Autism, neurodiversity, and language learning, Part II

(Part II in a series of posts that will eventually take us to a highly contagious and dangerously inaccurate meme about what autism is.)

So why is Receptive Joint Attention, as I noted in my last post, so crucial to language learning?


One way to see why is to imagine yourself going to another country where you don’t know the language and spending several years there seemingly immersed in that language. The key word here is “seemingly.” For imagine, as well, that:

(1) all your basic needs are taken care, such that you don’t actually need to interact with anyone, and

(2) for whatever reason, you mostly choose not to interact with anyone, even passively, such that:

(3) even as you hear the syllables coming out of people’s mouths, you manage to hardly ever pay attention to what those who utter these syllables are doing, looking at, or otherwise attending to.

Under these circumstances, how much of the language would you pick up?

Perhaps you would, willy-nilly, learn the meanings of a few really regular patterns—for example, the phrases for “hello,” “goodbye”, “please,” and “thank you”—along with a few labels for whatever concrete objects are deliberately pointed out to you.

But, since you aren’t routinely linking the ambient syllable sounds in your new environment with what the speakers are doing while uttering them, most of those speech sounds will continue to be just that: syllables without meaning.

In other words, language immersion works its magic only if you’re actually paying attention to speakers.

What about written language? Stay tuned for the next post…

3 thoughts on “Autism, neurodiversity, and language learning, Part II

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