Baby talk – why do people talk to #autistic adults and children like they are infants


Autism comic strip by autistic artist Carissa P. depicts “Baby Talk”

by Debra Muzikar

A couple weeks ago my Facebook friend Stefanie shared with me this audio clip she recorded on her I-phone.

Stefanie just turned 49. In the audio clip you can hear her neighbor (who has known her since she was a child) talking to her as if she is three years old. Of course Stefanie was offended! Who wouldn’t be?

When Kevin was 8 and was in second grade he had an “inclusion specialist” who insisted on talking to him in this same sing-songy baby voice. She’d talk to the other kids in a normal, respectful manner. I tried to convey this was not healthy for Kevin, yet the baby talk continued. In Special Education, best practice is to assume competence. Yet I’ve heard from so many that baby-talk is prevalent.

A couple days ago  Carissa P, 16 years old autistic, shared the series of cartoons below:

Baby Talk Hellooo - HOW ARE YOU?

You Don't Look Autistic

AHA That is so dumb - what are you autistic or somethin

when you jumble your words and don't even notice

When I queried my Facebook friends I found this to be a sore point among many.

Many Autistic people experience baby talk

“I do mind if someone starts taking to me like if I was 2 years old when they find out I have autism… Soooooo annoying..Yes I have autism, but I also have a 4.0 in University. Just because we have autism does not make us stupid. However I can’t get mad at the person that talks to me like a 2 year old, because he/she is just ignorant about autism, most don’t mean to be rude,” Dani Bowman, Autistic

“That kind of thing comes out of the institutions and the misconception of baby talk vs. slowing down a bit and speaking more simply,” Andy Dreisewerd, Autistic

“I hate when people do this! I see therapists doing it with clients we share, especially non-speaking clients! I have also experienced it minimally, but more as a woman than as an autistic adult since not everybody who I see randomly knows I’m autistic,” Annette Sugden

“I dislike it, immensely. I’m 38 years old..not months old. I have a more expansive vocabulary than these people do … and they want to talk DOWN to me? I’m autistic, not an infant,” Heather Johnson

“[Neri was] 16 YEARS OLD at summer camp [where the camp counselor sang] … BINGO THE DOG song. I removed him from camp and the year after asked the system to pay for him to be at the Gateway Art Studio,” Nirith Avraham, parent

“I get people talking down to me in baby talk as I have a developmental delay and its so annoying… Sadly I’ve gotten used to it and I don’t bother lecturing people anymore about it as its pointless. They don’t listen. Even my job where I work as .. a cleaner they talk to me like a baby and I am 36 yrs old not 36 months old. They treat me like I am a toddler … like I know nothing,” Debbie Ann

“My kids have told me they get really upset when they’re talked to that way and it makes them feel like there being talked down to,” Veronica Banchs, parent

“My personal favorite worst that always happens when I take Jeremy to the hospital: the nurses and doctors speak loud and slow, even after I explain ‘Jeremy has autism, but he understands everything -he graduated from high school. But he has sensitive hearing, please speak quietly.’ I want to say ‘Which part of please speak quietly did you not understand?’ Perhaps I should start saying ‘Use your inside voice,'” Chantal Sicile-Kira

Don’t assume incompetence

“This reminds me of the movie Wretches & Jabberers with Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher, two assistive-communication-device-utilizing adults on the spectrum.
One of the most profound moments in the movie, at least for me, is when Tracy shared some extremely advanced, enlightened, metaphysical thoughts, and it became apparent that not only was he not ‘cognitively delayed’…..but extremely intelligent, evolved, compassionate and empathetic, regardless of having lead a life of being marginalized and misunderstood,” Kathleen Tehrani, Autism Brainstorm founder

People change when they know you have autism

“I always notice a change in how people talk to me after I have just given a speech on my autism. Some then do not approach me to ask questions as they feel it might be too much for me. Best way to deal with this is to talk about it. Keep reminding people that there is no need to act like this and why. Elijah [Gee’s son] is often treated as if he cannot hear or even worse as if he is not there at all. Be patient with people. They do not know it any better. This is why talking about autism is so important…talking with people…getting together…getting to know each other…I find this more important than lighting up buildings blue for one day,” Gee Vero, Autistic

Sometimes parents are the problem

“What you are describing is unacceptable, period! To play devil’s advocate here … often when I speak to a child or adult [with their parent present] as if they understand everything I am saying in a very grown-up manner (which I do ‘as if’), parents ‘jump in’ to answer, correct, save or otherwise without giving time for the person to answer or (when no language is present, especially) react. This is the conundrum for me,” Keri Bowers, parent

Degrading behavior may becoming from a place of kindness and ignorance

“They don’t mean to be ignorant or mean… they really should know better. My mom says that older people … it’s just how it was back then,” Stefanie Sacks, Autistic

“It’s probably ignorance rather than malicious. I’ve heard people talking loud to blind people,” Lenny Schafer, parent

“[It’s] mostly ignorance,” Denise Angele, parent

“Many people talk baby talk when they are trying to be gentle and loving, don’t be too hard on them. Mom was a paraplegic and many people talked baby talk. She was a very gentle soul and talked right back at them with baby talk, their language, not hers. Being kind was easier than trying to educate,” Susan Ramos Calderwood Spadaccini

A sense of humor helps

“To their credit, my parents never spoke baby talk to us on principle. However, when I couldn’t process a list of directions, she [my mom] would…slow….down. My response, which works to this day, was, “Why. Are. We. Talking. So. Slowly?” I lucked out. Both of my folks, now in their eighties, have retained wonderful senses of humor,” Carol Greenburg, Autistic

Baby Talk is better than ignoring

The lesser of two evils is baby talk, in my humble opinion. I watched my son Kevin being ignored for many years. At least when people talk in baby talk they are trying to engage the person.


Cartoon artwork courtesy  of Carissa Paccerelli aka Rissa P. Visit her art on her website.

See also Understanding the Spectrum: A Cartoon


  • gina rex says:

    I’ve got news for you: as soon as you become “elderly” (60+), people talk to you like you’re 3 years old.

    • lynda webster says:

      whats with the 60+ elderly crap i’m 61 and I def don’t appreciate the elderly bit thankyou elderly is 85 or over imo how old are u 25

      • Rohan Zener says:

        You could, at least, be grateful, that were you merely called “elderly” and not “senile”. “Senile” is highly insulting as its connotations of being permanently incoherent and with irremediable fixations on certain things in your past, which is how their incoherence and general incompetence is characterised.

    • Rohan Zener says:

      I never talked to my mentor or my late father like that! Mostly because they remained mentally capable and coherent, and I knew it, too.

  • Sensory Swim says:

    This happens more than you would think. But it shouldn’t happen at all. We need to push everyone to the best of their ability and to do that we can’t talk down to them.

  • The Angry Autistic says:

    Enough narrative along the lines of “just because we have autism does not make us stupid (which is ableist language),” and bringing degrees or one’s grade point average at university / college into the argument. PRESUME COMPETENCE. Having a different neurotype does not make anyone deserving of infantilization, period. Autistics don’t owe justification to anyone as to why we deserve respect.

    • Rohan Zener says:

      Another thing experienced by those branded with autism, is third-person-only language. That stunts them even further, and in my case, was used and advised (or possibly ordered) by my mother, with malicious intent. I actually ended up learning the proper person pronouns and their contexts by the time i entered der Kindergarten.

      If that grammar was being used in Japan, then okay; in fact, that’s the formalised form and with their lack of person conjugations, the second person is implied via direct address in conversation. That and some prepositions “o” and “go” most recognisably.

    • Rohan Zener says:

      In the case of third-person-only bullshit being used on you, you could give a comeback of inferring offenders to come from Japan, or Korea or China. Having languages of the same family, theirs would work pretty much the same, lacking personal conjugation, and implying second person via mention of the listener by name. Luckily they have pronouns for if the listener is unknown.

  • ilovehorseyrides says:

    I can totally relate. But a lot of Asian elders speak to young children (under 3rd grade) in baby talk, regardless if they’re autistic or not. I know this because I have relatives speaking to my 4 (almost 5) and 7 year old cousins in baby talk ALL THE TIME. It’s getting really annoying. Both are not autistic, but 4 year old does have speech problems/delays??? I swear that the baby talk is causing it and I want it to stop before both of them develop some sort of learning disability. Please help me!!!! 🙁

    BTW, they speak to me in baby talk, too. I have Aspergers (mild). It is very irritating >:(

    HELP!!!! 🙁

  • Rohan Zener says:

    In spite of being branded myself at an early age, i still perceive and react to this world as “neurotypicals” would. But i am also aware of the ancient stigmas and many people’s destructive reactions towards those they should ever find out as having been branded.
    I say “branded”, because etymologically, it is a brand, having surfaced only through association with demonic possession, and invented with name and all during the late Christian Dark Ages. Today Autism encompasses ALL variations of human behaviour, and up until today only humans have ever been branded…now thaf the representative cartel is turning to other animals to brand, i can’t help but be suspicious and remember how anthropocentric its foundation is and always was. To think that those non-human animals share the same economics as us, to think those nonverbal, who are actually, in their own eyes, verbal, in the case of mice for instance, but actually speak their “words” at mostly ultrasonic frequencies so, no matter how loud they be, WE. CAN’T. HEAR. THEM. TALK.
    As well, i see ye think that degradation stems of kindness and ignorance; in my case it was, in fact, brutality and tyranny, from my mother, as well as a deep-seated fear of what she just might be raising.

  • Does not want name to be revealed says:

    I’m constantly talked to like a fucking child! My teammates in volleyball never support others, but when it comes to me, they treat me like I am 4 year old.
    Oh and my parents tell me, “Oh it’s ok, just say thank you!”.
    My mom has kept this from me until now at the doctors office that I am in the autistic spectrum. MY HISTORY TEACHER MADE FUN OF MY SPEACH IMPEDAMENT! AND JUST LAUGHED IT OFF. MY SIBLINGS ALWAYS CALL ME AUSTIC LIKE THEY ARE MAKING FUN OF ME! I don’t know how rotten some people are, can be like that!

  • Paula Powell says:

    I have been diagnosed with autism and If they have enough intelligence to be offended, then they should have enough intelligence to make an effort to speak normally.

  • K. says:

    This is kind of ridiculous. I understand why you’d feel upset, but there isn’t a whole lot of insight on autism. It isn’t taught in schools or anything of the sort. Unless you have autism, know somebody with autism, study related things, etc. You may never hear about autism. A lot of people simply do not know what it is, or what it may affect. If you’re offended then you can tell that person that you can understand them like any other human being and inform them. Not sit there offended and assume you’re better than them. “I have a more expansive vocabulary than these people do … and they want to talk DOWN to me?” This especially was crossing the line. You are not better than someome simply because they do not fully understand you, or never learned fully what autism is. It isn’t talking down to you. Should they assume anything? No. It is 100% disrespectful. As with any other human being; you can tell them to kindly fuck off or inform them. Don’t try to act like a victim or like you’re better than anyone else.

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