Friday, May 01, 2009
Blogging Against Disabilism
How important is language? How important is it to be able to speak?
I had a student in my college courses with a processing issue. They needed supports for auditory processing. They also proved to need supports for language. This was a smart person who could communicate; but I soon realized that although the speech was clear, I was doing a lot of the connecting and fill-in-the-blanks and word-order-untangling for them when they spoke in class. Because my own son uses odd word order, I did it without even thinking. I know exactly what the student was saying, and it was really wonderful; and in my lecture style, I automatically translated for the other students, because I often re-word what students say to give them appropriate and more exact vocabulary. No one thought the student was stupid, or not an asset to the classroom in any way. However, when I got that first paper, I was in for a shock. Also like my son, this student wrote exactly as they spoke- with odd word order, slightly misused words, and jumbled thoughts. I started paying attention to how the student spoke; and beyond the crystal-clear annunciation, it was exactly what I was seeing on paper. We worked hard on that writing, but there is really only so much I can do as a professor and three writing assignments.
My sons do not speak clearly. Neither of them. Joey has a sort of stuffiness to his speech, like he is trying to speak with a mouthful of bubbles. It was a lot worse when he was just getting started- it probably has to do with controlling his mouth and facial muscle tone. Then, though I compared my student to Joey, Joey's word jumble is a lot worse. I expect all this to improve as we work hard on it, with speech therapies and occupational therapies, his muscle tone and tense use and word jumble will improve. But will it ever be enough? Will he be able to get through a college class if he wants to?
And what about Andy? All of his substitutions and rapid pace has been determined by the school to be "normal"... but none of his classmates sound like this. Once we figure out what he says, it is clear that language is not the issue; but will people assume he is not intelligent because they can't understand what he is saying?
The answer, as we know from adults we know with speech issues, is yes. Speech is very much taken as a cue of intelligence. It is one of the social cues our society considered important. We forget how culturally determined those social cues are; and it is important to remember when we are trying to teach our autistic kids how to see and read social cues!
How we consider others is culturally determined. How we view others is culturally determined. How we communicate with and about each other is culturally determined. How we treat others is culturally determined.
And we can- and should- change culture. A culture where people are valued for who they are and what they can do, instead of devalued for what they can't, is a culture that can build and move forward in solving problems and functioning to everyones benefit. A culture of respect for other people means less crime, less violence, less bigotry; and so more exploration of life, more enjoyment of each other, and more understanding of the world- even universe- around us.
Move beyond the social cues, to consider the possibilities of the people around you. Some cues are useful. Some, in reality, are not. Just because a person cannot speak doesn't mean they cannot think. Or feel. Or be.