Content note: This article discusses suicide risk factors specific to the autistic experience.
In autism discussions, I sometimes notice the word “hyperverbal” being used synonymously with “talking a lot” and I worry this kind of understanding can skip over much of what is really happening with this particular form of communication. Hyperverbal expression, whether it is verbalized or experienced internally, is autism and it is a disability. It has less to do with the volume of words expressed and more to do with the processing style that is common to some autistic people. I want to provide general information about hyperverbal communication here in an effort to help clarify its nature as an internal experience rather than just the output that others are more likely to focus on.
I have chronic, internal hyperverbal speech and, with the help of a specialist, found that my verbal processing tends to create difficulties any time it connects up with three factors: Emotional volume, thought speed, and social pragmatics. I am of course one autistic person and therefore very non-representative of the experiences of others.
I think of hyperverbal speech as a communication profile that can often function like a mood accelerant. When words are naturally assembled in such a way that they bring an intense and detailed focus to an experience, it can become overwhelming if that experience is an emotion. Whether the language is internal or expressed, autistic word flow can take the volume of a mood and turn it to a much higher, or at least intensely felt, level.
Hyperverbal communication is not an affectation. When anger or depression or self-hatred gets a boost from this kind of added language intensity, it can be very difficult to steer in a better direction. It is my belief that the interplay between mood volume and hyperverbal speech is under-discussed and under-appreciated as a risk factor for suicide in autistic people.
These concerns include risks for children, as well as teens and adults. If you are a parent and you do not believe me when I say this kind of speech can be extraordinarily difficult to manage, ask another parent of a hyperverbal autistic child. I am quite confident that they will tell you, at least in many cases, that the internal fights these children go through as they battle with their own words; it can be an extremely challenging situation.
Additionally, the speed with which words can form and race to new and varied patterns can make concentration a daily struggle. I am rarely able to concentrate. Simple tasks are not simple. Every possible thought is instantly ten alternate thoughts that quickly grow to many more and when you take that head space into a grocery store or a school test or a job interview, most of every day can feel like a frustrating obstacle course.
That’s internally. Externally, people interpret your concentration issues in many different and unhelpful ways. It can scan as not paying attention, as rude, as flighty, as indifferent, as lacking empathy (because you’re too overwhelmed to notice subtle emotions and people, not understanding autism, feel neglected and inadvertently spread myths about empathy) and so on. The concentration issue alone can lead to significant degrees of impact with unwanted social isolation and emotional health.
This is another reason I think it is so important to keep understandings of hyperverbal speech in the context of autism and disability. The degree to which someone understands autistic communication will directly shape how they respond to that autistic individual. Viewing hyperverbal speech purely through the lens of its surface output, rather than its underlying mechanisms and impacts, leaves autistic people at risk for a long line of hostile reactions from the world and without avenues of support for managing associated psychiatric and social experiences.