Autistic Abby, a queer autistic 14-year-old, brings us detailed and informative post on access to speech, in which she describes ten different forms of having partial access to speech. Here’s a taste:
I have access to prompted speech, but not unprompted speech.
For example, if you ask me what book I am reading, I might be able to tell you it’s Bridge to Terabithia, and it’s good, but if I see you sitting across the room and want to tell you what I’m reading about I will not be able to initiate the conversation. …
I have access to speech, but not the words I want to say.
“Make no because the thing is curtaining” I say, unable to do grammar entirely, hoping someone will turn off the light. When I looked for pictures of light in my brain, I found a picture of light filtering through curtains, and “make no” means “make not exist”. Communicative, but damn hard to understand.
A side note: it is cruel to make someone in this state use proper grammar or polite phrasing before you acknowledge what they have said.
I wish that last sentence was something that no one ever needed to say or write …
As far as I am aware, I don’t know anyone with limited speech capacity due to autism or spectrum-related conditions. Nonetheless, this article makes me think of a good friend who is a stroke survivor, an acquaintance with selective mutism, and a friend who was diagnosed in November with a brain tumor, all of whom struggle with different kinds of access to speech. As a very articulate person to whom words come easily, I found that Abby’s article helped me to understand a little of what limited access to speech is like from the inside.
Perhaps everyone who has read Abby’s piece has also seen Hope Whitmore’s “Are You Angry at Me? Dating as an Autistic Woman,” recently published at The Toast.
Through my early twenties I found that many guys would hone in on my “cute eccentricity,” my “beautiful weirdness,” and, yes, my “adorable awkwardness.” Autism didn’t come into it for them — I was not what people imagined when they heard the word. I didn’t rock in anxiety, I didn’t speak in a monotone, I laughed and danced and engaged with people, showing interest in their work and passions. Here the common misconceptions about autism were both my ally and my enemy: they allowed me to hide, and to embrace a status as “off-key yet normal,” but they also damaged me by giving fuel to the lie that I was just a bit odd, making it all the more difficult when it blew up in my face with someone yelling: “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Whitmore goes on to discuss the impact of sexism on recognition of autism: “Young men are believed when they say they are autistic; young women are not, and are instead encouraged to embrace the role of a lovely eccentric, decorative and quirky rather than ‘disordered.'”
This is a crucial point; geekiness and various sorts of social awkwardness are more acceptable (and more recognizable) in men than in women, and thus autism spectrum patterns in women can become not only easily dismissed but invisible. And if you are dating someone who does not believe your own description of your situation, nothing good can come of it.
Especially since autism is a condition that can impair communication, Abby and Whitmore are doing the rest of us–“neurotypical,” “on the spectrum,” or autistic, a great service.