Understanding Autism An English Speaking Practice Topic Ep 452

Young nerdy woman with purple hair using her smartphone and smiling. English speaking practice lesson talking about people who are on the autism spectrum.

📝 Author: Hilary

📅 Published:

💬 2346 words ⏳ Reading Time 12 min


Learning English Speaking Topics With Adept English

Today’s English speaking practice podcast lesson may feel a little random, you could say it’s coming out of left field. Today’s lesson has a lot of interesting English vocabulary and uses several words that are difficult for new English language learners to pronounce.

Have you ever watched “The Big Bang Theory” and noticed Sheldon or maybe you’ve seen Greta Thunberg on TV? Well, if you have, you might notice that these people behave differently to most people. In today’s lesson we talk about the conditions that cause this behaviour, and talk about innovative research that may help us understand why these conditions occur.

We want you to listen to this English audio lesson several times. If you can find some time where you can listen and say what I say and speak what you hear out aloud. We suggest you do this somewhere private, as you might get strange looks if you do this in a public place :)

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Most Unusual Words:

Spectrum
Spontaneous
Extreme 
Stereotype
Testosterone
Tendency
Controversial

Most common 3 word phrases:

PhraseCount
When We Say2
We Mean The2
On The Spectrum2
A Lot Of2
A Different Way2

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Transcript: Understanding Autism An English Speaking Practice Topic

Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English.

I know that some of you are really interested in language learning with English podcasts, but you also like to deepen your understanding of psychology and psychological theories – the human mind in other words. When we say ‘brain’, BRAIN, we mean the grey matter, the physical material inside our heads. But when we say ‘mind’, MIND we mean the thoughts and feelings and perceptions that occur in our brains. And the adjective to go with that, meaning ‘of the mind’ is mental, MENTAL. Both brain and mind are interesting, I think. And I like to do podcasts on just this subject.

In part, it’s related to my profession as a psychotherapist – I have to know about these things. But I also enjoy reading around these topics too. A lot of the new material in this area of study is written in English – not all of it of course, but quite a lot of it. So it’s also an opportunity for me to talk through ideas that might be new to you while you are learning English online at the same time. Two birds with one stone! If you’re already familiar with these ideas I’m going to present, we are still one of your best resources for learning English, so just sit back and enjoy understanding it!

Learning English and learning about Autism and Autistic Spectrum Disorder

So one of the things I’ve been reading about lately is about autism. That’s AUTISM – and that is a ‘diagnosis’, an explanation that a doctor might give. So autism is a mental ‘way of being’ that some people have. Autism is a more extreme version – and Asperger’s syndrome, that’s ASPERGER’S is the less extreme version, called after Hans Asperger, who first described it in 1944. And we often talk about ‘the autistic spectrum’ or a person being ‘on the spectrum’, reflecting the idea that there’s a range, a spectrum – that’s SPECTRUM.

People might get a diagnosis of ASD – which stands for Autistic Spectrum Disorder and it shows they’re on the spectrum. There are famous people with ASD such as Greta Thunberg, the environmentalist and our own Chris Packham, another environmentalist. And the actor Antony Hopkins also has an Asperger’s diagnosis – that’s Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, if you’ve ever watched that film?

📷

A photograph of a little girl sitting on red canister, experiencing a sad emotion. Today's English speaking topic is on Autism.

©️ Adept English 2021

So someone with Asperger’s can be a brilliant actor. The best way to think of autism – it’s just ‘a different way of being’. And when you look at people like Greta Thunberg and Chris Packham, they have a singular focus and a clarity which makes them effective campaigners. Rather than just seeing ASD a ‘medical disorder’, it’s good to see the positives – people with ASD make a different type of contribution, in a different way.

What is ASD like?

It’s hard to arrive at a % of people who have ASD. Obviously there are a lot of people out there, undiagnosed. But Asperger’s traits are probably even more common – we probably all recognise these in someone we know or perhaps in ourselves. People with this ‘way of being’ can be very different to each other, but usually it shows in how they relate to people.

People on the autistic spectrum may not be warm and spontaneous with their emotions, especially with people they don’t know. ‘Spontaneous’, SPONTANEOUS means in this context, that emotions are quick to show and are very readable by other people. People with ASD don’t always see the so-called ‘social cues’ – this means social signals, like when someone wants you to leave or when someone is joking perhaps.

A person with Asperger’s may feel or seem awkward in company and prefer to spend their time alone. As children, parents and teachers may see that they don’t make friends very easily. People with Aspergers may also be very good at focusing on one particular thing – ‘restricted interests’ as this is often called. If you have Aspergers, you are likely to be extremely knowledgeable about certain topics. There may be periods of very singular focus to the exclusion of everything else.

ASD people are often ‘good at detail’, but can find seeing ‘the big picture’ difficult. Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours and routines can seem very calming to someone with Asperger’s – so routine and ‘sameness’ are important too. Another feature, in autistic children – the world is experienced as scary, so rocking back and forth, or repetitive movements may be comforting. Another element often – people on the spectrum take things very ‘literally’ and see the world in terms of ‘fixed rules’ – and don’t understand it when other people don’t operate according to those rules.

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Greater awareness of ASD

ASD is such a common diagnosis to have, that school children in the UK seem to understand it implicitly. Characters like ‘Sheldon’ from the TV series ‘The Big Bang Theory’ show ASD characteristics – and in English words like ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ may attempt describe some of this. And they’re words which have acquired a more positive meaning in the last few years! People on the spectrum sometimes call themselves ‘Aspie’, ASPIE – short for Aspergers. And of course, for many years, psychologists and neuroscientists have been trying to understand what causes ASD and how to treat it. Nowadays, unless it’s very extreme, it’s often just accepted as that person’s ‘way of being’ and just help and support to manage social situations may be needed.

It may be more the people in relationship with the person with Asperger’s that find it difficult! What’s interesting is that there are four times as many boys with ASD, with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, as girls. To some extent, this is because the signs and signals can be different in girls. So it may be ‘under-diagnosed’ in girls – that means it’s not recognised as often. But the number of boys with ASD is still far greater than the number of girls. So scientists have been asking ‘Why is this?’

One theory of many, which attempts to explain ASD

There is a theory and so far, it’s only an idea, that Autistic Spectrum Disorder is really something that you could call ‘Extreme Male Brain’, meaning that it’s like a very, very male brain. Hans Asperger himself thought that perhaps it was ‘an extreme variant of male intelligence’.

A stereotype, STEREOTYPE is a fixed, typical view of something and you know the stereotypes about men and women – that men are on the whole better at spatial awareness, so parking the car, or at estimating amounts. And that women are on the whole more comfortable handling emotional situations. It’s described as men are better at ‘systemising’, understanding complex rules or systems.

So they’re more likely to become engineers, computer programmers, mathematicians, scientists of various sorts. And that women are on the whole better at ‘empathising’ – ‘to empathise’, EMPATHISE means that you feel and understand other people’s emotions and you make good judgements in social situations. So women generally are more likely to be in roles where they care for other people, where relating is important.

Of course, these are generalisms. There are brilliant women mathematicians and scientists and there are lots of men that are good at emotions and empathy! But we’re talking about general tendencies. If you have a ‘tendency’, TENDENCY, it just means that you’re more likely to be one way, rather than another.

The ‘Extreme Male Brain’ Theory and more hypothesis

So putting aside the stereotypes, these different tendencies between men and women are recognised across the world. Men have on average 10 times more of the male hormone ‘testosterone’ – that’s TESTOSTERONE – ten times more than women have. Obviously there are men with low testosterone and women with high testosterone. But the levels of testosterone of these two groups are still very far apart – there’s a big gap in the middle.

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This accounts for some of our differences in behaviour. But the ‘Extreme Male Brain’ theory of autism or ASD isn’t as simple as saying that people on the Autistic Spectrum have higher levels of testosterone in their bodies. That’s simply not true – they don’t. However, the theory suggests instead that the difference was a higher level of testosterone ‘in utero’ – that means when the baby is developing inside the mother’s womb.

‘Womb’, WOMB is a difficult word – but it’s the part of a woman’s body inside which the baby grows. And this theory of ‘Extreme Male Brain’ is supported by researcher Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University in the UK, as well as other people.

Studies have been carried out which seem to support this theory. In one study, samples of the amniotic fluid – the liquid which surrounds a baby in the womb - were taken. And the level of testosterone in the sample was recorded. Then 6-8 years later, the children were observed. There was found to be a relationship between high testosterone levels in the womb and more ASD type behaviours in the children. Studies are continuing to confirm the effects of higher levels of testosterone on brain development in the womb.

So ‘Extreme Male Brain’ is quite a controversial theory for Autistic Spectrum Disorder. ‘Controversial’, CONTROVERSIAL is an adjective meaning ‘people don’t agree about it’. But it’s an interesting idea – and the science in this area is really progressing at the moment. I’m just sharing it with you!

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Goodbye

Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

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