Friday, 11 January 2013

When Autistics Communicate & Understand Language

I am verbal.  I have always been verbal.  I started speaking before I was one year old and I always enjoyed talking.  I always had a sophisticated vocabulary -- it was more pronounced when I was young because I'd use multi-syllabic words that no other preschoolers understood -- and I always liked to show it off.  However, sometimes, I did not enjoy talking.
When I am anxious or when I am having a "bad brain day," I sign (in ASL).  I understand people much better when they can sign to me as well as speak, because the two sources of information are the best way for me to process instructions.  Neurotypicals have told me it's "weird."  But a lot of my fellow autistics -- if you're out there somewhere -- maybe you know what I mean.
I cannot watch television without subtitles.  This does not mean that I turn the volume off -- no, instead I watch with the verbal dialogue supplemented by subtitles at the bottom of the screen.  I cannot understand television without subtitles.  I can hear and I can comprehend the words, but but only after hearing and seeing a show can I explain what it was about.  My brother used to hate this when I was younger and I monopolized the TV.  I'd always complain I couldn't understand the show properly when he'd switch the subtitles off.
I type incredibly quickly.  That is both a subjective argument and something I have been told many times.  I type most conversations out before I have them and I script all my phone calls.  And when I type, I organize my thoughts much better than when I try to explain things with my words.  Sometimes, when I'm having a bad day, instead of explaining it to my friends or my mother, I'll send a quick email.

I guess my point here is that there is a misconception in the world that autistic people either speak constantly or do not speak at all.  There's this conception that being autistic means you're one or the other - you're "low functioning" or "high functioning" (just FYI I absolutely hate those terms) - when in fact, every autistic person  is different and there is no "low-" or high-" functioning.  I've met a lot of autistic people in my life and I know that we all have different strengths and weaknesses.  For some people, communication isn't a strength.  Some people augment verbal communication with other types of communication.  Some people choose not to communicate verbally at all.
And that's OK.  There has been so much progress in the neurotypical community when it comes to understanding autistics and what makes us unique, but more work needs to be done.  Some autistics communicate like neurotypicals, some autistics communicate differently, and some autistics communicate in a way that encompasses both these choices.
And no matter how you choose to communicate -- via signing or typing or speaking or gesturing or just by behavior -- that's OK.