In the autism community, there is a magical world of make-believe.
In the magical world of make-believe, non-verbal autistic children who had received no education in the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic, or anything else either, suddenly know how to use complex language to communicate their complex thoughts and feelings as soon as someone shows up to move their fingers around a keyboard, the bester to rescue them from their trapped existence in their miserable prisons, their bodies that motor fine for many activities requiring fine motor skills, but typing on a keyboard not included.
All of a sudden, there is hope on the horizon. Not only is there hope on the horizon, near or far, but the fruit ripens before your verry merry berry eyes in an amazing time-lapse video accompanied by eloquent verbal articulations in real-time. There is no process of learning to type. There is no process of learning to use language. There is no process of learning to communicate using language by typing. There is no mistyping of nonsense letters followed by repetitive typing of single words followed by a small breakthrough, a short simple phrase expressing a short simple thought, typed many times in a row for her own pleasure and not with an audience in mind, the complex sentences with the complex words and the complex meanings quite a few yellow bricks down the road, but worth the hard work for you and her both when she gets there, a few months, a few years, a decade or two past today’s golden delicious sunset on the horizon, no wizards, spells, or magic involved.
For the non-verbal autistic child of a certain age, let’s say 8 or 9 or 10, learning to type, use language, and communicate are all verry merry berry possible things, as long as these things are taught to
them us. There is the child, and there is the teacher, and the teacher works with the child one-on-one to teach the child that words mean things and make sentences, which also mean things beyond the things that the words mean themselves, and here is how to string the words that I learned to read and write into a sentence that means something to me and the person to whom I typed, wrote, or spoke it to communicate my thoughts and feelings to them. That is how I learned to use language for communication, starting at the age of 8, progressing through the age of 9, and doing verry merry berry well by the age of 10. It was a process that occurred over months and years, not minutes or hours, and it was a lot of work, but it was play too, because I had lots of fun learning to use language, and using language for everything from communicating to generalizing to analyzing to creating was essential to my cognitive development into the thinker that I am today.
At the age of 8 or 9 or 10, what I could do was learn the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic, and purrrty much everything else too, as long as there was a teacher to get me started and myself to do the work and play, lots of lots of fun.
I was a verry merry berry smart child, and I was verry merry berry good at learning, but I needed a lot of help in the areas that my brain was not naturally good at. Every area that was verbal, my brain was not naturally good at. Every area that my brain was not naturally good at, I was taught, and I learned, and I worked on it, and I tried hard, and I had both successes and failures many many many times, so I got good enough to get by and then some on a good day. It was a process that took months and years, and this process is still going on today. I did not learn to speak for myself in a day, right away.
At the age of 8 or 9 or 10, what I could not suddenly do in front of a keyboard was all of the following:
Type a sentence to communicate a thought in words.
Think a thought in words in my mind.
Think of communicating a thought in words to others.
Know what verbal communication was.
String words into sentences in real-time.
Communicate my thoughts in words in real-time.
Think thoughts in words to communicate in real-time.
Think of thinking thoughts in words to communicate in real-time.
Before I learned to use language for communication, I also sucked at all of the following:
Reading beyond the single word level.
Understanding most of what I had read.
Thinking about what I had read in my mind.
Thinking of thinking about what I had read in my mind.
Outputting what I had read in my own words.
Outputting what I knew in my own words.
As a verry merry berry small child with hyperlexia, I learned verry merry berry early to read and write words. To me, reading words was like seeing sights and hearing sounds. To me, writing words was like drawing pictures. Without help, I did not develop good reading comprehension on my own. I did not develop good language usage on my own. No wizards. No spells. No magic. None of these for me. Without an understanding of language, I did not learn all kinds of things of cabbages and kings to be able to show the cornucopia of knowledge that I had accumulated during my non-verbal, socially aloof, uncommunicative years, as soon as someone showed up to move my finger around a keyboard. No, I did not have super duper awesome thoughts on this topic, and no, I did not have super duper awesome feelings on that topic. No, there were no complex thoughts and feelings in my mind, and no, I did not have a running commentary of my brilliant observations, analyses, and conclusions between my ears. Behind my eyes were no powerful poignant emotions or emotional expressions, and nowhere in my brain was there the flickering faintest about what could possibly be going on inside anyone else’s mind.
I was a typical autistic chid. Smart, ready to learn, capable of learning, really good at some things, really bad at some things, and in no way, shape, or form ready or capable of using facilitated communication to speak for myself.
After I learned to use language for communication and many other things, I still cannot do most of the following most of the time:
Communicate a smooth and coherent stream of verbal thoughts and feelings in real-time.
Answer smoothly and coherently open-ended questions in real-time.
Write a smooth and coherent narrative of my experiences for an audience in real-time.
Express my opinions smoothly and coherently with an audience in mind in real-time.
Be socially insightful in my verbal communications verry merry bery often.
Be socially adept in my verbal communications verry merry berry often.
Use persuasive emotional language in my verbal communications lots lots lots.
Use cogent abstract arguments in my verbal communications lots lots lots.
Sound like a typical person in all my communications as an autistic person at all times.
Sound like an autistic person communicating my real thoughts and feelings at no time.
These are all things that I cannot do consistently, and the moar moar moar people there are watching my every move, the less less less likely that I will be able to do them. I could not suddenly do them or any rudimentary version of them before I learned, I mean really really really learned for real real real, to use language for communication, and I cannot do them well now. I can do some of them some of the time on my blog, but not as well as most bloggers or most autistic bloggers on the Internetz. That is fine with me, because that is not my way anyway. My way is to communicate concrete thoughts in concrete language about concrete topics that I know and understand.
Here is one of my latest:
I feel ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh to find that facilitated communication is widely accepted within the autism community, especially amongst the autistic proponents of neurodiversity, whose magical world of make-believe is not, was not, and could never have been good for me.
In this post, my point is that this non-verbal autistic child could not have learned to communicate through facilitated communication. Instead, this non-verbal autistic child learned to communicate and use language for communication, because she was taught in a process that took months and years, not minutes or hours, that required work on the parts of the teacher and the student, that was really really really worth it with each and every brick that she, really really really her, built into the road.
Dear parents, please consider helping your children build this road, word by word, sentence by sentence, brick by brick, for genuine language and communication. It is not quick or easy, but it is possible, probable, worthwhile.
At the same time, please resist the wizardry, spells, and magic of things that are too good to be true, no matter how instantly gratifying and emotionally uplifting they are.
When I was a child, I could not have communicated through facilitated communication. I would not have had the skills to do it. It would have been beyond my abilities. I would not have learned to communicate using it. I would not have learned to communicate for real. I would not have learned to speak, write, or type for myself. None of the communications would have been mine. This communication would not be here today. I would not have been able to tell my stories on my blog. No doubt would tales have been told here still, but none of them mine, and not by me.