Me & Tannen on the Radio


An e-mail from June 2001:

This morning, the local NPR (National Public Radio) station interviewed Deborah Tannen for 40 minutes. She's the person who investigates language use and writes books about it. She has written about how men and women use langague differently, and now she is promoting her new book about language use within families.

The program was taking phone calls and also e-mail messages. Suddenly I was inspired to send the following e-mail:

Deborah Tannen keeps saying "We all...." As in, "we all are mind readers." I am one of a rather substantial minority of humans for whom none of that is true. We are called "high functioning autistics." Because we do not fit the usual stereotypes people have about autism, we often are able to "pass as normal." But our social skills, especially those of the kind Tannen is discussing, are severely deficient. Autism, including the high-functioning variety, is a neurological condition, not a psychological state or neurosis.
I just wanted to let KUOW's listeners know that we are out here. If you meet someone who seems "different" in the terms Tannen is discussing, you may be face to face with an autistic person like me.

A few minutes later, I heard the interviewer say, "I want to close now with an e-mail." He then proceeded to read the first paragraph of my e-mail. He did not read the second paragraph, nor did he give my name.

Deborah Tannen responded in a very positive way, if maybe a trifle condescending. She said she has read Donna Williams and Temple Grandin, and she "validated" the reality of autism and the communication difficulties it causes. Talking about DW and TG, she said autistics have to learn deliberately the kind of stuff NT people pick up by osmosis, and she said she realized how difficult this is.

Not bad, overall. At least it got the existence of autistics-out-there-in-the-world a mention.



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