Little Professors & Big Words

Why do some kids with Aspergers stereotypically like to use complicated language?

Scientist girl at a blackboard filled with equations

It’s common to hear some autistic children – the ones more likely to be diagnosed with Aspergers – described as ‘little professors’ for their stereotypical interests or use of language.

It’s not just that the words they use are bigger or more complicated than other kids their age, but they can talk for ages about a topic that’s unusual – either because it’s not something kids are usually interested in or because they know everything there is to know about the subject.

Let’s take a look at some of the possible reasons:

They like the sound of them

Some kids like the sounds that words make, and big words have more sounds. A lot of big words are just really fun to say.

They like the feel of them

Just as it can be satisfying to perfect a dance move, saying a long word correctly can be a buzz. All that movement of tongue against teeth, lips and air in choreographed sequence can be sensory heaven for a kid who’s seeking stimulation.

They like the look of them

The kids who like big words might visualise the word itself and enjoy playing with that image. The curves and points of the letters, the shape of the word itself. An autistic friend describes how vowels and consonants are different colours, so long words make ‘better rainbows’.

They have access to them

Kids who use big words are almost always precocious readers – they start reading early and progress quickly. Couple that with an ‘unusual’ interest and their chosen reading material is likely to be closer to a text book than Spot Goes For a Walk.

They’re literal

It’s not a ladybug, it’s a coccinela novemnotata. That’s its name.

They don’t realise they’re big words

There’s two main reasons why we don’t all use the biggest words we can in everyday speech:

  • Other people might not understand us
  • Other people may think we’re trying to appear intelligent (heaven forbid)

It may never occur to kids who are struggling with social understanding that knowing more than someone else could in any way be a bad thing.

The bottom line

Using big words should be something that’s supported and encouraged. If the choice of words is getting in the way of being understood then it might be worth spending some time talking about ways we can simplify communication to help others understand us (e.g. by choosing simpler words). Otherwise… you go, little professors!

14 March, 2012 by Bec Oakley

Bec Oakley is an autistic writer and proud parent, with an intense passion for 80s text adventures, Twizzlers and making the world a better place for autistic people and their families.