Baby Talk (Kate Altman, M.S.)

While visiting Doug, a 17 year-old guy with an ASD, at his school, his teacher stopped to speak with him for a few moments. She spoke animatedly in a bright, cheerful voice and complimented him on some recent academic successes he had had. When she walked away, the young man turned to me and remarked, “she’s a very nice person, but sometimes she talks to me like I’m a little slow.”

Other adolescents and young adults on the spectrum have told me that some people tend to speak to them like they are much younger, using sing-songy voices and asking questions that you’d more typically ask a younger child. One young man told me he thinks that his gestures are still childlike, which naturally causes people to talk to him like he’s a child, even though he is a senior in college. Doug speaks very slowly with a flat tone, which may be why his teacher addresses him with babytalk, even though he is a bright and mature high schooler.

Adolescents and adults who find that they are "babytalked" by other adults may experience anything from amusement to tolerance to disgust and anger. Communicating that they do not want to be "babytalked" to the babytalker in a respectful way can be challenging and daunting, especially because they babytalker is usually a well-intentioned person. This subtle and complicated dilemma provides insight into the challenges of being a self-advocate in everyday life.

What are your experiences with babytalk, and how do you, or your child, handle it?