October 7, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Passing as Neurotypical: The problem with high functioning autism

“I know the ins and outs of history. I can tell you verbatim the biography of Ulysses S. Grant. I know every battle of every war. How it began, how it played out, and how it ended.

But because I can’t navigate social situations, I don’t have a job and I have no friends, even though I deeply want to connect with others. Because of my diagnosis, I cannot find my place in the world.”

Last year, speech IRL began a “dating and relationships” group for people who identify as neurodiverse. After a particularly skills-heavy session, one participant raised his hand and asked:

“What happens when all your ‘tricks’ fail? What do you do when people just think you’re weird?”

Not quite right
Someone I don’t want to be friends with
Someone I would never date

As speech-language pathologists, we value change. We create goals, measure progress, and hope for generalization. But how much can we really poke, prod, and change before our client’s “tricks” fail?

Mastering social communication is far from straight forward. It’s a strenuous hike full of twists and turns. No matter how many nuances you try to teach, there are situations you just can’t predict.

This is especially prominent in the age of online dating, where anything goes. Online dating is hard enough for people who don’t have social challenges. Difficulty with interpreting social cues (sarcasm, tone, body language, facial expressions) coupled with the rise of online communication is a recipe for disaster.

“Low” guys get a pass, “high” guys don’t

I think back to middle and high school. There was the boy who talked too much and failed to pick up on the cues that you weren’t interested. There was the “class nerd”; the one who everyone cheated off of, but no one wanted to be friends with.

I can’t help but wonder if these kids were on the spectrum.

High functioning autism – not “low” enough to warrant a “retarded” label (remember, I was in school in the 90’s when mental retardation was the appropriate label), but not high enough to be considered “normal”. They were just weird.

Historical Context

There was a time when autism wasn’t autism. It was a psychosis. Children with autism were deemed mentally disturbed and put into insane asylums. And then, years later, the “autism epidemic” took hold, which shook parents to their core. Suddenly, more and more children were “catching autism” and researchers, therapists, and parents were left dumbfounded. No one knew the cause, and certainly no one knew the treatment.

Turns out, autism wasn’t an epidemic at all. It was a mysteriously common profile that was often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. Once people heard the term autism, people started seeing it everywhere. Not because it was taking over, but because people finally had a name for what they were observing.

Fast forward several years and we have the DSM IV. The DSM IV introduced the world to the term “spectrum.” Autism became a way of thinking differently in varying degrees. This is where the term “high functioning autism” came into play.

The most recent revision of the DSM, however, made a few changes to the way we interpret these differences. Although writers of the DSM V kept the term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), they added a new diagnosis: Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder (SPCD). The main difference between ASD and SPCD is the term “restrictive behaviors.” If a child has deficits in social communication in the absence of repetitive or restrictive behaviors, he/she will fall into the category of SPCD.

Let’s talk about the D word

Psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and other professionals working with people on the spectrum put a significant focus on friendships and formulating relationships, but tend to leave out one of the most innate desires we have as a species: to love and be loved.

Although navigating the dating world requires similar social skills as making friends, there is a crucial piece missing.

Dating and marriage require commitment. Although there is a responsibility that comes along with friendship, there is an even greater one that comes along with an intimate relationship.

What will my in-laws think of me?
How do I behave at my significant other’s work events?
I know autism is genetic. What if someone doesn’t want to marry me because they’re scared of having a child with autism?
How will I handle arguments with my significant other if I have a hard time reading his/her thoughts and feelings?

Yeah, all of the relationship troubles that neurotypical couples face times 100.

One member in our dating group said, on receiving a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, “I thought I was just a lesser person.”

He knew of his “pecuralities”, the traits that made him different from everyone else. For years, he went on thinking that he was just weird, inferior, and unlovable.

Symptoms of autism are often heavily stigmatized and members of these populations may be ostracized if the diagnosis and symptoms are unclear. Several learn to “pass as normal” or hide their disability, by avoiding or limiting their social interactions as much as possible. But when the desire outweighs the avoidance, people with autism enter a dating world full of judgment, misconception, and rejection.


There is a woman in Walgreens walking with an unusual gait. She goes up to the register to pay. You hear her slurring her speech to the point where she is almost unintelligible. You roll your eyes – she must be drunk.

But what if I told you that the lady in this hypothetical scenario has ataxia? You immediately connect the dots. There’s a reason she’s behaving this way. It’s a neurological disorder.

Too often, this happens with people on the spectrum. Imagine you are having a conversation with someone who is talking your ear off. They don’t show interest in your life and fail to ask you any questions. They don’t pick up on the cues you are giving them that you are not interested in talking to them.

Your assumption:
Conversation hog
Self absorbed
Not respectful of my time

We don’t give these guys a pass, because as adults “they should know better.” “They should know the social rules.”

The first step to tackling these assumptions is self-disclosure. Self-disclosure can range anywhere from a simple statement such as “I have autism” or a longer explanation detailing what the diagnosis means and what the implications are.

You might be thinking – wouldn’t self-disclosure increase the stigma?

Self-disclosure is just the beginning – it is not the cure all, end all. You may have to go one step further – especially with dating. It may not be something you share on the first date, second date, or even third date. But it’s an important thing to discuss. Is your partner willing to make reasonable accommodations for your disability? How can your significant other make changes in their interaction style towards you? What does autism really mean? What does it not mean? The more we open up the conversation, the less mysterious autism becomes to others.

September 24, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Preschool stuttering: little voices, big questions

Is it too soon to put my child in therapy? Will attending speech therapy cause my child to become self-conscious about their stuttering? What happens if therapy doesn't work? My pediatrician said not to worry, but the teachers keep bringing it up. I think it's a big deal, but my spouse doesn't. I read online that I shouldn't bring attention to it, but my mother says I should remind him to slow down every time he stutters.
I don't know what to think!

Early childhood stuttering is enormously complicated. There are no clean-cut answers, other than "it depends on the child." Here are a few of the most common questions we encounter from parents, and our take on the answers.

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July 13, 2018Comments are off for this post.

The Stuttering Block

“I have trouble speaking sometimes. The words don’t come out fluent, or they don’t come out at all. This happens especially when I’m excited, nervous, or during stressful situations.”

”No no, not stuttering. Just….stuck.”

"Stuttering is when people repeat or prolong sounds, right?"


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June 26, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Introducing Shared Voices, A Community for People Who Stutter

Dear speech IRL friends,

As you all know, community is one of the founding values of speech IRL. We believe that access to a supportive, accepting, challenging community is essential for successful communication and personal growth.

As an extension of the values and work that we hold dear at speech IRL, I am deeply excited to share with you about a very special endeavor that I’ve had the honor to work on for the past year. Welcome to Shared Voices Chicago: A Community for People Who Stutter.

Shared Voices is envisioned as a Chicago-based non-profit community center for people who stutter, by people who stutter. We want people who stutter to speak authentically and confidently in their professional and personal lives, without fear of judgment or barriers to success.

This is a first-of-its-kind concept: a brick-and-mortar meeting space, both safe and empowering, that welcomes PWS into a safe community, and simultaneously supports them to go out and create a better world for people with diverse voices. This is not a speech therapy clinic. All activities will be created by the stuttering community, for the stuttering community, to meet the needs of today and change the world for tomorrow.

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January 7, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Help! My significant other stutters…

Answers to those hard questions that you are too scared to ask.

“Can I ask you something?” my friend asked timidly.

“Sure,” I said.

What is happening when you are stuttering? Do you know what you want to say? What should I do when this happens?” my friend anxiously asked.

With her voice cracking and her eyes diverting from mine, I could tell that these were hard questions for my friend to ask. I smiled, and thanked her for asking. These were really good questions.

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December 19, 2017Comments are off for this post.

The Last J-J-Jedi

Surprised, I texted another stuttering friend who I knew had seen the movie. "There's a character who stutters?" He responded that yes there was, but it was so minor that he didn't even notice until someone else pointed it out.

In the intervening eons between opening night and Sunday, when I finally watched the film, I continued to receive messages. Some people were outraged that stuttering was associated with this ne'er-do-well. Some thought it was cool that stuttering was in Star Wars, at all. And some didn't even notice.

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October 17, 2017Comments are off for this post.

The Good Kind Of Therapy

“Clinic!” Stella exclaimed, appalled. “A stuttering clinic?” She was mortified by this new concept she had just discovered on Google.

“Yeah, I don’t like that word either,” I said. “Would you call this place a clinic?”

“No!” she retorted, still visibly disturbed. “A clinic is for sick people. Stuttering doesn’t make you sick!”

“Well, what would you call this?”

She barely hesitated. “Therapy!” She said it with a bright smile. “But not the bad kind of therapy,” she continued quickly. “The good kind.”

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October 3, 2017Comments are off for this post.

How Does Stuttering Really Work?

An episode of the podcast, "Stuff You Should Know", called “How Stuttering Works”, recently hit the airwaves. “Stuff You Should Know” (SYSK) is a popular podcast and video series published by the How Stuff Works website, with the tag line "Learn how everything works!" The show discusses a wide variety of topics and disorders, both common and unusual. This episode focused on stuttering. Hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant discussed several well-researched aspects of stuttering. While many claims were articulated accurately, others seemed to be alarmingly misinterpreted.   

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December 6, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Conversation is hard. That’s normal.

 Communication anxiety prevails. Awkwardness is a fate worse than death. Being silent, isolated, and avoidant is the only path for anyone who is not a naturally gifted communicator. And that last part is the worst...because almost everyone except for you seems to have an easy time with conversation and communication. If you're struggling, well, you're one of the weird outliers.

There is good news, and there is bad news.

The good news is, you are not the only one struggling. Many people-- I believe the majority of people-- struggle with conversation. The bad news is: it's because conversation is actually pretty hard. The struggle is real!

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November 4, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Examining our expertise

How is it that a parent and clinician can share such similar beliefs about stuttering and speech therapy, and yet experience such friction when discussing these same topics?

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73 W. Monroe St, Suite 315,
Chicago, IL 60603
Or send us a message


73 W. Monroe St, Suite 315,
Chicago, IL 60603
Or send us a message


73 W. Monroe St, Suite 315,
Chicago, IL 60603
Or send us a message


73 W. Monroe St, Suite 315,
Chicago, IL 60603
Or send us a message


73 W. Monroe St, Suite 315,
Chicago, IL 60603
Or send us a message
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Looking for employee training? Check out our Business Services
Looking for employee training? Check out our Business Services
Looking for employee training? Check out our Business Services
Looking for employee training? Check out our Business Services