can converse English well, albeit they have trouble in some cases—whilst Purple autists know their language and struggle to learn a totally different and equally complex one.

Diagnostically the difference between a Red and Purple autist is simply when the child started talking. Precocious speakers learned to verbalize quickly and can hold conversations; lack of language delay is what makes an autist an Asperger or an HFA (High-Functioning Autism). But beyond diagnostic symptoms, even Aspergers autists have trouble speaking what really is to us a foreign language. Even the most fluent of us stumble and trip around signals and dialogue. For us, verbal communication is very clumsy and often hard to process. However, we manage and use it well enough to go throughout the world without causing so much of a head turn—at least that’s the case for us lucky “Red” autists. But this isn’t about us learning verbal communication; it’s about others learning our language.

The opening lines are spoken by a Drakkhani (dragon-like humanoid) man named Lucian Galesong. His language is a complex mix of clicks, growls, and words, with body language and posture to accent it. Many of the words spoken in “Drakk” are almost unpronounceable by English speaking humans. The written, “Romanized” words are spoken nothing like they are written, and it becomes a difficult and frustrating language for humans to speak. So. Altogether, most humans make the Drakkhani people learn English, which to them is a very hard but at the same time simple language. Many, like my character Quasar, learn it but never reach the point where they can talk just as well as humans. Lucian and Taajah both learn to speak “Human words” at an early age and speak it without an accent or major problems. As for Drakkhani, many never learn for a variety of reasons (Wildborn, too old, etc.), but humans refuse to bother with Drakk.

This is the crux of language with autistic people and typicals. Why do we struggle with learning your language, your words, your culture—but act like learning ours is some great mystery. Though it can be challenging and enigmatic, it feels like only autists bother with crossing the vastly long, shaky bridge which is communication, while those on the far side are tapping their feet waiting for us to cross it.

Today, however, was interesting. As I was heating up lunch I remarked to “L” who was watching the microwave carousel spin, “Huh, you like watching the microwave, don’t you? Probably because it spins. Don’t worry, I still like to watch ceiling fans go around and around.” Later as I finished up, one of the teachers approached me and asked, “What attracted you to ceiling fans?” That wasn’t a hard question but difficult to explain in the right words. I told her it was simply because I just needed something to focus on, something constant and unchanging. Everything in this world shifts and moves erratically. Ceiling fans stay the same. It’s a little piece of continuality that never veers off from the norm. Autistics seem to be drawn to that. She thanked me and continued helping the class.

All the while I was thinking, “Huh, so there’s one person stepped foot on that bridge.”

A version of this essay originally appeared at Prism*Song.
Republished with permission of the author.

on 10/13/09 in featured, Language | No Comments | Read More

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