Every day I meet new communicators. Not babies, but kids in elementary school, teens and young adults. Their lives had been limited in one way communication for way too many years. They listened but they had no way to answer. In any case, they heard people. Many of them heard their parents moan and groan and say comments like, “I don’t know how much intelligence is there. I don’t think he understands much.” They listened to their teachers say things like, “He isn’t aware of right from wrong. He isn’t aware of his surroundings. He is oppositional today.” They listened to ABA specialists tell them, “No, try again,” “No, try again,” “No, try again,” and “High five. Good job.” They heard a world that thought they were dumb. But the world in this case was wrong.
It isn’t a lack of intelligence to be able to think but to not be able to get your body to show it. It is being trapped. If I put your hands into baseball mitts and your tongue was trapped in gooey sludge and couldn’t move right and I bombarded you with questions, I think you would agree you would have a hard time showing that you had an intact mind, especially if those baseball mitt hands moved differently to your thoughts and wishes sometimes, and everyone assumed that people with sludge tongues and baseball mitt hands were intellectually low.
I know the way to escape this isolation is not to tell sludge tongues and baseball mitt hands to move in ways they can’t. It is to teach those hands to point to letters, to type with one finger and to communicate. There is now a steady tide of people, once thought to be dumb, once thought to need baby lessons and baby talk who are mastering communication on letter board and typing. And voila! Not dumb!
More than anything they find relief being recognized as intelligent. And some find even more; a mission, friendship, a life of meaning. But none will go back into the closet of silence.
I wonder if you are a parent, teacher or professional and you have seen a “dumb” kid prove himself smart, how do you react with other kids? How long should they wait for you?
Posted in "low-functioning" autism, ABA, apraxia, autism education, autism theories, autism treatments, Communication, letterboard, mind/body communication, motor planning, non-verbal autism, typing
I think it is easy to misinterpret the behavior of non-verbal autistic people who can’t communicate. It happened to me often in my youth when I had limited output. Lots of interpretations of my actions were pure guessing by professionals, but I could do nothing to challenge them or correct their ideas. Recently, I have been talking to some professionals in order to fix this. They describe the puzzling actions of a non-verbal autistic kid, tell me their interpretations, and I get to give my two cents. This is important because my two cents is really different from their interpretations. Being autistic myself, I see the behavior in a totally different way than they do based on observation and theories.
Sometimes I read about other people and their challenges. It often gives me hope. This is a quote from Gabrielle Giffords new book about her brain trauma and rehabilitation.
“In the first weeks after Gabby was injured, she couldn’t say anything at all, which left her terribly scared. She felt trapped inside herself. By mid-February, Gabby had begun formulating words, but they were often delivered haltingly or incorrectly. Her speech therapist handed her a photo of a chair and asked her what she was looking at.
“Spoon,” Gabby said. “Spoon.”
When shown a lamp, Gabby said, “cheeseburger.”
She also got stuck on random words. No matter what she meant to say, the same word, “chicken,” often came out in a burst: “Chicken, chicken, chicken.”
For Gabby it was almost unbearably frustrating.”
Oh, does this ever sound familiar. It is interesting how Gabrielle Giffords got the benefit of the doubt. Pretty soon she got better too, so she is extremely fortunate. In autism we kind of live there all our lives. Each neurological challenge is different, but autism does not get the benefit of the doubt. People assume we get the word wrong because we don’t know the word. It isn’t true in my case. Is it possible in others? What do you think? Do autistic people deserve the benefit of the doubt too?