Patterns and Language
I didn’t mean this week. I meant, this-arbitrary-measurement-of-chunk-of-time-longer-than-a-day.
I could’ve said, the past few weeks, this month, the past few days, last month… those are all phrases in my repertoire for that kind of thing, and they pop out interchangeably.
This is, I suppose, one of the hazards of using and learning language by pattern. Especially when I’m tired, I’ll know which phrases “sound right” together, and “go right” together, but it’s really, really easy to forget to check them against what I’m actually meaning. So “some kind of chunk of time” simply becomes substituted with any chunk of time. A particular topic area gets substituted with its opposite without noticing, because both are connected in some way in the pattern system in my head.
And my speech seems irreparably that way, patterns devoid of internal meaning for the most part, or only tangentially tied to it.
Describing time can indeed be difficult for those of us who don't naturally sort it into exact linear segments in memory. Like Amanda, I've often talked about something that happened "last week" and then realized that it was two weeks ago, or three weeks.
I wouldn't describe that as a pattern fault, though. It's more that the language isn't precisely matched to the intended meaning because of shortcomings in the language itself. We all (autistic or otherwise) have to map our personal experiences onto a language that can be very lacking in precision, depending on what we are talking about.
Supposedly, the native peoples of northern Canada have hundreds of words for snow in their languages. I don't know if that's actually true or if it's just an Internet legend, but it does illustrate how experiences shape the development of language. If visual-spatial thinkers were in the majority, we might have a very different language, with specific words for things like "a chunk of time, somewhat recent, more than a day ago."
But we don't, so we just have to get our meaning across as best we can with the available words, just as if we came from a tribe that perceived different kinds of snow—we'd have to struggle to find words to describe them effectively in English.
To put it another way, being unable to find precise words to describe something, and using some other phrase as a substitute, doesn't necessarily mean that there is a defect in, or damage to, the brain's speech-generating circuitry. It also doesn't necessarily mean that patterns or scripts are being used without understanding. Sometimes there just isn't an adequate word in the language to describe a particular object or idea, and it might not be practical or feasible to take the time to pause and search one's brain for a precise set of words to approximate the intended meaning as nearly as possible, because there is too much else going on in real time.
I don't believe that this happens only to autistics. I think it's more likely that everyone is at a loss for words sometimes, just because of the inherent limitations of words, but because our prevailing cultural scripts and the commonly used words in our language are more closely matched to the experiences of the majority, the pop-culture scripting that's often done by non-autistics (such as using sports metaphors or chattering about something that a celebrity did) is seen as normal.