Pronoun Reversal and Confusion

One of the obvious early signs of autism in children is pronoun reversal. All toddlers have difficulty with learning the correct usage of I, me and you. However, sometime between two-and-a-half and three years old, most kids gain a firm grasp of personal pronouns.

Specifically, they begin to understand that pronouns are referential rather than absolute words. I can be me but I can also be you, right? It all depends on the situation.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty challenging concept for someone who only recently learned to use a potty, but somehow most kids get it. If a child approaches their preschool years and is still using I, me and you interchangeably, that’s a potential sign of autism. The same is true of a child who continues to use their own name to refer to themselves in the third person.

There are a lot of theories about why autistic kids don’t make the transition to using personal pronouns at the same time or in the same way typical kids do. Some of them are disturbing and stereotypical:

  • autistic people don’t know that other people are actually other people

  • autistic people don’t have an intact sense of self

  • autistic children are “solitary beings” who don’t interact with others

  • autistic children are more egocentric than typical children

  • autistic children don’t pay attention to/listen to/notice/care about other people so they don’t hear how pronouns are used in daily speech

Most of those ideas are rooted in outdated theories about autism. More likely reasons for pronoun reversal in children are:

  • autistic children use echolalia to communicate and say “you” because they are echoing the way other people refer to them

  • autistic children have difficulty with pragmatics (social use of language)ย 

Finally, since autistic children’s language development often happens at a slower or different pace, it’s possible that pronoun reversal is simply related to delayed development.

But how can we explain pronoun reversal in autistic adults? I sometimes use “you” or “we” (and occasionally “they”) when talking about myself. I even found some typical examples to share with you:

You could watch that video and say that I’m using “we” and “you” in a general way. It’s common to use “you” in a suppositional or general context. My “eating when you’re hungry” example in the video makes sense whether it’s presented using “I” or “you.” In fact, I’m not really sure who I was talking about in that case.

But when I start talking about stimming, I’m definitely thinking and talking about myself. The use of “you” in that situation also doesn’t make logical sense because I was talking to The Scientist directly–answering his question–and he doesn’t stim. So “you might be at a place where you didn’t feel comfortable stimming” or “you would have a meltdown” are both untrue and illogical. They just don’t apply to him.

I do this a lot. I use “you” and sometimes “they” or “we” when I clearly mean “I” or “me”. Why? I’m not quite sure. When I used “you” in that stimming example, it was in part echolalic. The Scientist asked me a question that included the use of “you” several times and I may have been echoing his pronoun usage. There might also be an element of poor pragmatics. My pragmatic use of language is certainly better than that of the average three-year-old, autistic or not, but it’s far from perfect.

Since MKW asked me to write about pronoun reversal, I’ve spent weeks considering the why of it.

I definitely understand the grammar rules of pronouns and I know that other people are separate from me and I’m aware of how other people use pronouns and I never use my name to refer to myself the way that autistic children sometimes do. In fact, I rarely refer to anyone by their names, but that’s a different subject (sort of).

Curiously, I’ve noticed that my reversal is always the substitution of another pronoun for “I” and never the other way around. It makes no sense at all in my head to refer to someone else as “I” and yet it seems fine to talk about myself as “you.”

Beyond simple pragmatic problems and a touch of echolalia, I came up with two theories that might explain why I reverse pronouns. Maybe it’s a way of emotionally distancing myself from a topic by contextually generalizing away from the “I” perspective. If I’m not saying “I”, it feels less personal and more amorphous. It’s a verbal sleight of hand, tricking myself, and certainly the listener, into thinking it’s not about me.

But maybe it’s not emotionally rooted. Maybe it’s more of a technical glitch. Since I decided to write about this, I’ve been paying more attention to when I reverse pronouns and noticed that I often do it when I’m talking in abstract or conceptual terms.

I never say “you went to library” when I mean “I went to the library.” If I’m talking about concrete actions, I’m very clear on which pronoun to use. But if I’m talking about something that didn’t actually happen–like the hunger and stimming analogy in the video–then the pronouns get fuzzier. It’s almost as if it doesn’t matter what the subject of the sentence is because it didn’t actually happen. I might be speaking from general personal experience, and so I’m speaking about myself, but in an abstract way.

I’ve heard other autistic adults say that they have difficulty following conversations that rely heavily on pronouns. While I don’t experience confusion with pronouns in receptive language, I suspect something similar might be happening. Names are concrete; pronouns introduce a degree of abstraction. They also call on our short term memory, which has to catalog and store references like “she refers to Peggy” and “he refers to Don” and “they refers to Peggy and Don” in order for the conversation to make sense. Most people do this automatically and only get confused if there are many people who are being referred to over the course of a convoluted tale.

Since I started drafting this post weeks ago, I’ve been paying more attention to my pronoun usage and correcting myself mid-sentence when I catch an incorrect usage. It still feels strange to substitute “I” for “you” in abstract language, but I’m determined to get the hang of it.

140 thoughts on “Pronoun Reversal and Confusion”

  1. I’m convinced it’s far more echolalic than any of the research and/or literature gives us credit for. On the surface, I don’t have any language problems, but I do echo people’s remarks too literally sometimes, and then go “Erm, I mean myself, obviously.” I nearly always catch myself right away and have become very fluent and easy in correcting myself, which means people don’t remember the initial confusion they felt. But the echolalia is still how I start.

    It works as a strength, too. I get clients on the phone who explain a problem they have with their website or email, and when I start off replying with my echolalia, it comes across as empathic and interested. “So, I’m looking at the website, I’m seeing this button here which is a different colour from the rest, do I want to change that to a similar colour? Hmm… Would YOU like to change it to another colour?”

    1. I think for me it’s partially echolalic, but I’ll do it when I start off a conversation thread as well. It’s almost always when I’m telling some sort of hypothetical or abstract story, though. And I think my husband, who gets the brunt of it, rarely notices because his native language is one that rarely uses pronouns. So to him, they’re incidental (and interestingly, he’ll still sometimes mix up his/hers when talking about people of two different genders in one sentence).

      I can see how echolalia would be a strength in working with clients because it also comes across as active listening when you repeat a person’s comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. Echolalia’s a part of it for me – especially when I was a kid, and had a set of stock phrases from books and TV that I’d use when my own word-generator let me down or couldn’t keep up with a real-time conversation.

      Then, I tend to attribute gender and personalities to words and numbers and inanimate objects, which I think could be a form of synesthesia. So I cause yet another layer of pronoun chaos when I refer to an audio file of a man speaking as “she”, because audio files are female! (So are photos, except if they’re black and white. Videos are usually male.)

      I get dreadfully muddled in she/he/they conversations, and I think working memory comes into it too. My working memory’s dreadful – if you give me a number to remember, then ask me three minutes later what it was I was supposed to be remembering, I’ll probably say “pineapple?” So I think I just literally can’t remember who she, he and they is referring to from one paragraph to the next.

      1. I’m curious if you’re a native English speaker (or native speaker of another non-gendered language). When I first started learning French in middle school, it seemed odd that words had gender but then at some point it became very natural to think of words as a specific gender. However, only words in French or Spanish or Latin . . .

      2. Ooooh, that thing you describe of objects being gendered sounds very familiar! It’s why I always had such trouble with French and German. I could deal with nouns being gendered, it was just that often the gender was NOT THE RIGHT ONE. Like, radios feel extremely feminine to me. But in German, they’re neutral (das Radio).

        1. Yes!!! You’re the first person I’ve met who found that some nouns (French in my case) have the “wrong” gender. An obvious example would be boat (le bateau) which is usually referred to in feminine terms in English. But there are several nouns where my mental image feels at odds with the word’s gender.

          1. Perfect example for me is “glass” (as in glass of wine). It’s masculine in French and Italian, neuter in German and Dutch. But it feels feminine to me despite it being neuter in my native language.

  2. … I just noticed on reading that I do pronoun reversal when I’m trying to explain something that I do and the other person definitely doesn’t. Like, when I’m trying to explain something, it’d be, “When you’re [thing], and you want to [other thing] then I do [third thing].”

    … other people don’t seem to find this confusing, unless I’m particularly scattered.

    1. Yes, this is the kind of situation I mean. It feels almost as if the pronouns don’t matter in those cases? I know that there is the very similar case of explaining the thing with the intent the other person will do the thing and so using “you” makes sense there. But I do it when I’m clearly talking about something only I do, which seems illogical.

      1. I didn’t even realize that was what I was doing. Yet another thing I thought I didn’t do but I actually do. ๐Ÿ˜„

        … for me, I seem to do it a lot when I’m trying to explain something I do to another person in a way that’s relatable. Like, when you have someone ask why you do [autistic thing] and you’re like, “Uh… how do I explain this to a nonautistic?” and then you grasp at straws to find experiences they share with you.

        (Omigosh, just before I hit post, I realize I did it in this post, too! I swear that wasn’t on purpose. XD)

        1. I do this all the time – more so when talking than writing – and hadn’t realised it was an autistic trait. I agree it’s almost solely related to talking in abstract terms about myself. But I also realise that it occurs when I talk in a generalised way about myself. Almost as though there is no distinction between myself and others when it comes to generalisations. I notice that when I’m writing I’m more likely to use “one” instead of “you” when generalising especially if I’m not sure if it’s correct to include the reader amongst “you”. It’s strange, but often when others use “you” when generalising, I interpret it as referring to me specifically, which can result in an automatic interjection by me objecting to the generalisation applying to me and a rather bewildered speaker….

          As an aside, My wife’s first language isn’t English and personal pronouns are almost never used as they are considered rude. Also it’s not necessary to mention the subject if it can be inferred from the context. In English we use a pronoun such as “it”, “you” as a substitute, in her tongue they’re simply omitted. Also there are no gender specific pronouns. My wife often carries these characteristics of her native tongue over into English, which can confuse me utterly. We’ve been married for some 42 years and yet many of our friends, have no problem with it. I’m guessing it’s a language processing thing. She’s not using the language rules I worked out as a child, whereas others can create new rules on the fly to match her speech patterns.

          1. Good point about taking you literally when others are using it generally. Maybe this is why we’re given to saying “not literally you!” more often than the average person? The more we talk about this the more I’m realizing that pronouns are both very culture specific and disturbingly vague in their usage. My husband’s first language doesn’t use pronouns either so uses them sparingly in English. He’s more inclined to use descriptors or proper nouns when talking about people, which helps a lot. Too bad I haven’t picked up that habit from him. :-/

            1. Language is very culture specific. I’m a Native English speaker living in an English Speaking country, but I know if I used local colloquial English many readers of this blog would either misunderstand or fail to comprehend what I was writing. One thing I have noticed is that I often misinterpret what others say. I think that’s because I have developed a less flexible set of rules about grammar structure (and word meanings) than other people. It’s not just taking things literally instead of figuratively (I’ve got better at that as I’ve aged). It’s more like I have to translate what was said into a set of grammar rules I understand. I think that during this translation process I’m not taking in any further information. I fully understand how people using an unfamiliar language require gaps between sentences so that they can process the information. I sometimes wish others would give the same consideration to me.

              To me English an incredible complex language. There are so many exceptions to every rule. And it’s no wonder my wife has problems with gender, plurals and prepositions – they don’t exist in her native tongue. Actually her native language is extremely logical and regular in it’s construction. Exceptions to rules are very rare. If I didn’t know better, I could swear that it was created by an aspie mathematician ๐Ÿ™‚

        2. Wait, you mean to tell me that the you in there isn’t normal? When you explain things? << there, I did it automatically! Now I feel confused. I had always explained it to myself as a stylistic thing to help the reader or listener put yourself into the speaker's/writer's shoes and considered it perfectly normal, because in colloquial german you actually do that sometimes.

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for way too long for this to be my first comment, but it is. I’ve suspected I have Aspergers for a long time (I found your blog while you were writing about your diagnosis), but it’s mostly something I use in my head as a sort of personal cognitive behavioral therapy to shut down self-directed anger and frustration. Just… a brief intro? I guess. Hi.

    Anyway, my first thought while reading this was, “I don’t think I do that,” but I thought about it, and the thing is, of course, I do. A lot. And I relate to your idea here that you (I?) use ‘you’ instead of a personal pronoun when it comes to abstracts. For me, though, I always do think of it as kind of emotional… as in, I’m trying to reach out to the person I’m talking to and make them understand. This might just be an excuse I give to myself when I catch it… because I understand that others don’t seem to speak this way, but when the words are coming out of my mouth and I think to myself, ‘Shouldn’t I be using ‘I’ here, instead of ‘you’?’ the idea of switching back to ‘I’ just feels wrong. Like, even though the literal meaning of the sentence would be correct, it would be… somehow… not… o.O I suppose if I can’t explain it logically… it isn’t logical.

    I will refer to myself as ‘you’ if I am explaining an emotional reaction to a situation to somebody. I also, often, refer to myself in the third person, say for example, if I’m trying to explain something I do when I’m not sure why I do it or I want to distance the perception of the person I’m talking to from the idea that “I am the type of person who does this thing,” and instead make them think, “I am a person who has done this thing but the thing that I’m doing does not accurately describe what kind of person I am.”

    “Wendy didn’t take out the trash today,” is a form of apology. “And you didn’t take out the trash today,” (referring to me) is a form of saying, ‘I feel bad about this, wouldn’t you?’ (Usually, ‘And you didn’t take out the trash today,’ would come after a long rant, say, if I had a bad day at work or am upset about something, during which I would be referring to myself as ‘you’ the whole time… to me, this is an obvious indication that I’m talking about myself. To the people I’ve lived with for years, they get that I’m not accusing them of anything, although they think I’m quirky, I guess. To strangers? I have to contemplate their face for a second to get that they’re confused and then hastily add, ‘By you, I mean me.’)

    …And writing it down makes me see that this is totally irrational and might be part of the reason I have such a difficult time feeling understood.

    But I do think it’s interesting, that if you (and I’m going with this usage of ‘you’ because it’s natural, and I want to see if, in retrospect, I can see why it makes more sense to me to use ‘you’ than ‘I’) have repetitive behaviors that maybe don’t make sense in a wider context, and you have no way of really identifying them to yourself, you come up with your own logical explanations for why these behaviors make sense. And because I have this automatic sense of, ‘Well in these moments, using ‘you’ to refer to ‘me’ makes perfect sense,’ I read the beginning of your blog post and think, ‘Well, I don’t do that,’ because I’ve long forgotten to take note that this habit is, in fact, a little odd and illogical. Hmm.

    1. Welcome! You have been reading for a long time. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m glad you delurked to comment.

      When I was trying to sort this pronoun thing out, my husband suggested exactly what you said, that I might be using “you” to gain some sort of emotional buy-in from the listener or to get them more involved in the conversation. I considered that for a while, but it felt like I was actually doing the opposite–shifting the conversation away from myself emotionally (which is why I feel so uncomfortable when I switch to “I” maybe?). But that’s just me. My husband seemed quite convinced that it could be a strategy to create closeness with the listener and the way you explained it here makes a lot of sense.

      It’s interesting that you use “you” or the third person even in situations that are fairly concrete. That’s putting a dent in my “abstract thinking” theory. ๐Ÿ™‚ I had no idea that I do this until recently either. It was watching myself on video that really brought home how obvious and odd some of my communication habits are. Like you, I think they make it harder for me to be understood by others and create a big gap between self-perception and perception of me by others.

      1. I also believe that using ‘you’ when I should say ‘I’ is about emotional distance. I don’t really like calling myself I in front of other people often, it feels too intimate.

        1. I actually do the “emotional distance” trick when trying to be honest and vulnerable about difficult emotional situations. I replace “I” by my name and use the third person. I also sometimes switch into English (which is not my mother tongue, but I am fluent and so are my closest friends) in order not to feel overwhelmed.

        2. Definitely agree with that. Too intimate, and too like waving a big bright arrow about your head and saying “Look at me everyone!!” when that’s the last thing you want.

    2. You made me remember something that I do a lot. I work customer service for a cable company. Often I will be speaking to a customer on the phone and while explaining what steps they need to do to fix their cable I will say, “what we need to do…” And then catch myself and say, “and by ‘we’ I mean ‘you'”

      1. I’ve worked tech support over the phone before, and they actually *told* us to do the “we” thing in training, because it sounds like you’re trying to relate to the customer on a personal level. On rare occasion that habit annoyed a customer but I could probably count on one hand the number of times that happened, and the customer was already hostile.

        I want to wonder if an Aspie invented that concept, though, and then I remember Aspies are not supposed to be socially adept, so… I dunno.

        1. It wouldn’t surprise me, because what I’ve noticed is that neurotypical people do this sort of thing without thinking about it, and are subsequently absolutely terrible at explaining how they do it. Whereas I have made very careful scripts on how to interact with customers, based on observing others and on my own experience, and I’ve been told very often that my explanations of how to interact make far more sense than those of most people. Because I’m not socially adept enough to do it without thinking about it.

  4. I have always reversed pronouns but thought of it as a personal flaw. When I would try to correct it I would feel so uncomfortable and would have to force myself to correct it, often going back and again reversing the pronoun. I am a self diagnosed Aspie at 60 yo. Still finding out about myself and finally knowing why I am so different from others. Wish I had all this info when I was younger and was thinking I was crazy.

    1. I’m glad you finally discovered AS – better late than never! Things make a lot more sense when you have an answer to look to for some of the stranger stuff (like this, for example). I know exactly what you mean about feeling uncomfortable about correcting midsentence. I’ve been working on doing that, but it feels almost foreign to me at times.

  5. I didn’t realize this might be an unusual thing. I switch to ‘you’ very frequently when talking about situations, and to ‘we’ when talking about personal feelings or actions when I feel like those personal feelings or actions align me with a group the listener is seeing me as a representative of. (I’ve also noticed I do echolalia in conversation. I’ll say the last word of a sentence along with whomever I’m speaking to. I never thought about it, but once I started paying attention, I realized no one else I know does this, not even my other family members.)

    I’ve started working on derailing the echolalia, though it makes conversation harder for me. I have to stare harder to decide when I should speak. I’ll have to pay attention to this pronoun thing. (And interesting to note that you rarely use people’s names. If I use people’s names, it seems insanely personal. And I’m usually startled, confused, and pleased if someone uses my name.)

    I feel overwhelmed often as I learn about autism/Asperger’s/related disorders. I feel unsure what to do with my many differences, many of which I dislike and which isolate me.

    1. I have the exact same feelings about names as you do – both in using other people’s names and having people use my name. It’s so strange and clearly most people don’t feel this way because I’ve noticed that people I barely know will very intentionally use my name in conversation. It seems to be a social bonding thing?

      It seems like “we” can be used in the way that you talk about here, if I’m understanding you correctly. Maybe. IDK. I used to teach martial arts to kids and I had a pair of 4-year-old twins who always used we, never I. I only conclusively figured it out one day when one of them said “we need to go to the bathroom” and I told him to go, thinking he meant both brothers had to go, and was surprised to see that his brother didn’t leave the room. I guess they were so often a “we” that they hadn’t yet developed a concept of I.

      Uh, that was a tangent.

      I know what you mean about feeling overwhelmed and confused by all this new knowledge. At times I just feel like a freak socially and at other times I’m totally fine with all of it. So often, the way I feel is a reflection of how others respond to me, which is frustrating.

      1. I do think the way I use “we” is grammatically correct, but I do know the moment I can talk about what “we,” a group, do, I talk much more than if I’m talking about “I.” It’s like it gives me permission to wax on and on, because “I” am no longer talking about “me,” so I no longer have to worry about talking too much. Boy, talking about pronouns creates sane sentences…

        I definitely think names are social bonding things. It feels that way to me when people use mine or when I make the effort to use someone else’s. It’s instantly like, oh, okay, we *know* one another. And since I rarely feel confident I’m known or know someone else–or that I *want* to indicate I “know” someone else on a personal level–I don’t use names easily. I’ve started trying to do so more, though then I worry that I’m sending messages to men that I don’t intend. I need a shirt that reads “Likely Not Flirting.”

        I find that the way I feel can often be a reflection not just of how people react to me, but what I’m putting in my head. I can change drastically depending on what books/movies/etc. I’m exposing myself to.

          1. I was thinking last night I might actually pay a designer friend of mine to come up with one. It would be so useful. “REALLY Not Flirting” is also in the running. “Ask Me If I’m Flirting” might get people’s hopes up.

                1. Me too ๐Ÿ™‚ A number of years back, my wife had returned to her home country for an extended stay, and I followed a few months later. While I was waiting the hour and a half to be picked up from the railway station, I was approached many times by very attractive young women, who would start a conversation with me. I assumed they were wanting to practice their English, but in hindsight I think it was more than that. The moment I mentioned I had come to join my wife, the smile went out of their face and within a minute or two they were gone. I guess I had been approached by seven or eight young women before I realised the link but after that it was very clear that the moment they realised I was “taken” they lost interest. I also noticed that they increased the space between us when they discovered I was married. I have no idea if they were flirting or not, but my wife who witnessed the last of the string of young women was convinced they were. She thought it quite funny that women half my age would find me attractive. I suppose I should be flattered, but to be honest, their closeness and frequent body contact made me very uncomfortable. It was a relief to be “rescued” by my wife.

          2. Me too!

            I think it’s my unawareness of personal space (I sometimes stand too close) and my tendency to look away which makes me seem shy/flustered/attracted maybe?

            But yeah I’ve had a lot of people be all, “YOU WERE FLIRTING WITH THAT PERSON!” and I’m just like, “whut?” It gets awkward.

      2. I read in a book once that with twins there is often a dominant twin and a more passive one – the dominant one tends to lead and choose activities and the other one mostly follows and agrees. Apparently the dominant one will use “I” and “me” but the submissive one will often use ‘we’ even to refer to just themselves.
        As to the use of ‘you’, it seems context appropriate. The scientist has asked you for a general description of what stimming is like. If you used “I”, it would be an anecdote of your personal experience. What you’re searching for in your description is a general explanation of the experience – what it would be like to experience from the outside. You’re taking a step back from yourself, looking at the condition itself rather than just your experience of it.
        I personally find it distracting to try to talk about something specific and impersonal while using the word I, even if it happens to be something that occurs to me.
        I’m not sure if it’s an Aspie thing or just a condition of the language. There isn’t a pronoun more correct than “you” to use when describing something that is a general truth.

        1. What about “one”? That’s getting a bit archaic now but there’s no reason not to bring it back. It’s not technically a pronoun at this point but it can serve as one when needed. As in “One never knows when one may need a towel.” ๐Ÿ˜€

          1. I notice that I use “one” as a pronoun often. If I’m absolutely certain that the listener/reader would be comfortable being included in a universal “you” then I’ll use “you”, otherwise I’ll use “one”.

    2. (The more I think, the more it seems to me that a lot of my ASD-ish, or whatever they are, traits are about sidestepping owning my own emotions, self-definition, and selfishness. After all, using “you” or “we” means I can go on a monologue in conversation and excuse it, because I’m not just going on and on about myself, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

      1. Oh, that’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought of it as a way to stealth monologue. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do think there’s an emotional distancing element for me and that alone is probably a good reason to work on doing it less.

        1. “Stealth monologue”… yes yes yes! Like we’re MI5 Special Agents – Ninja Aspie ๐Ÿ™‚ Finally a bonus for us in this mad world!

    3. For some reason I don’t really understand I dislike using a person’s name. I even find it uncomfortable if someone someone addresses me by my name in conversation. The only time I don’t find it uncomfortable is if someone uses my name to get my attention. I’m also aware that I’m reluctant to use someone’s name to get their attention. For example, if we’re at the dinner table and I want to ask someone to pass me a something, I’ll either wait until I can catch their eye, or simply say to no one in in general “can someone pass me the peas”. We won’t go into the problem of knowing when it’s my to to speak here, but suffice to say that I’m always the last person to have their plate filled.

      1. It’s interesting how so many of us feel this way. I’ve heard other people on the spectrum talk about this and was relieved to find it listed as a “trait” somewhere early on in my research because I always felt like I was especially awkward and even strange when it comes to people’s names.

  6. I completely feel this way. I do this a lot.
    So you know how I have had multiple confirmations from psychologists and therapists (Plus my nine year relationship with my psychotherapist) tests and myself that I am an Aspie but I could never afford the papers after initial intake with psychologists? In canada you can get a diagnosis of Autism covered by health if you see a psychiatrist. The problem is that most of them heavily medicate and do not even know what Autism is. Through a misunderstanding I thought I found one who did. I went to her and she admitted to knowing nothing about autism and it went completely downhill and one point I felt threatened that she would take my kids away. She threatened to take my drivers away and she said this:
    We had to spend two hours with her (after two hours of her running late) and had to convince her not to just diagnose and medicate me with ADD. At first she hated me. She asked if I could cook or operate the stove top and this was the conversation that was the most degrading:
    me โ€œWell I take out the pans sometimes without oven mitts and grate my thumbsโ€
    Herโ€ That is NOT what I asked you. Answer the question properly. Can you operate the dials on the oven?โ€
    Me, โ€œUm (looking at hubby)
    hubby โ€œNo she canโ€™t. she gets them mixed up,โ€
    Her โ€œSo you canโ€™t cook? So who does that in your house? Your husband right? After a long day at I am assuming hard labour he comes home to cook for you? That is unacceptable and inappropriate of you ( she turns to hubby) You need to medicate to be capable. You are adversely affecting your children and husband. How do you feel about having such a selfish, self absorbed wife who makes you put in all the effort while she sits around waiting for things to get done and does essentially nothing?โ€
    I turned WHITE. I never turn white. I shrank back in my chair and shut off for the rest of the appointment. Luckily hubby salvaged it and said he does not mind and I have other gifts. When he explained my gifts she was nicer and said, โ€œOh so you are the brains eh?โ€
    But later, she insulted me again and I said, โ€œRemember that I am the brains which is why it does not bother me that I can not contribute with cooking.โ€ She laughed and said, โ€œOh I must have insulted you. I wanted to get a reaction out of him and see how he felt about you not cooking. I am sorry if it was rude.โ€ Apology accepted but it was unprofessional. If she wanted to know how he felt she could have asked me to leave or gone about it a thousand different ways.
    Very confusing and droned on and on about ADD. She was so mean and intimidating and then suddenly nice. Philip hated her too but he said she came around near the end and she offered to diagnose me with Autism if I bring her a list of ten things ( I did bring her a list but she wants a shorter one with clear cut) shouldnโ€™t that be her job?
    I do not want her to make my life a living hell so I will play her game and go once more an take the damn two weeks of adder all if she insists. She is SCARY. She was very nice too at a few points but I would never mess with her and she was not a nice person in general.
    When I said my grandpa says I sound like a chinese lady when animated she remarked, โ€œOh yes you do- its very annoying – you have to learn to lower your voice and talk slower so people actually like you. You will be much more effective. Your voice is shrill and ridiculously fast.โ€
    At the very beg before she even knew me she said “So why did you quit counselling with your son – was the therapist not spending enough attention on you? Did you need all the attention but it was given to your kid instead. Let me guess that is why you quit because you could not handle not being the centre of attention.” That was just from me giving a brief family history of diagnosis. I told her calmly that actually it was because the therapist did not look at my son once and kept looking to me and the appt was FOR him so I quit.
    She admitted at the end that she knew nothing of Autism and that most professionals do not. She said, โ€œI think you know more than me as it seems you have made it your obsession. I think you are a researcher so I would trust your opinion but I still donโ€™t have any authority on the matter although I could add it to your diagnosis if you write me up the proof.”
    I am just calming down from the injustice of it all and upset and justโ€ฆjust completely defeated, demoralized and crushed. It was devastating and I dont know if I should go to the second appointment because it was so aweful but I dont want her to have the power to crush me. I would have emailed this to you but you did not have an email. What would you do?

    1. Holy crap. That sounds AWFUL.

      You know what? Even though she’s offered to diagnose you if you do the work she’s supposed to do, WALK AWAY. You don’t need a diagnosis from a person like that. It would be worse than worthless. You deserve to be heard and get taken seriously, not to be dismissed like that.

      I cannot believe she’s even allowed to call herself a medical professional.

    2. Wow. She sounds awful. Manipulative and mean and ignorant and just horrible. I don’t think I would go back, especially if you don’t trust her. She obviously knows nothing about autism and the things she said to you are incredibly unprofessional and downright dangerous. I’m so sorry you experienced that kind of abuse.

      Because that’s exactly what it sounds like – abusive, mean spirited bullying.

      I know that you had your heart set on getting a diagnosis, but it doesn’t sound like it’s worth it if you have to debase yourself in front of a person who seems to enjoy humiliating people and admits to not being qualified to diagnose you in the first place. Also, insisting that you be medicated the way she did is unethical. I’ve had multiple doctors suggest medication to me (for anxiety) and when I said that I preferred not to take medication, every single one of them backed off immediately and suggested other alternatives.

      This is probably going to be hard to recover from, especially after you were so hopeful going into it. Can you talk to your regular therapist to get some help with processing it and see what other options you might have for getting diagnosed somewhere down the road? It sounds like going back to this person would be a last-resort kind of option.

    3. Psych lady sounds abusive. Like, seriously. Holy emotional abuse red flags, Batman!

      The way she was talking to you sounded like it could’ve come out of a creepy PUA’s handbook. Or someone who’s very emotionally manipulative – jerking your emotions around with random compliments and insults, gaslighting you over how badly she insulted you, berating you, and just generally being a mean-spirited asshole. Pardon the language.

      I don’t normally offer unsolicited advice because against my mental social rules, but in this case I’ll make an exception because your description of her literally scares me and also reminds me too much of emotional abusers in my life and past: Run far, far, far, far, far away from her. For reals. You don’t need people like her in your life.

      1. Thank you for your three opinions. I actually did wonder if I was being too dramatic as she said that anyone with ADD is too dramatic and medication is the only thing to make them calm down enough to have people like them. She actually said that. I continually had to keep my jaw from hitting the floor it was so surreal. I can’t believe real professionals say these things!
        So reading your comments, I think I am past confusion. If three people are saying it truly was unprofessional I know it was not me. I will not be going back if I can help it and I will be talking to my therapist. Thank you so much for your support and for letting me take some time up on this forum off topic. I felt so misused. You are all right..it was abuse! I looked up psychiatric malpractice and it fit into all the criteria except for physical abuse.
        Thank you for helping me see that its ok to walk away from a “professional.” ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you Cynthia for allowing me to take up some space here for a moment and Ischemgeek and autisticcook for your back up:) I needed advice from other Aspies:)

          1. I’m so, so glad you have had some positive therapeutic experience to balance against the horrid encounter you describe. I’m not an Aspie but am a devoted fan of this blog, and you couldn’t have chosen better company in which to make the story known. In my social work program, there is a great deal of emphasis on our profession’s Code of Ethics, which upholds a strengths-based and person-centered orientation. You deserve ethical support.

        1. They are right. Run away.

          And more: couldn’t you or your husband report what she said to someone in authority? That lady is an abuser and an emotional manipulator of the worst kind. I am angry and I wish she would never practice psychiatry, she may have already hurt seriously patients that trusted her.

    4. I was diagnosed as being “on the autism spectrum” four years ago at the age of sixty. One diagnosis was from a psychologist who was coaching me in pain management for chronic migraines, the other from a councillor I was seeing to help resolve personal and family issues raised by the migraines. However when brought this up with with a psychiatrist who I was seeing to identify whether some of the symptoms exhibited during a migraine where physiological in nature (they weren’t), he asked me what I collected. The question was rather abrupt and took me by surprise. I replied “nothing” as I couldn’t think of anything, and his response was that I couldn’t possibly be autistic as “all autistic have collections”. That was the end of the matter as far as he was concerned. Some “professionals” can be very unprofessional.

      My worst experience was when I saw a very expensive neurologist in relation to my migraines. My migraine symptoms are not just the common Classical or Common migraines, but often have stroke-like symptoms. The neurologist simply refused to believe what I and family members described. For example I described some visual auras as lasting for several hours, and his response was “nonsense, aura never last longer than 15 minutes” and no matter how much we argued, he refused to accept what we said. This went on through out both sessions I had with him. It felt like an interrelation instead of a consultation. He didn’t even recognise I was having a migraine during the second visit. He decided my visible shaking was due to nerves, even though I and family members insisted otherwise.

      I really do understand how awful the experience must have been. I don’t understand the way some health professionals behave. Maybe there has to be a few bad apples to balance out the so many wonderful people in that field. Well, that’s how I look at it ๐Ÿ™‚

    5. @Kmarie-As a self diagnosed aspie seeking formal diagnoses in Canada myself, do you mind if I ask you what city you are in, or more specifically which city did you see this psychiatrist in? I would like to avoid a similar experience.

      1. I don’t live in North America, and I’m wondering what the advantage of a formal diagnosis is. At the age of 64 it probably would make no difference to me anyway.

        1. Barry thank you for the support and story. I hope you have great success in future dealings with other professionals. As for your question Cynthia has great posts on the difference between being self diagnosed and diagnosed if you click on her link above that says diagnosis.

          AE- your kindness was appreciated. Thank you;)

          Beth; Id rather not give location away but if you have a public space or email you don’t mind sharing I can tell you the city and perhaps even the practitioner if you are unfortunate enough to live in my province and have that as one of your only options;) I would love to help you;)

          1. Thanks. Normally the first thing I do when I visit a web site is browse the navigation. In this case, I’ve found the blogs so interesting I’ve never got round to doing that ๐Ÿ™‚

            On reflection I think I’ll just stick to the unofficial diagnoses of the university psychologist and the councillor/social worker. Actually when it was brought up by the psychologist, she mentioned that I had learnt to adapt very well to living in a neurotypical world. Even though I’ve always felt like a square peg in a round hole, I was most dubious about the diagnosis, probably due to a preconceived and narrow idea of what autism is (i.e. Rain Man). It wasn’t until the the councillor brought it up about 6 months later and persuaded me to purchase some books on Aspergers Syndrome that I started to accept the possibility. Now I’m comfortable enough to admit I am on the spectrum.

            I have since discussed this with close family members, and a sister who works in the area of social issues had recognised I was most likely an aspie, but had kept it to herself as she felt I might be offended. A brother had also recognised my “odd traits” but had always put it down to an “unorthodox personality” instead of being a part of a syndrome. My mother (94, bless her heart) agrees that it does explain much about the way I interacted socially as a child and teenager.

  7. Oh wow, I use “you” in the abstract all the time when I’m really talking about me. I’ve lately realized that sometimes this confuses people, and I’ve found myself having to clarify and say, “Oh, I mean me.” or “I mean ‘you’ in the general sense, not you.” Heh. I also refer to myself in the third person sometimes by using my name. I’ll say things like, “But what about Rachel? There’s nothing for Rachel?” I know it sounds like something a three year old would say, but for some reason it sometimes just slips out…even though I logically know it’s incorrect. Oh well. ๐Ÿ˜› Super interesting post…I’m glad you wrote this out!

    1. I think it’s kind of adorable when adults refer to themselves in the third person. Is that silly? ๐Ÿ™‚ I know that some people do it to be cute, but I guess some of us also do it out of habit or something. (I guess I should take back my assertion that only autistic kids do it, huh?)

      1. Yeah, I don’t do it to be cute…it’s often the way my brain thinks (in the third person), so sometimes it comes out verbally that way. ๐Ÿ˜› And no, it’s not silly that you think it’s adorable when adults refer to themselves that way. It makes me feel better actually. ๐Ÿ™‚ So yeah, I guess it’s not just autistic kids. Haha.

  8. I wonder if this pronoun confusion is why my daughter thinks the car I paid for and I use exclusively is a shared item? I say things like, “Our car is getting dirty,” ” Were did we park our car?” etc.

      1. My wife uses “my” when referring to anything that uses the most, and “our” when referring to things we use equally or I mostly use. She often uses “our” for thing I uses exclusively. But she’s not mistaking the pronouns. In this case she knows I know exactly what she means ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. My daughter is not trying to drive it anywhere. She refuses to learn how to drive. Meanwhile, she has my spare key on her key ring and complains when I leave my stuff in the car.

  9. I always use “you” when talking about me. I’ve had people comment about it and I still never get the pronouns right. When I am think about it hard, I can use the correct I/me. When I am stressed out, or talking about uncomfortable things, I go to “you” or “one” or “they”. It’s almost dissociative for me in that I process “the feelings” outside of feeling it. When I talk, i can analyze what I’m trying to say. otherwise, none of the feelings/words match up with what needs to be said.
    But funny thing is other than the you’s since I mix up so many of my words and they come out in wrong order I figure its just a quirk.

    learning more every day thanks to this crowd! YOU are all great.

    1. I think the pronoun confusion is quite specific and probably independent of other language glitches. I’m increasingly have speech problems, but the pronoun thing has apparently “predated” all of the rest of it.

      Yay for learning new things!

  10. I’m not sure if your particular way of switching pronouns is necessarily related to autism. I’m not autistic and I do that all the time. I think it’s at least partially a way of encouraging the other person to put themselves in your shoes while you describe something. Saying “When you’re stimming” in that situation is, in my experience, shorthand for “Imagine you’re autistic and you’re stimming.”

    1. The weird thing is that I know in my head I was talking specifically about myself when I said you/we in that video. But yes, I also use you in the more theoretical or inclusive way too. In that moment, that wasn’t my intent though. I guess this is the very definition of how miscommunication occurs!

  11. Hmm… I do this too, in the same way that you describe, but I’m (I think) neurotypical. Is it not just a normal conversational thing, to sometimes replace “I” with “you” when you’re taking about something in the abstract? (Although I am the mom to a 4yo diagnosed on the spectrum, so maybe I should look a little closer at the apple not falling so far from the tree. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I think it’s normal if you’re talking about something abstract that applies to the other person as well. But I do it even when the subject I’m talking about applies exclusively to me and I’m not thinking along the example-giving lines that you described. So to give an even more specific example, if I’m planning out a trip somewhere I haven’t been, I might describe things I need to do (which helps me figure out a plan) in “you” terms, like “you need to park in the garage and then you have to get a ticket from the machine” when clearly I mean that I will have to park in the garage and I will have to get the ticket, etc.

  12. You know, I’ve never put much thought to it, but I think I’m the same. I’m going to try to be more aware of it now. What is super cool though is we actually have the same hair and I think we talk the same way (fiddling with something). It’s so cool to see you!

  13. Hi you. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I do this too. When I am talking to someone else I frequently call myself you, which makes perfect sense to me and then I realise what I’m doing and have to explain. I often confuse my left and my right because to me, the side of my body that is right according to everyone else, to me feels like left. I associate the word left with that side of my body. And it’s just the same with you and I. I don’t feel like I, I feel like You, especially when I am explaining in spoken language something about myself.

    1. That’s really interesting about right and left feeling opposite to you and the relation to I/you. I get left and right confused all of the time, but it’s simply because without stopping to reference my hands, right and left are meaningless to me. ๐Ÿ˜€

      1. Funny thing, I only know left from right when facing east (I seem to instinctively know where east is. I have no idea why). My left is on the sunny side, and my right is on the shadow side (I live in the southern hemisphere if anyone is confused). When the sunlight clue isn’t available, I have to remember that the sunny side is to the north and the shadows to the south, and then visualise a compass.

        1. I learnt to tell left and right by playing the piano. I’m not too bad with left and right in principle, but I struggle with the practical applications, so things like knowing which direction the traffic is coming at me when I cross the road (having lived in both drive on the left, and drive on the right countries hasn’t helped with that). I still have to visualise things a lot to figure it out, which is a challenge sometimes with studying anatomy!

  14. I rarely use names either. Partially to hide that I am so awesomely bad at remembering them unless the person has some relative significance (as in important to me or is more useful than most in some way….like services provided or information source….) or if I have contact with them over a long period of time. I also use you in place of I a lot I think maybe to try to get the other person to understand maybe. I also get confused by pronouns in conversations…but because I am so bad with names I also get confused when someone refers to someone else by name if there is not a gesture indicating which person, or a clarification on how I should know who the Hades they are talking about.

    1. I’m horrible with names too. Like when I had jury duty, there were eight of us and we all introduced ourselves at once and I had no idea who anyone was 5 minutes later. And then someone would ask me a simple question like “have you seen Jean?” and I’d have no idea because I saw one of the women from our jury go into the ladies’ room but didn’t know if she was Jean or not. Which probably makes me look flakey, especially if it’s Jean that walks out of the ladies’ room a minute later in full view of where I was sitting. Even worse were the “now who are we still missing?” question that kept coming up after every break. And in my head we were missing the woman who worked at Easter Seals or the guy who took the door off his son’s room to punish him, but of course I couldn’t say that. . .

  15. I’ve always thought that the use of “you” in this manner to describe general things is a more casual way of saying what could be said using the formal “one” pronoun instead. For example, suppose a person sees a machine and doesn’t understand how to operate it. She might say, “How do you use this machine?” The person who knows how to use the machine (I’m going to make him male for simplicity of pronoun usage :P) will say, “You put the coffee in here and press this button.” Now, in neither case are they *literally* talking about the other person. If it were literal, she would say “How do *I* use this machine?” since she just wants to know how it works, and the other person is saying what they do, “*I* use this machine by putting the coffee in and pressing the button.” But they are just talking in general terms by using you. I feel this is an informal version of the old fashioned, “one,” which people don’t use as often these days when speaking in a general sense. In that sense, she would ask, “How does one use this machine?” And he would say, “One puts the coffee in here and presses this button.” Because using “one” seems overly formal and people usually think it’s funny, I have learned to replace it with “you” instead.
    I remember, however, in one class I took about accounting, the teacher used to put questions in addition to the accounting questions where you had to write a long answer (see there: where ONE had to write a long answer… not just me, but anybody taking the test). It would be a question like, “The accountant has discovered a mistake in the books (long description), what is the ethical thing to do?”. At first, I answered using, “you,” but to my surprise he corrected this since it wasn’t supposed to be informal. So from then on I answered them all formally, as in. “One has to consider one’s options carefully in this situation. If one were to choose the most ethical standpoint, one would… ” (etc). I recalled a similar passage in the book “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” where she had an essay using “you” repeatedly and changed them all to “one” as it was not technically grammatically correct and her teacher objected. So, while I think the use of the informal “you” is not really grammatically correct, I think in common usage it has essentially replaced “one” and it’s not really about either yourself or the other person, even if you are using yourself as the example. If someone is writing formal instructions for using a device, that person would not say “I” in the instructions, for instance, however he or she would probably have to re-write everything in passive form because it’s not supposed to be informal with the use of “you,” and “one” is now considered stilted. The reason is illustrated in the previous awkward-sounding sentence: since there’s no generic pronoun in English referring to both he and she (gender neutral), and “he” is now considered to be incorrect as a general term since it ignores half the population, rephrasing with “you” has become more popular to refer to general situations about no specific person (or worse, using “they” as the pronounce when it’s supposed to be singular… which I really try to avoid and it grates when other people do it). In speech, I also think that “you” does sound more “friendly” which is probably another reason, because if someone asks how to do something and you say, well, “*I* do it this way,” it is creating a distance between people. However sometimes people are also bothered if I say you should do this, that, etc because it sounds like I’m giving them orders. If this happens, I often interject with, “not you, personally, just in general,” and this usually seems to clarify things. However, I think its really common. It’s like the expression, “You just never know.” It’s not specifically referring to the other person. Maybe this usage of “you” sprang from the indistinguishable plural form of “you” (almost nobody in my region says “y’all” and “you guys” is also now also taken offense to by other women, even though I’m a woman as well).
    I also don’t use people’s names very much when talking to them. I thought this was uncommon in general, until I saw a play set on the East coast where everybody was using the other person’s name when talking to them, which sounded bizarre to me. But when I mentioned this to my mother afterwards, she said it wasn’t uncommon. I usually only use people’s names if I am trying to get their attention to begin talking to them, that is I started talking to them but they are not paying attention. I use my son’s name this way (more than most people’s names), but when I am talking to him in other senses, I use a nickname I came up with for him. I started this when he was very young, and it definitely felt necessary somehow. I do not use nicknames for other people in person as nicknames were disliked by my family members when I was growing up.
    Another factor in not using other people’s names, though, might be because I have prosopagnosia. Sometimes I have called people by the wrong name, or I just don’t know who they are. I also forget people’s names easily, but even if I know their name, I may not be able to match it to them. Embarrassingly, people always seem to remember my name and use it when they see me, even if I don’t know who they are.
    Q. How do you avoid spilling chips when opening the bag?
    A.
    You pull the opposite flat sides gently until the seam opens.
    One pulls the opposite flat sides gently until the seam opens. (oddly formal)
    I pull the opposite flat sides gently until the seam opens (implies there may be others people use, or apparently sounds stuck up according to feedback… as in, well *I* do it this way, you apparently don’t because you get chips everywhere…).
    Pull the opposite flat sides gently until the seam opens. (Command form… often considered harsh)
    A person would pull the flat sides gently until the seam opens (I have used this actually, somewhat often, to avoid the problem altogether. You still have to deal with he or she or keep repeating “the person.” Just realized it sounds even weirder than I thought).
    They pull the opposite flat sides gently. (cop-out by making everything plural so you can just keep using they. Often prompts the other person to eventually ask, “who are ‘they’” and other amusing questions, derailing the conversation).

    1. The informal “you” substituted for “one” makes sense and I think that’s different from what we’re talking about in some of these cases, mainly because of intent. There are a ton of examples above so I won’t repeat them. But checking whether substituting “one” makes sense is probably a good test of whether the right pronoun is being used.

      Your list of examples at the end is really interesting because I wouldn’t have thought to say anything other than “pull the opposite flaps . . .” My second choice, oddly enough, would be “I pull the opposite flaps . . . ” Which I think does tend to come off as stuck up or pedantic in some cases.

      They! People do like to interject that snide “who are they?” question into conversations, don’t *ahem* they. I’ve become really hesitant to use the ambiguous they because of that.

      1. Hehe… yes most of these I discarded because of negative feedback, like the “they.” ๐Ÿ˜› I do tend to use the command form a lot naturally but I’ve toned it down because of so much negative feedback, like I get with the I one. I didn’t really think as much about these until I learned a second language, and then I realized that english really doesn’t have good equivelants in some cases. Personally, I don’t think either the I form or command form sounds bad (coming from me), but I do edit my speech to some extent to try to put people more at ease if I think of it. So many things to remember! For this reason I have a weird mixture of both formal and archaic phrases and colloquial slang that I use for casual conversation. The informal speech is supposed to sound more friendly or something :P. I really much prefer written communication. It’s simpler and more direct and people seem to understand me better.

        1. I have some really archaic speech patterns and word choices too but I try to restrain myself and only use them around people I know well. Cuts down on the raised eyebrows and odd looks. ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. I guess I’m okay with sounding weird, but try to avoid sounding rude. Plus, I have so many people ask me what words mean that I figure they can stand to expand their vocabulary :P. Of course I don’t say that part, because of the sounding rude. ๐Ÿ˜›

          2. I’ve often being accused of being posh because I use long words that others aren’t familiar with. It really bugs me, since I neither consider myself posh nor think that being posh is about using long words anyway! I love old language (although I hated studying Shakespeare), but I sing in a church choir and one of the things I love the most is the old-fashioned language of the music and liturgy.

  16. For me it’s an emotional distance. I only recently realised I do this AND that saying ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ also might imply that these are possible actions of the person I’m speaking to -which they may not relate to at all! I also think it’s a tactic I use to not own the action, or its consequences or draw attention to myself

    1. I think this is my main reason too. I’ve noticed that switching to “I” when I catch myself makes me uncomfortable which is a hint that I’m doing it at least in part to distance myself from the subject.

  17. I’m so surprised by this. I had no idea this is what was meant by pronoun reversal. I would have explained the stunning in the exact same language you just did and it never occurred to me this is considered wrong or incorrect. I think you’re on to something with the abstract theory. It seems that’s when I do it too. In speech it flows naturally and people seem to understand. When I do it in writing I have to go back and edit a lot to get the pronouns right. I just admitted I have to edit to get pronouns right and I still didn’t know I have a pronoun problem. lol

  18. I hadn’t got round to listening to the video until now as I was finding the the comments so interesting. As I often do when I’m listening, I close my eyes as it helps me focus better, and I couldn’t pick up any oddities in your speech. It seems perfectly normal to me. It wasn’t until I watched it and saw the text messages pointing out where the pronouns change that I was able to pick up the changes. But it still doesn’t seem odd or unnatural the way you change between them. I’ve tried listening to it again with my eyes closed but I’m not able to pick up the changes. Obviously in the context they were being used here they are completely interchangeable and identical to me.

    1. Same here, I don’t really like video much, so I only actually watched it later. Even with your text messages added in, I didn’t really notice anything untoward at all about your pronoun use.

      It’s really interesting to see how many people here are uncomfortable calling people by name, it’s something I’ve long been aware of about myself, but never really thought about very deeply. Like others, I’m not that good with names and faces and always assumed that avoiding using names was a way of not putting myself in a situation where I might get them wrong, but I think it does goes deeper than that, somehow it just feels very uncomfortable to do so.

      Something else I notice that no-one has really mentioned, but I’d be curious to know if others experience. I talk to myself a lot, especially to get through everyday tasks like grocery shopping. I’ll have a constant monologue/dialogue in my head running through what I need to buy, and I notice that I often talk to myself using ‘we’ or ‘you’, rather than ‘I’.

      Also, does anyone else experience when you’re thinking about things that first you have a thought and then you repeat that thought in words? When I’m thinking deeply I can be very aware of it sometimes, like I think something to myself, and I don’t really know how but non-verbally, but then a fraction of a second later I’ll put the thought into words like an echo, and then I’ll catch myself thinking that I’ve already had the thought? Does that make any sense at all? It’s really hard to put into words because it’s essentially a non-verbal process.

      1. I talk to myself constantly in my head (and also sometimes talk to other people in my head – is that weird?) and sometimes I talk myself through tasks out loud as well. This leads to people in stores offering to help me because they’re instantly privy to whatever issue I’m having with trying to locate something or make a decision.

        1. I’ve got a running commentary in my head (and sometimes bits are out loud) and I also have conversations with others in my head, doing both sides, mine and theirs. It seems perfectly normal to me and I can’t imagine life without the constant rambling ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. I have a constant ongoing internal monologue on what I’m doing and how it might turn out. It’s like I’m constantly writing an autobiography in my head. Funny thing is, I couldn’t tell you right this second which pronouns I use. I know when I’m self-soothing, I’ll have thoughts to myself like “Oh, sweetie, it’s okay, shh.”

      3. Lol I also have a running conversation withyself in my head and will often say (usually in my head, not outloud) something like “WE need to vaccuum today,” which is funny when you think about it because there tecnically is only one of you, so why the “we”? Perhaps it’s because there are multiple voices in my head (not in that crazy sort of way) that represent me. I usually like to think of the conscious of being fractal, splitting and breaking into a reflection of itself while considering and responding to what the other “reflections” have to say. Not crazy at all :p Or maybe it’s because I’m usually alone and use “we” to make me feel less “lonely”.

    2. I think it’s more evident to me because I know what I was thinking and who I was speaking to (my husband) at the time. Here’s an example that might make it more obvious why it’s so jarring to me (assuming you don’t wear dresses). Imagine I was explaining to you about my sensory sensitivities and said, “When you wear a dress and heels, you have to wear pantyhose, which will aggravate your tactile sensitivities. But if you wear a nice dressy blouse and pants, you can skip the pantyhose and you’ll be much more comfortable.” Contextually that makes much less sense for you than what I said in the video (I imagine) because what I’m describing about you in no way applies to you or anything you personally might do. That’s the kind of situation that I’m trying to get at, but maybe the video is not the best example because everyone watching seems to be autistic and has some experience of stimming or meltdowns so the information feels like the general inclusive you.

      1. I’m a guy, and it still sounds fine to me. And no, I don’t wear dresses ๐Ÿ™‚

        Having said that, I dislike the rubbing that trousers cause. If I find a pair that doesn’t irritate, I’ll wear them way past their “Best by date”. Incidentally I once had the opportunity wear a kilt for a day (cousins were into Highland dancing in a big way). The kilt was wonderful, but the knee-high socks were a constant source of itching.

  19. Not speaking has some useful benefits. Can edit words before people hear them. Can correct “speech” to sound more normalized, when necessary. (When people are not watching screen. But that is rude. Almost as rude as touching AAC device.) Tend to avoid pronouns even so. Especially gendered ones, really do not like those and will not use unless demanded to. But that is may be less autism, more GID.

    1. Very true! I cherish the ability to edit when I’m communicating by writing. Also, I had no trouble understanding your comment at all and instinctively knew where you were omitting pronouns. Interesting.

  20. I only use names if I’m greeting someone (and then only occasionally / rarely) or to get their attention (but again rarely). (Well obviously if I’m talking about a third person to someone then I will use the 3rd person’s name to identify them initially) Partly because I tend to forget names but also because it just sounds odd to me. It always seems weird when someone uses my name mid-sentence. I just can’t see the point – you know you’re talking to a person, they know you’re talking to them, so why bother cluttering the conversation with names.

    1. “It always seems weird when someone uses my name mid-sentence. I just canโ€™t see the point โ€“ you know youโ€™re talking to a person, they know youโ€™re talking to them, so why bother cluttering the conversation with names.”

      Yes! I feel the same way. Unless there is a group of people and I need to address what I’m saying or get the attention of one person specifically, I never use the other person’s name in a conversation. It feels so awkward.

      1. Yes, the mentioning of one’s name when it’s not necessary really makes me uncomfortable. It’s almost as bad as when some speakers insist on touching the listener while speaking to them. It makes me cringe, even if I observe it happening to other people.

        1. When someone talking to me adresses me by my name, I feel uncomfortable, yes, and very much so. But why does that happen? To me, it seems like the person talking to me using my first name (it doesn’t feel at all like this when being adressed as Mrs …) has somehow been able to detect that I am visible and very real and vulnerable underneath my invisibility cloak. Not that I live in any fairy tale, I just feel unvisible most of the time and tend to get startled when someone I consider a stranger appears to know my name or just simply seems to know my face because I do my shopping twice a week in that grocery store since fifteen years.

          1. There is an element of that for me I guess, but it doesn’t matter if the other person is a family member, a friend, or a stranger, I feel the same way. It’s only okay to use my name to draw my attention to them, not otherwise. It makes no difference if it’s my first name or my surname used without a title. Even if I go to a local shop where I’m known, I don’t like my name being used when I go to the checkout and the shop assistant says “Hello Mr …”. What’s wrong with just “Hello”? It’s obvious who she’s talking to. And when it comes to using terms such as “hello” etc, I never use them spontaneously, only in response to someone else using them. I just don’t get it. On the other hand, I’m, always using “please” and “thank you”, even, apparently when it’s not necessary, so I’m told. Social interaction is so mysterious.

  21. I try and make associations with people’s names to help me remember – unfortunately it doesn’t always work and I couldn’t remember if one man was called Dave and I’d associated it with the name Steve (2 characters I know that go together) or vice versa. Luckily my pets don’t seem to mind if it takes me 3 attempts to get to the right name ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. My dog responds to literally anything as long as I say it in the voice the recognizes as me calling her. So whether I call her Emma or Monkeyface or Puppy or some affectionately said profanity, she happily comes running. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. I think this is done often by allistics (including myself) but as you and others said it’s not in attempt to generalize…you know looking at it what you meant and intended. And that’s the difference…the video to me made perfect sense but seeing your notes on what you intended to mean helped. I’ve noticed E has decided his name is “you” I have to say mommy if I intend him to include me…I can’t prompt him otherwise. His names are E and”you” no exceptions

    1. Using pronouns in that way is really typical of kids on the spectrum. I wonder if most of us did that and never quite got over it–like this use of you to refer to ourselves as adults is a kind of linguistic remnant.

  23. So interesting!! I definitely do it as well and I have NEVER thought about it! Actually when I write I very frequently have to go back and re-edit all my pronouns because there’s a lot of “we”, “you” and such when clearly I just mean “i”. I’m so used to having to do that, I just never really stopped to think about it. When I talk to someone I notice starting off with “i” and gradually shifting to “you”. Could it be a way of trying to engage the other person, make them part of the story? I know I always have a need to express myself clearly, to say what I mean and have the person understand… and then shifting the pronouns, so much for being precise with language :/ Hmmm I will have to think more. So interesting, thanks for sharing.

      1. I do it so completely unconsciously I never noticed it unless I was writing but again I guess I assumed everyone did it. Now I am very aware of it and it got me very curious. Because if someone asked me a week ago if I switch pronouns I’d say “no way!”. Now I would say “yea, all the time…” heh.

        1. I am very grateful to the psychologist I saw when in my early twenties (I had found her looking for help for my sister who very obviously needed help at the time, and to convince her to come along I proposed that we could do it both, contemporarily, together). This psychologist, specialised in Gestalt therapy, somehow has managed to teach me to use the powerful pronoun ‘I’. What I have discovered with her help is that I could change the world saying ‘I’ instead of you, one, they. When I say ‘I’, I am the acting person, I decide what is happening, I take decisions. I don’t depend on others acting, deciding, doing whatever in MY life. These empowering lessons have helped me through a lot because I was in charge of my life. Even during the crisis that eventually lead me to diagnosis, that was the straw I was clutching to: I am in charge, I have been here all the time, I have contributed to this and I will eventually find a way, like I always have. Yes, that psychologist did teach me an invaluable lesson! And I was there and learned it and I have been able to apply it, not without difficulty, but yes, I am in charge of my life.

  24. I’m bilingual and consider myself a mild Aspie. I realised all of this you say happens to me in my secondary language in which I’m totally fluent in but I have odd constructions. I should be much more fluent than I am as I learnt it quite young but there are some odd mistakes I make including pronouns and because the language is a Romance language, the female and male versions of words. I’ve always felt bad about this as in I should be better at the language than this.
    There’s a small degree of pronoun mix in my primary language as well. Very interesting things to think about

  25. As someone who struggles with pronouns in receptive language and tends to notice when people are doing illogical things with their pronoun use, I’m almost certain that the use of ‘you’ when the speaker means ‘I’ is endemic in informal English (within certain bounds).

    As you say, it tends to be when the speaker is talking about something hypothetical or which could apply as a general case, but there are endless examples of people using it when it doesn’t logically apply as a general case. Critics will often talk about how ‘you feel’ or ‘you don’t believe’ when watching a film or reading a book, when they are most definitely talking about how they felt.

    In fact I think it’s most often used when explaining things to other people (as an appeal for empathy?), where I believe it’s an accepted convention, but tends to result in me having to ask ‘are you talking about me or you?’, when the other person often hasn’t even decided yet. Or maybe having things explained to me is when I have the most receptive language difficulties so I tend to notice it more there?

    English has lots of situations like this where it does illogical things and the linguistic rules to explain them would be extremely complex, but almost everyone learns them without even trying, finds them completely natural and is actually confused and flustered when someone like me who needs them explained comes along and asks clarifying questions.

    Oh and, pronoun trouble isn’t entirely working memory for me, it’s definitely also partly a ‘rigid thinking’ thing, where I need the concepts I’m understanding to be concrete enough that I can fit them into my mind/memory and so having undefined or misattributed pronouns blocks understanding – working memory does then limit how much I can hold in my head as buffer in the hope that it’ll start making sense later though. The idea that the speaker hasn’t yet decided if they’re talking about a general case or a specific one is really difficult for me. I generally need the context of what we’re talking about and for what purpose as early in the discussion as possible.

    The linguistic rules for when it is and isn’t confusing to use ‘you’ for ‘I’ are interestingly complex though. Doing it in context where it would confuse everyone (because the social convention, context and other cues are saying it’s specific when you mean general), not just people like me (who struggle to understand the convention, context and other cues), would be a definite autistic trait. Equally I think avoiding using this convention of general ‘you’ because it seems imprecise/illogical would also be likely to be taken as an autistic trait.

    1. The comments on this post have just confounded me because I feel like I failed miserably at explaining what I meant. When my husband read the post, his first reaction was ‘yeah, you do that a lot and I’d always wondered about it’ and my daughter’s was similar. Maybe it’s a context thing and I didn’t make that point well enough?

      Your last sentence is a great point and one that several people here mentioned. I think it’s easy to tie ourselves up in knots and then become so confused about usage that we just avoid it altogether for simplicity. :-/

    2. “n fact I think itโ€™s most often used when explaining things to other people (as an appeal for empathy?), where I believe itโ€™s an accepted convention, but tends to result in me having to ask โ€˜are you talking about me or you?โ€™, when the other person often hasnโ€™t even decided yet. ”
      Quarries and Corridors, thanks so much for pointing this out. I tend to use “you” when I explain my own thoughts and feelings. It’s not deliberate, but I think it’s meant to invite to other people to project themselves into my perspective. I probably developed the habit as a geeky child, when I was often misunderstood and needed to explain myself.

      I didn’t know that using “you” for “I” could confuse people. Thanks for explaining that! In the future I’ll try to use “I” when I mean “I,” especially when talking to neurodivergent people who might have trouble with pronouns.

  26. I apparently referred to myself in the third person a LOT before age four and it was one of my little oddities that prompted my dad to seek custody of me. (I also repeated after myself and seemed “behind” in several things.)

    Had to think about it and I don’t use names a lot in conversation either unless I know the person really well or want to get their attention for some reason. And yeah, if someone uses my name a lot in conversation, especially when I don’t know them well, it does weird me out, but I never thought much about that.

    I’m not diagnosed but I would be very surprised if I *weren’t* Aspie.

    …About the custody thing: I was born in ’74, and they didn’t start diagnosing people with Asperger’s until the ’80s, and then mostly boys for a while. I didn’t even hear about autism until much later; my first memory of hearing the word was in the early ’90s as a young adult. I was aware of the word, but just from reading about it, I think, and I wasn’t sure what it meant.

    ANYWAY, looking back now on how my life has gone, and what issues my mother has had, I suspect she’s autistic as well, and possibly my dad too, though he’s been much more functional in the conventional sense: held the same job for nearly 22 years, has always been able to support himself, etc. But the job he held for two decades was in the Navy, and the military is a pretty regimented environment, which would have appealed to an Aspie. Even more so on a ship, and I got the impression he enjoyed his aircraft-carrier deployment more than any other part of his career. And he has never been what you would call a social butterfly, at least not without his trusty bourbon & Coke along for the ride, and people have always found him more than a bit weird. If born in a later era he’d have been a huge geekboy.

    Mom… she seems to be on another planet entirely. Some of that’s the diabetes (it messes with mental health) but she’s always marched to the beat of a different accordion and has managed adult life with great difficulty.

    As much as this stuff is ever heritable, I guess I was a sitting duck.

    1. It would make sens if one or both of your parents is on the spectrum. There does seem to be a strong genetic component to it. And, FWIW, I think the military is a good fit for a lot of aspies due to the regimented nature of military life, though officially anyone with a diagnosis is prohibited from enlisting.

      It’s interesting that your dad sought custody of you due to your developmental differences. I wonder if he recognized some things that the two of you had in common, if not consciously then instinctively, and that contributed to his thinking he’d be a better primary carer for you.

    2. Popping by as someone with a parent I swear is on the spectrum and had a long, successful career in the military. I think you’re right. The clear hierarchy and career path kept my parent on track. He didn’t even have to decide where to live, ever. The military even tells you that! In the civilian world, he floats around seemingly aimlessly.

  27. So pronouns are harder for you when you’re speaking in the abstract? That’s really interesting! I believe Ibby Grace says she has the most difficulty with pronouns in cases with higher complexity, such as when there are more characters in the story. There was a study where an autistic kid had more difficulty with pronouns when using more complex sentences with multiple pronouns. And there was another study where autistic kids reversed their pronouns more when playing hard games with their moms (like building towers or blowing bubbles) than when playing freely like they would at home. (I have a post about all this here that links to these studies http://mosaicofminds.blogspot.com/2013/05/why-do-autistic-people-reverse-pronouns.html) I wonder if abstract sentences might also be harder to talk about, and that might make it harder to use pronouns? Do you think pronouns might be harder for you, or other autistic people, when mentally or linguistically under stress? Or is that just another faulty theory?

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! Researchers do a lot of speculation about pronouns, but we should be doing less speculating and more listening.

    1. Yes, I think the increased complexity of abstract sentences does contribute to difficulty in keeping the pronoun straight and I’ve been noticing that I’ll mix up pronouns more when I’m talking a lot (so probably getting fatigued or stressing my language centers). I think that anything that adds to our cognitive load has the potential to make language more difficult because it leaves us fewer resources to dedicate to language processing. It all goes back to the “ego depletion” theory.

  28. Howdy. JUST watched the video on this post…And I sat there laughing and stimming, clicking and rocking on my bouncy ball chair…repeating my mantra: “Yep, yep yep yep yep…..”
    It was very difficult to come up with an example of “what it is like” that wasn’t based in ANOTHER “Aspergers specific” behavior or “common for aspies” process…..’Hungry’ really is the closest I could come up with….with the addition that it is like being hungry, deciding on what you really want to eat, and then having to go get it…You don’t want a hamburger, you want a breakfast burrito with potatoes, NO BEANS, bacon, and eggs (NOT runny) and some of the green salsa ON THE SIDE (not the red with the black flecks of whatever it is) and you want it NOW…..NT’s don’t get it….extending and stretching out my fingers (as splayed as I can get them and then crunching them back into fists is relaxing….flapping a bit relaxes and calms me….tapping my finger tips brings something in me back into alignment…pacing…..I can think better, faster, more clearly……I can speak better if I “do” one or sometimes many of my stimming behaviors…….furthermore, it’s not harming anyone.
    Blog creator: I enjoy this blog, and only just found it recently….I have much binge reading to do here, and wanted to say thank you for sharing it all…. What you do here is appreciated, very useful/informative, and frequently shared to my NT people that want more info on “us”…No response is required or sought out ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you for delurking and letting me know you can relate. You’re not alone on the binge reading. I keep saying I’m going to get t-shirts made for the folks who have read every post. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. DO IT! I would buy and wear one……….

        “I binge read musingsofanaspie August 2012 to April 2014 in 1.5 hours because reading is also a stimming behavior of mine and actually I find it relaxing but because of my ADD I am distracted because I’ve read everything but my OCD makes me check 11 times that I’ve read EVERYTHING so actually I’ve read it all multiple times and can quote it……AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS T-SHIRT and new friends that don’t JUDGE ME……….”

        Actually has to be on the t-shirt….Really. I say it so often, it’s a running joke here.

  29. I would agree that it IS a way of distancing yourself from the topic, of being more objective. I also do it mainly when making abstract statements and have not thought it to be odd. It doesn’t always make sense to me to refer to myself directly if I’m speaking of something in general. I used to use “one” or “oneself” a lot. Also, in my native language I still have issues with the pronoun “we” and almost always use it incorrectly. I hope you write a post about not being able to refer to people by name, as I do this constantly and it drives my husband crazy :p It’s as if I don’t expect the listener to know the person I’m referring to by name, even though O should know they’re well aware of who they are. Instead I describe them, like “my coworker with the bad teeth”. I’ve always just assumed it’s because I have such a hard time remembering people’s names, and assume everyone else does too. In fact, I consider my husband’s amazing name remembering skills freakish :p

    1. The name thing is kind of a sore spot for me because the extreme to which I avoid using people’s names makes me feel so weird. The funny thing is my husband comes from a culture in which people rarely refer to each other by name and will instead you descriptors like “Joey’s mother”, “Eldest aunt” or “big sister” or generic terms like “granny”, “auntie”, “waitress” or “student” to get the attention of or refer to a stranger. So he doesn’t see anything odd in me not referring to him by name and says he would be uncomfortable if I did.

  30. I confuse ‘you’ and ‘me’. For example, my mum will say to me “Joe is going to come with me”, so I reply with “Joe is going to come with me, that’s good… oh, I mean with you”. I think this is echolalia rather than confusing pronouns. I also don’t like using people’s names, which can be a problem in the country I live in because if you greet someone, you are expected to address them by their name. I have mild prosopagnosia, so this can be very awkward.

    1. That does sound like echolalia, which I think can be a big factor in pronoun confusion. Also, names . . . I feel your pain. My husband comes from a culture where it’s rude to use someone’s name unless you know them very well. Instead people use general terms like big sister, Jimmy’s mother, granny, auntie, student, waitress, doctor, etc. It’s heaven. ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. I never realised that saying ‘you’ wasn’t the norm. I also use ‘we’ to refer to myself AND my body, and to my body as ‘it’.

    Even now, at 34, my mother tries to correct me in conversations – “You mean ‘I'” – and every time I’m flabbergasted that I’ve been doing it again… not to mention confused that it’s not ‘right’. I think there’s aspects of everything everyone here has said, and for me a large part is because of the rule I internalised as a child that it’s wrong to talk about yourself – so in the respect it would most certainly count as a way to stealth monologue ๐Ÿ™‚

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