W is for Words…

w is for wordsEver heard someone say words can heal and words can harm, or perhaps words have power. There is a nugget of truth in these statements I think.

When it comes to the concept of words, it’s a bit of a key issue in the autism world. It’s a key issue in a way I don’t really think it should be.

What are words anyway?

On the one hand, they are just groups of letters gathered together to communicate a message.

On the other hand, they are sounds grouped together to communicate a message.

But if that’s all we think they are, we are missing so much.

Words are not just sounds grouped together and they are not just marks on the page or screen.

They are communication. They are a conveyance of meaning, need, feeling, love, care.

But they are also so much more than just those things. As the saying goes a picture is like a thousand words.

W is for Words.

Words do not just spill from our mouth parts or even fly from our fingertips on a keyboard or our pen on paper. Words come in pictures, in other forms of communication.

Because in the end that’s what it’s all about these words. It’s about communication, connection with another.

But this communication is not just spoken or written words.

We convey it with touch.

We convey it with looks.

We convey it with gestures.

We convey it with behaviour.

Words are a real issue in the autism communities. And I think the focus is in the wrong direction. The focus is squarely for the most parts of spoken words.

But as stated spoken words are only a part of the picture here and the focus on them does a disservice and at times goes to isolate and disempower autistic people.

W is for Words.

In autism circles, there is a huge focus on verbal v non-verbal autistics. And in reality, that is not what is meant at all. What a pen for wordsis really meant is speaking v non-speaking. Verbal is really a facility with a language, an ability to understand and use that language. The method of it is largely irrelevant.

Speaking, however, is different. Speaking is much more focused on the use of the mouth and vocal chords. Unfortunately, it is given ascribed value over other forms of communication.

There are many non-speaking autistics that communicate with far more eloquence through their chosen platforms than many that can employ thousands of spoken words at will.

Many autistics communicate eloquently through other methods like art.

A premium value is placed on the use of spoken language and it devalues other forms of communication.

W is for Words…

To be clear, it is important to provide the environment that will enable people to use the spoken word if possible. It is not, though, the most important thing you can provide for a person, autistic or otherwise.

I have heard many times people claim an autistic person has no communication when this is untrue. Generally, what they mean is, they can’t speak. Often there has been an intense focus on getting the autistic person to speak with their mouth parts. This is at an unfortunate cost of withholding and devaluing other methods of communication for the person.

In effect, a focus on the spoken language has actually silenced all communication for that autistic person. In vain that person will, in all likelihood, be employing as many alternative modes of communication to convey their needs as they can access.

We must listen to the words regardless of the form they take.

W is for Words…

Sometimes the elevation of the spoken word has such negative impact for a person that the only thing they have left is communication by behaviour. What those caring for the person will often describe as bad behaviour. Even to the point of invoking meltdown.

The refrain of lament in these situations is often a cry for help with the terrible bad behaviour, a cry of how terrible it is to deal with the horrible autism.

The reality is that often the situation is as it is because alternative communication is lacking and shunned.

The bad behaviour is employed to communicate difficulty, to communicate needs, to communicate overload. It’s so easy at times to focus on the issue of what the behaviour is rather than to look beyond the behaviour and try to find out what has led to it.

What is that person saying with that behaviour, rather than, you naughty person, that is not appropriate and not acceptable?

W is for words…

In terms of my own experience with the spoken language, I don’t really recall aquiring them to be an issue, however, I do at times have difficulty using the spoken word, this is often in a time of overwhelm.

My youngest daughter was quite late to talk and still as a ten-year-old some speech difficulties. In times of overwhelm, she employs behaviour to communicate this.

It’s easy as parents to respond to the behaviour and not the communication, but that there is the challenge.

Words are about communication and communication is about more than words.