Monday, June 1, 2015

On Verbal Speech

By Kit Mead

I worry about being taken seriously if I write about certain things non-anonymously. Today I decided to write about them. Verbal speech tends to be a pre-requisite of society, and what would people say outside the disabled community if they read this and know that speech isn't all that great for me?

Anyone who has seen me talk out loud knows speech is not, perhaps, my first language. My first language was writing cat stories about a fictionalized version of my first kitten, Tabby, lost in a world of written words. I was in third grade and this is what I liked to do: Write and write and write.

My speech works best when I can read off my laptop, or if I've typed it out in advance. It's why my conversations with friends about activism tend to be with my laptop open. I'm telling them about the posts I already wrote and quoting, and also paraphrasing with words that make me sound slightly angry. I don't have the access to prettier out-loud language.

Okay, sometimes I actually am angry, but usually not as angry as I sound out loud.

Someone once told me I was more expressive than this other autistic person they knew. I wish they knew that my real words come down on paper or Word documents. They spill out faster and with more clarity there than I could hope to achieve out loud unless I have prepared over and over again in advance.

And I don't want to prepare over and over in advance unless I'm actually giving a presentation. Because I need people to accept me with my slightly stop-and-go conversations with words hacked into pieces and sometimes losing their meaning. I need people to know that I don't always mean what I say because I can't always have words out loud.


  1. Thanks for sharing. My son is non-verbal and people often ask "is he talking yet, how does he communicate?".
    I find it very helpful to know that plenty of adults are happier communicating through written words. My son's school are issuing the pupils with communication iPads instead of the PECS folders, these have been a great success so far. I hope that as he grows up these will be more commonplace and accepted as a valid means of communication.

    1. I don't know what it is like to speak, I'm actually nonverbal, but typing on my ipad works very well in my life. In part I think because my friends and I treat it as a perfectly natural way of communicating and because my friends treat what accommodations I need to participate in conversations as "common courtesy" rather than special accommodations. They don't pretend I am normal, but they don't treat me as strange either. Unfortunately my friends are amazing and incredibly uncommon in my experience. Friends willing to be pro-active about making others stop and give me time to respond makes a big difference in whether I can participate in conversations or not. It is unreasonable to expect me to be able to join in conversations without assistance no matter how awesome the ipad is. People around me who can speak must help in order for it to work.

      The location makes a difference too, a very big difference. Where I lived before, no one had patience for typing and very few people cared enough to "listen" to me at all. Where I live now is amazing and most people are very accepting and have little trouble communicating with me, but in my experience this is very uncommon.

      Very few people have the patience to handle PECS of any type, unsurprisingly. Only a couple of my closest friends try to communicate with me when I'm not able to type and I'd never expect a new "conversational partner" to try to figure out how to understand PECS. It is unrealistic, a speaking person really needs training to communicate with someone nonverbal using PECS. Typing is much more likely to function out in the "real world".

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