Monday, December 02, 2013

A Different Path

When discussing function and progress with autism, one way people divide the autism community is by "verbal" and "non-verbal." This is one way to avoid the whole "high functioning" and "low functioning" debacle, but it has become like the whole "CE/BCE" thing- it just changes out one set of terms for another, without really saying anything new or insightful. In fact, it skews the whole problem of communication disability and disorder, so that the terms aren't useful for much of anything.

After all, Joey talks. Therefore, he is "verbal."

Then there is this morning. He was talking, therefore "verbal." But he was mostly scripting, or chatting about his own agenda without being able to respond to me. When I asked a question, even a simple one, the best he could do was stare at me. We even had Blankface, which is never a good sign. He ws having trouble processing the question and the response. He just could not do the whole question thing.

I know he was processing the questions, albeit a bit slower than you might expect from someone without communication difficulties. When I asked if he was cold and needed a coat, he went inside, and then let me help him into a heavier coat. When I told him about picking his own learning activity for the afternoon, he started chatting about Cool Math Games. But directly answer a question? It wasn't happening this morning.

Joey is not "verbal." He is not "non-verbal." He is differently verbal. That can be really hard for people to grasp. He uses language in his own unique ways. Some days he can use language in ways we find familiar. Some days he can't. Some days he uses it the way he wants, some days the ways we want. Speaking Joey can shift and change from hour to hour. Its a complicated communication system.

We need to understand that being different is not bad. We expect him to learn to understand us; we should also take the time to understand him. We need to consider what people around us need, how they see the world, how different perspective changes the view. We teach about cultural diversity in our classrooms, we expect our college students to take humanities classes. But culture isn't the only defining factor in experience. Seeing the world differently gives us wider vistas, more tools for understanding the world and solving issues that arise within it.

Understanding Joey and his different verbality, his different functionality, his different point of view is part of that, and gives the world crucial new vistas. We should take the time to explore different paths. They have so much to teach us, and give us, and create new wonder for us.

And wonder is good.