Thursday 20 April 2017

30 Days of Autism Acceptance: Day 20


Day 20:

Talk about communication.  Are you verbal? Nonverbal? Partially verbal?  How do you usually communicate?

First of all, I'm not going to use the terms "verbal", "nonverbal" or "partially verbal"; I'm going to use "speaking" instead of "verbal".

Why? Because it's the preferred term by autistics like Amy Sequenzia and others. And we should go by what they prefer because that's their reality. To do otherwise is disrespectful and silencing.

Some might say I am and they are being pedantic, that it doesn't matter. Actually, it does. It's more than just semantic pedantry - it's simply accurate. We don't use "wheelchair-bound" any more, we use "wheelchair user". The former suggests that the person is physically bonded to their chair - which simply isn't true! - and even if it's not taken that way, the term assumes complete inability to stand or walk, which is only true for a minority of chair users. I'm a wheelchair user but I do have some ability to stand and walk. Only for a very brief period and I can only hobble/stumble a few metres on a good day (on a bad day I can't stand or walk at all), but even then I use a walking stick, the walls, furniture and people. The term "wheelchair user" is simply more accurate.

So why use "speaking" and "non-speaking"? Because the use of the term "verbal" suggests possession of language and the use of the term "nonverbal" suggests an absence of language. As Amy Sequenzia, Carly Fleischmann and others have demonstrated, that's just not the case! Communication through typing is verbal just as much as communicating through speech. They have the language, they just don't communicate through speech. They still communicate through words. Other autistics use picture boards, cards and other alternative and assistive communicative (AAC) methods. They are all "verbal" people, they just don't speak. "Speaking" and "non-speaking" reflects greater accuracy of communication methods.

I am speaking, the vast majority of the time, so I'd probably be classed as speaking, though I don't know if my occasional difficulties would technically label me as "partially speaking". I usually communicate through speaking (and obviously writing), but as I've mentioned in previous posts, I also use British Sign Language and the communication cards from Stickman Communications that my friend Hannah makes (they're fantastic) - she's got a whole range for many different conditions, including autism, and she does packs that include all the relevant ones for specific conditions/situations (diabetes, wheelchair, autism, etc). They are SO USEFUL! If you experience spoken communication difficulties, I highly recommend them (I'm not just plugging them because it's my friend's business, I'm plugging them because they are SO DAMN USEFUL!)

I favour typing because it gives me the opportunity to think about what I'm saying and ensure that my meaning, points, etc are accurately conveyed. It allows me more processing time than face-to-face conversations, which generally demand immediate responses, which is stressful. I often stumble over my words, especially when I'm stressed and/or tired. I long ago lost count of how many times my spoken words have got people angry, upset, etc when it really wasn't my intention and I've been grossly misunderstood because I haven't been able to articulate myself properly.

So I'd probably describe myself as mostly-speaking - I don't think that the term "speaking" is entirely applicable to me because of what I've said above. "Partially speaking" suggests that my ability to communicate through speech is lower than it is.  So I'd go with "mostly speaking".

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