Thursday, February 22, 2007

Talking with an autistic person... who can't speak

How can an autistic person be described as "brilliant" and having "a great sense of humour" if they can't even put together sounds that resemble words, let alone use language?!

"I find it very interesting that failure to learn your language is seen as a defecit, while failure to learn my language is seen as natural," says Amanda Baggs, a 26-year old woman with autism, with the aid of a computer keyboard and a voice modulator. "The thinking of people like me is only taken seriously if we learn your language."

Amanda has a language and way of seeing the world that is entirely her own. Watching the videos and reading Amanda's story on CNN's website has entirely fascinated me, blown me away, and forever changed the way I view people with autism. Click on the video link, "Watch Amanda communicate in her own way."

I value my abilities to communicate and think rationally so highly that I figure being in a situation like this would torment me. Similarly, I have an insecurity as well as a tendency to avoid people with autism based upon my ignorance and limited interactions with autistic persons. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way, but I'll admit that I do...albeit ashamedly.

I guess the biggest surprise for me was, "Wow, just because she can't speak our language, doesn't mean she can't understand it." The interviewer was asking her questions in perfectly normal English and she was processing and answering them as quickly as any 'normal' person would. Again, I haven't really ever been 'taught' or learned how to interact with autistic people, so this was a new thing for me; but I now know not to 'talk down to' a person with autism, or to speak to them as if they think 'slower' than I do.

Watching these videos and reading the article have helped me realize that my insecurity is entirely unfounded. Just because someone isn't capable of speaking to me, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with them or they're anything less than me.


Maddy said...

I'm so glad that you found this a positive experience, especially in light of your chosen vocation.
The CDC recently reported that there are 1 in 150 cases of autism [and that varies considerably from State to State e.g. 1 in 100 in New Jersey] I can say from my own experience when I had to take my own son to the ER that the paediatricians approach to my autistic son was commendable.
BEst wishes

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Autistic people are truly fascinating and process the world in an astonishingly different way. For a stunning case of this, look at this five-part video series on an autistic mathematical genius. I find the way he describes sensing numbers particularly astonishing.

Jasmine said...

We were learning about Autistic Children in my Special Education Psychology course and she showed us some drawing done by Stephan Wiltshire who is an autistic person. They're amazing. You can check out his website at

It's really interesting.