Book Review: Communication Alternatives In Autism

“I want people to know that not speaking is not the same as not thinking; that poor fine motor is not the same as not thinking; that impulsive actions are different than not understanding right from wrong; that poor facial affect is not the same as not having feelings; that boring people to death is denying them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” Ido Kedar, [p. 34] 

This quote really struck me. Autistics are often deprived of consistent forms of communication, and often treated with powerfully sedating medications because of “behaviour,” which can actually be frustration at not being able to communicate, and/or apraxic motor skills deficits. Apraxia can turn meaningful intentions into disorganised and chaotic involuntary movements. It does not reflect on the person’s capability or worth. In Ido’s essay, he clearly shows frustration at not having his innate abilities respected; it would be horrific if he were treated as if he lacked those abilities, for his entire life. Perhaps the diagnostic evaluations for communication disabilities should be redesigned?

[…]

Apraxia is something I also have. It causes me to be quite wild and crazy in my movements and actions, much like author Larry Bissonnette, who after finding a communication avenue writes, “It was Larry the artist now rather than Larry the wild and crazy autistic guy” [p. 57].  Sadly, I have been denied the help I need to integrate my sensory and motor systems. Similarly, Emma Zurcher Long describes herself as laughing out loud when someone is sad, which leads to people thinking she has no empathy. This is not the case. She feels empathy very strongly, and she emotively describes this. But we autistics may appear to have inappropriate emotions in response to emotive situations, because apraxia can cause us to not act in a way we intend to. But we relate to emotions. We feel them.

Book Review: Communication Alternatives In Autism

Time to rethink autism and communication

You don’t have to look far to find derogatory descriptions of the communication of autistic people. Terms such as ‘disorder’, ‘impairment’, ‘deficit’ and ‘dysfunction’ abound in the research literature which, when you drill down into it, offers multitudes of negative conceptualisations of the ways that autistic people do, or don’t express themselves. In simple terms, autistic people are considered impaired whether they are speaking, or not speaking, for the words they choose, or don’t choose, for talking too quickly, or too slowly, for doing so at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or in the wrong place. Indeed, as I wrote in 2018, when I explored the intersection of autistic communication with noise and silence in schools, autistic people are simply considered to be making ‘the wrong kind of noise’.

Time to rethink autism and communication

You Don’t Look Sick: ‘I thought I was clumsy, forgetful, lazy and stupid until I was diagnosed with dyspraxia’

This is the kind of thing that a lot of dyspraxic people won’t talk about, but I think it’s important that people know that just because you see a person who is managing well, it doesn’t mean they’re not burning themselves out just to maintain a façade of normality.’

It takes Elly around one and a half to two hours to leave the house in the morning as it takes her much longer to organise tasks.

‘Once I’ve mentally psyched myself up for the day and dealt with making breakfast, I have to build in at least an extra half an hour for finding things I’ve lost like my bank card or shoes,’ she says.

You Don’t Look Sick: ‘I thought I was clumsy, forgetful, lazy and stupid until I was diagnosed with dyspraxia’

Studying with dyspraxia: ‘I never truly understood an academic text’

Years later I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, a developmental coordination disorder. Suddenly, my life made sense. Growing up, it was like I was on a different page, reading sentences from angles nobody else understood. Dyspraxia is a specific learning difficulty which affects up to 10% of the population. We tend to fob off dyspraxia as dyslexia’s lesser-known “clumsy” cousin, with stereotypes of knocking over cups and getting bruises from missed balls. However, dyspraxia is about mental processing as much as physical coordination, and affects everything from the way I read to how I organise my thoughts.

“It took me four years to learn how to write an essay,” says Kaiya Stone, who was diagnosed with dyspraxia, dyslexia and ADHD in her second year at Oxford University. “I see words as pictures. I learned to read by memorising what each one looks like. I realised there are about five extra stages between me seeing what’s on the page and understanding it. I’d read two sentences of an academic text and have done six times as much work as someone else.”

“I definitely have an anxiety about job applications,” Stone says. “If it takes you three or four times longer than everyone else, you apply for less jobs. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Employers shouldn’t just be trying to look disability-friendly by trying to make themselves accessible. They need to realise that people with specific learning difficulties are often the most talented people for the jobs – they just present differently.”

Studying with dyspraxia: ‘I never truly understood an academic text’