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Non-speaking Self Advocate on Communication
A couple of weeks ago someone read my article “Being Happy” and wrote a comment on Facebook. This person seemed to believe that I must want to speak, that I would be much happier if I could speak. I did not read the comment, I only heard about it. I cannot verify the exact words because the comment is not available anymore.
But I can say this: I don’t know if speaking would make me happier; and no, I do not want to speak.
Happiness, at least my happiness today, has to do with things that I have accomplished in my life, especially in this past year. That’s when I became more active in advocacy, when my articles began being published on line, when I became more involved with my autistic community.
The articles I wrote were mostly about how I feel being a non-speaking autistic, how I feel being very disabled and the damaging labels that I am assigned with because of that. The first article brought me a number of friends, and their support encouraged me to keep writing about autism and about my life as an autistic. I am happy today and the fact that I can be so accepted and viewed as equal, despite my many needs, is one big reason why I am so happy.
Maybe I would be very happy and an even more active advocate if I were a speaking autistic. But no one can say that I would experience more happiness. There is no way of knowing that.
One of the most important events in my life happened when I was able to communicate, and communication goes beyond the ability to speak. Another breakthrough happened when I finally found my voice and started typing what I really thought, how I really felt.
The reason why I do not want to speak is because I can’t. Do I wish I could speak? Yes, because some things in my life would probably be easier. If I could speak, maybe people would be more conscious and respectful in my presence, talking to me, instead of about me while I am standing right there; maybe they would listen to me more, since oral responses would be faster than typing; and maybe I could respond to disrespectful comments before the person turned around and left. But I know some of my speaking friends face some of the same disrespectful attitudes and cannot promptly respond or protest either. And I am not talking only about my autistic friends.
The truth is, I cannot speak and I will not mourn this fact. I can communicate and I will fight for my right to be heard.
I believe any approach to communication is a valid one. Speaking, typing, signing, or any other way a person chooses to communicate should be respected. Some people use a combination of two or more methods. For me, communication means making myself understood.
I don’t need to speak because I can communicate. I could never speak but I found a way to show my independent thinking. Why should I mourn my lack of speech when I am, slowly, achieving my goal of being heard and opining on any subject I feel like? It is still difficult, sometimes, to have a conversation through typing. But this says more about the disrespect or lack of understanding of others than about my lack of speech.
I think all methods of communication should be explored, but the lack of speech should not mean that effective communication is not possible, it should not mean that a non-speaking person will experience unhappiness.
I am non-speaking, I am happy and I communicate. I do not want to speak, I want to be respected. The frustration I sometimes feel is not because I cannot speak, it is because people don’t value how I communicate. And, about this, there is nothing that I can do.
About the author, Amy Sequenzia.