C is for Communication…
Communication is one of the go to issues when it comes to autism. Unfortunately often communication is often used in a context when what really is meant is speech or talking.
Personally, I don’t remember ever having difficulty with learning to speak or using my mouth parts as a communication device, however, I do recall being referred to as a late talker. I was born in 1970, so minimal understanding was out there that could have identified me as autistic way back when.
I do however at times have non-verbal times. Times where I just can’t get the words to come out. Sometimes I see those very words as if on a screen in my head but I am just unable to get my mouth parts to utter them.
I can get to the very point of opening my mouth and try to begin a conversation but simply the words are not there. Different times I am able to type the words but not say the words. Sometimes even different words can come but not the words I intended.
All of these things are communication difference. I am inclined to think that all autistics will have communication difference. The official DSM5 documentation describes it thus—
A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):
1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
Source – DSM5
But I take issue at the use of the word deficit. Is difference necessarily deficit?
My issue is this, I think. Communication is far more than just words. Expressing that communication in a different way is not inherently less than what is perceived to be the typical form of that expression.
In short difference is not equal to a deficit.
Absolutely I have issues with communication. Absolutely it can and is difficult to convey what I wish to convey. But I ask, is that deficit or is it just difference.
If the autistics of the world were the majority then it would be feasible that neurotypical communication norms were considered to be a deficit. And that would be no less an offence than what describing autistic communication is as a deficit.
Communication is almost like a rite of passage to connection with people who humans seem to inherently seek out and desire.
A wonderful journey to communication that works for Dillan. No, it’s not speech, and why that may make communication with Dillan more effort, it certainly does not make it less valid or of a lesser quality.
As Dillan says he had ‘no choice but to create relationships with his animals’. Surely this is a sign that we autistics are not un-empathetic emotionless beings. That we too desire connection and that connection is facilitated by communication.
Communication is a rite of passage to that connection. It doesn’t matter if it is facilitated by a device like an iPad or other type based device. It doesn’t matter if it is words from our mouths or pictures from a PECS system. Whether our words come from our mouth or from an Augmented and Adaptive Communication system, our words are valid, our words are our words and they are valuable, important and dare I say it essential.
Communication, of course, is not limited to words whether from mouths or other devices. Communication is on display everywhere. It is visual, it is auditory it is behaviour.
I hear often in parent heavy autism groups, often, things along the lines of ‘I am my child’s voice’ and ‘my child has no communication’. This is not true. Every human has communication. Every human has a voice it just may not meet the traditional idea of what a voice is.
To the parents of non-verbal autistics, I implore you to not seek to be your child’s voice but instead to work ever so hard to help them find their very own voice. Their voice is there.
There are a number of autistic bloggers who have been declared “low-functioning” and even intellectually disabled. Those declarations have been due predominantly due to a lack of speech. If you have read their work you would not know they were unable to speak. You quite possibly have already read some of those words.
Yes, communication is often a challenge for autistics. But it is not a deficit it is a difference. It is considered a deficit and I get that, but, it’s a deficit deemed by those who make the rules. If autistics made the rules perhaps a very different rule set would exist.
C is for communication and just because I communicate differently does not mean message is of less value.
As a non-speaking friend of mine has on the back of her wheelchair – “Just because I can not speak does not mean I have nothing to say.”