A random “this question has been deleted” on Quora is what leads to this post, composed of my answer to the (inexplicably) deleted question.
I thought everyone had problems with tags in the backs of their shirt and with wool. I thought everyone hated to be tickled like it was torture. I thought everyone was afraid of other people because of their total unpredictability. I thought that everyone knew that words meant what the words meant, and that tone was meaningless. I thought that everyone knew that “north” and “south” are meaningless and that “left” and “right” are easy to confuse. I thought that everyone knew that maps were just pretty pictures made of colored lines that had no other meaning.
Finding out that I don’t have the ability to “see” facial expressions or “hear” tone, that the reason I have trouble predicting what people will do is because I can’t see facial expressions or hear tone, was a shock and a relief.
When people started telling me that facial expressions and tones of voice meant something to them, I was at a total loss. Because to me, they don’t – with the exception of “loud” meaning “angry” and “not loud” meaning “not angry.” I couldn’t take that seriously at all – I actually laughed at the person who told me that tone means something.
When I found out that my difficulty with learning languages stemmed from my hyperlexia early on in my life, I was shocked to find out that it’s a common problem for autistics. I got angry at the person who airily said, “Oh, everyone can learn languages. It’s not that hard.”
Finding out that I’m autistic changed everything for me. I stopped trying to be normal and worked with what I was able to do instead. I now let myself fail when I try to learn languages instead of beating myself up because it’s so hard. I now tell people “I can’t hear your tone and I can’t really figure out facial expressions, so I might need to ask you what you mean in words.” I now tell people that I can’t handle the loud noises and that I can’t read a map. But until I knew I was autistic, I was like a deaf person who had no way of communicating with other people.