There is often discussion in forums, support groups, social media groups, blogs and any other media you can think of about verbal and non-verbal autistics. The unhelpful functioning label “Low Functioning” is often interchangeable with “Non Verbal”. I don’t agree with functioning labels, and mention them here only in reference to how they are used.
It is as though whether or not a person can speak with their mouth parts is the defining characteristic of the worth of the person. This is absolutely ludicrous. If we were to follow that logic the amazing woman Helen Keller would be considered unable to contribute to society.
There are many autistics who do not speak with their mouth parts who have a very lot to say. They say it with eloquence. They say it with clarity and they say it with their own unique voice. It is important that we listen to them.
There is much discussion and consideration about the spoken words of non-verbal autistics, which is important. What I don’t see a lot of discussion about however is the challenge of the spoken-word to many other autistics. This is an issue for me at certain times.
Before going any further I want to make it clear that not for a moment do I consider alternative communication methods to be inferior to spoken words from the mouth parts. Whatever communication method is most suitable for any individual should be made available and not withheld from them.
Often I have been told I am eloquent, able to string sentences together well and get a message across well. This may be the case but it certainly does not come to me in a natural way. My spoken words come at some effort. For me talking is like reading words out loud off an internal screen that sits behind my eyes or in my mind somewhere.
It is not the easiest concept to explain. It might seem a bit strange, or odd. It is what it is though.
In a discussion I will be simultaneously listening and allowing my response to form on my internal screen ready to be read back. This is a contributor to why it my take longer for me to respond that it does for others at times. This is heightened when it is a situation of stress, nervousness, or indeed, where I am being spoken at with aggression or assertiveness.
I’ve had many situations in my life where I have been unable to respond. The words simply have not been there on the screen for me to read out. This is infuriating to others speaking to me at times.
Another issue I find myself having is when I am having a lively and stimulating discussion in a group setting. I have my words formulated and ready to go on my screen and the subject changes. This is most frustrating as my words are sitting there needing to be spoken, I often wonder if this is why I find myself in social settings seemingly randomly returning the conversation back to a previous topic.
Another thing I find that occurs for me is when I start to talk and I hear myself speaking but I am not sure they are the words that I had formulated on my screen, I seem to then keep talking, at times, probably raving on, as if the sheer volume of verbosity will get me back on track and to the point of what I was saying. I am never sure if what I am saying in those situations has any relevance to the topic at hand. It is a most disconcerting situation.
If I do not run off at the mouth like that I have discovered that I pause, long enough pauses for people to think I have stopped, but, they seem microscopic in length to me. These pauses are kind of like moments to allow the internal screen to refresh and refill with the new chunk of words to read out.
On thing I have discovered that is very important for me, and I suspect many other autistics, is, that it really needs to be a question and then answer pattern. Any deviance from this pattern and it all goes wrong. It becomes stressful, confusing and agitating and can often result in outbursts of anger and frustration at not being able to communicate.
It’s really important to allow time for the question to be responded to, not to rush, or to move on thinking that it has been ignored. Likely it has not been ignored but it is being processed.
So please ask the question and wait for the answer, if the pause is longer than you would expect, then try to be patient and keep waiting. Once you lose the pattern and have multiple questions or comments awaiting a response it is likely to be extremely difficult for many autistics to answer. It’s as though we are unable to ascertain what it is we are meant to be responding to. Is it the first the second or the last question. Which do I answer first. And so on and so on.
When the stress and frustration become too much it can result in losing words temporarily. I know for me at times like this it is very easy to mistake it for me refusing to speak, when in reality it is me not being able to speak. The words are there, but they can’t be got out. Sometimes the screen is readable but the words get lost on the way to the mouth. Sometimes it is as though the screen is jumbled up and unreadable.
Regardless of the reason it is a very real phenomenon and is not an act. It is a thing that needs patience and understanding. Acceptance that this is something in an autistics life that needs some accommodation. It’s not personal or vindictive or anything like that it just is.
My personal experience in this is that it is incredibly unpleasant and extremely frustrating. It is not a situation I like being in, it is one that I loathe and would much prefer did not happen.
Wait time is a really important thing. Wait for the response. Wait as long as you need to. The preparedness to do this may just result in fewer occasions of the autistics in your life losing their words and going non-verbal for a time.
And of course remember that the spoken word from the mouth parts is by no means the only valid, or the most valued form of communication and interaction.