Thursday, February 22, 2007

Babble and nonsense and typing and speech.

by ballastexistenz @ 2:59. Filed under Uncategorized

There are things that I don’t really want — would never truly wish for — but various nuisances make me wish they could change. This kind of thinking is incredibly narrow in scope, and does not take into account the real causes of the problem. It’s a kind of thinking I see all the time in other people, but so often presented without questioning it, without pointing out the errors in this kind of thinking, without pointing out the damage it does to present it as if it’s just fact.

I sometimes wish I could talk (note: talk here means in any functional sense to use speech for communication on a regular basis — it does not mean, make word-noises with my mouth). Not because I think there’s anything superior about talking. Not even because of most of the everyday nuisances of communication equipment usage. No, it’s a different nuisance.

People react to my writing differently than they react to the writing of speaking people. They act like what I have to say is more profound because I type to communicate — even though, if I could speak, I would be saying the exact same things. They also question whether I am really the one writing things more often, which is not something I see a lot directed at speaking people (even when they are using a form of echolalia less communicative than what I am doing in writing, and may in fact be repeating someone else’s words and concepts).

They also seem to assume an entire history that isn’t mine (usually of someone who never talked and then started using FC and then started typing independently), and then if I correct them they want the entire complex speech history explained in detail. Even if I’m way too tired to do it justice. (And if I’m too tired to do it justice, then I have to gloss over and oversimplify things in ways that they blame me for later when they find out that it was a glossed-over oversimplification.) And even if my life story isn’t really anyone’s business.

They also seem to assume that I am vastly, vastly different from people who speak better than I do (or have enough tricks set up to look like they speak well even if they’re just muttering a word now and then to people). Zilari and I have a lot in common even in terms of speech and communication history, but I bet people would put us in two totally distinct categories because we branched off in slightly different directions at one point with regard to the prioritizing of speech vs. writing in our brains.

Here is a big part of why I don’t understand or believe the whole thing about speech meaning you’re better at doing things:

If I were to speak, here is what my life would be like:

I would every few hours hit a level of shutdown that I now normally only experience during stressful trips to conferences and other unfamiliar and busy locations. I would freeze in place far more often than I do now. My mind would be filled with a constant painful buzzing haze that I could not get to go away no matter what I did. This would affect my ability to understand and react to my environment in an efficient (for me) way. I would be totally incapable of learning to do many of the things I have learned recently, and even if I learned them, I would be unable to perform them. I would not be baking orange bow knot rolls for fun, I would not be baking anything at all, I would in fact be routinely struggling with the physical act of getting food into my mouth. I would throw loud screaming fits on a regular basis (something I’ve managed to stop for the most part), I would still head-bang to the degree I used to (once per second for hours, rather than the occasional thing it is today), I would possibly even do violent things (something that is all but gone). I would walk into walls, walk into the street, and all those sorts of things, far more often. I would fail to notice many key aspects of what was around me.

And all the same people who come to all these weird conclusions about me because I don’t speak, would then decide that I was something they called “high-functioning” because even if all other abilities went down the tubes at least I’d be speaking.

And that is the position that all kinds of speaking auties are in right now.

By contrast, if my brain were to cut out typing (and all pre-typing activities) as well as speech (something it’s shown itself quite capable of doing in the short-term), many other skills would increase greatly. Typing may not be the extreme of a memory-hog as speech is, and may be far more comfortable and useful, but it’s still pretty processing-intensive. If I were to cut out language and the idea-blocks that go with it, there are all kinds of things I could do (and do do, when that happens temporarily).

And yet you’d probably call me lower-functioning because I wouldn’t even type at that point.

I don’t understand this. This is foreign to my brain. If I am not having to process words and the majority of abstract concepts, there are all kinds of things I can do. I can read the social mood of an entire room and the pattern of each person’s part in shaping it. I can sense dangerous situations and figure out what needs to be done to avoid them. I can feel my way through all kinds of survival-related tasks. I can draw on a vast reservoir of instinct and pattern-matching to navigate situations that words and abstract concept crap won’t let me do. (And I have done all these things, in situations where other people saw me as not typing and not responding to them and started doing things like waving their hands in my face.)

So I see a bizarre pattern here: The more standard forms of language and speech we use, the less many of us can do, but the “higher-functioning” everyone will claim we are (and will attribute all kinds of skills to us that don’t exist). The idea that speech and language are both processing-intensive tasks that detract from our ability to do other things doesn’t cross people’s minds. The fact that for some people the more speech they use the more assistance they will need for other things, doesn’t cross people’s minds either.

I type because communication in language is important for various purposes (both personal and more general) in my life, and it is the absolute most efficient way I have to communicate, and other methods are not feasible. It does not make me a different species of autistic person from people who speak, or from people who don’t speak or type. It does not determine what sort of autistic person I am as compared to others (other things determine that). It does have a negative effect on some skills, but that’s something I’m grudgingly willing to deal with given the consequences of not typing (although sometimes I wish there was some other setup available where language was not necessary at all). It certainly does not make me either more or less worth listening to than anyone else, and it does not make my ability to do day to day living skills automatically worse than people who speak (in fact for some of them speech might render them less capable of some things than I am, the same way it would do for me if I could still do it). It does not make me amazing (from a non-disabled “inspiration” perspective).

It seems though that whether you type or speak, if you’re autistic, people will stereotype you into one form of oblivion or another. Unfortunately that stereotyping can be a matter of life and death at times, so it’s not all that trivial.


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