I debated how I should title this blog post. It was between Welcome to Norway or What it's like to be HB and I thought the former was more intriguing.
Imagine you've learned that you are moving to Norway. You've prepared yourself. You've learned Norwegian. You've even researched some Norwegian customs. (If you're from Norway, may I suggest somewhere like South Africa and you've learned Afrikaans.) You pack up your belongings and move there.
That's the analogy the school psychologist gave for what it's like to be HB.
I think the analogy is pretty accurate. It's more accurate for him than saying "imagine crash landing on another planet." I used to date a gentlemen who was not from the States and English was not his first language. I asked him about his thought patterns and his language skills.
He said at first he things went like this: gets information in English....translates it into Spanish (his primary language).....thinks of a response in Spanish......translates the Spanish response into English.....then respond back in English.
It's slow and muddied and awkward. Thus social interactions and conversations are difficult.
When we met, he had been in the US for a while. He said at that point he was able to think mostly in English when having English conversations. His brain had adapted. It wasn't perfect. Some things he still needed to translate particularly common colloquialisms but surprisingly he said many English idioms are the same in Spanish so it wasn't that bad.
The idiom thing also tripped up Amanda Knox who told her employer "see you later" in Italian. In English, the phrase means at some indiscriminate time. In Italian it implies that you have already a set plan some time in the future. Whether Amanda Knox committed murder is neither here nor there, but her treatment at the hands of the police (including not allowing her a certified translator and other international rights) was harsh. Having a certified translator would have been led to better treatment because she didn't understand what she had implied and police would not have assumed.
Imagine HB living in a similar situation. On the one hand, he runs into to benign social translation issues. On the other side, people interpret what he means wrong. Like when the secretary thought that because HB stopped his echolalia he understood that he was being distracting. He doesn't. Or that a teacher interpreted his laughing in her colleague's face as an insult, which again I highly doubt that. Very young children laugh because they are trying to cheer people up. Likewise he could have thought that the teacher was being silly or playing a game with him.
So I think next time someone asks "what's it like to be autistic" I'll say "well, imagine you've just moved to Norway."