The Life Autistic: What’s with the Accent?

Accent.jpg

When it comes to autism, sometimes it takes one to know one. The tells, the signs, the idiosyncrasies — our AutismRadar® is near flawless.

“Hunter, I think you need to talk to this guy,” said June*, one of the managers who reported to me. “I’m not sure what to make of him.”

“How do you mean?”

June told me more about one of her new employees, Benjamin Bennett*, who’d started going by B2. “He said he was inspired by you, H2!”

Great. 

She described some of his mannerisms, how he acted in meetings, communicated in email, and then dropped what I found to be the most interesting tidbit.

“He does these . . . accents when he talks to customers. Like, not his normal accent.”

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll talk to him.”

There were two ways that coin could flip.

Some people would smack down with a variation of “Ok, what you’re doing is weird, and you need to stop,” and just make life worse.

The other approach would be that gentle, almost meek, “So, tell me why . . .” style of discovery, unassuming, wise-as-a-serpent-but-ultimately-harmless way of getting him to fess up and explain more.

I went for a third option: make this coin stand on its edge.

Benjamin and I had a great talk a week later, discussing career progression, job skills, how he was adapting to his new team, etc.

As I relayed and related some of my experience, I casually mentioned:

“When I was on the phones, I’d even switch up my accent. Sounds weird, but sometimes it helped, if you can believe.”

100% true, folks.

And I still do it to this day.

It’s a bit of an odd habit, and sure enough, it’s something we autists share to a degree.

My phone habit? An unconscious shift to a Southern drawl, which oozed sweet tea, honey, and biscuits – all of which de-escalated my most irate callers.

And then when out and about, talking to my wife, I take on this almost Received Pronunciation British lilt, as if I have to be overheard with “more intrigue.” Too many William F. Buckley vids? I’ve no idea. Mrs. H2 isn’t ever amused.

And then there’s my lack of accent, an unplaceable affect that I take pride in maintaining. Since I’m half-robot anyway, I find it fitting.

So, what’s with the accent then?

I couldn’t tell you. Stress response? Phoneaesthetic soothing? Who knows.

Back to that talk with B2, my confession loosed a sigh of relief and exultation from him — he didn’t have to worry about being ‘weird’ or suffer the consequences of being ‘different’ in a way that few understood.

But I did.

Takes one to know one.

*not their real names

Image courtesy WikiHow

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