Image from PrAACtical AAC

Currently I’m taking a Linguistics class, and we read Mother Tongue by Amy Tan. Mother Tongue is Tan’s reflection on how her mother’s “broken English” has negatively affected the perception of those who hear her.

Her mother would literally have to put Tan on the phone to talk with people in her “perfect” English just to make people take the thoughts seriously. One rather horrendous example was when a hospital lost a CAT scan that her mother had gotten because of a benign brain tumor. When her mother spoke first the doctor told her that she had come for nothing, but when her mother finally convinced the doctor to call Tan, the doctor actually listened and said that he would look.

Rationally and logically, there’s no reason to take a person less seriously because they don’t communicate the same way as you do.

When I read this before, I found it obvious that this prejudice is racist, but when I read it this time I realized it was actually ableist as well.

While I’m very verbal, many autistics are nonverbal.

The right thing for a parent to do, I would argue, is try to find other ways to communicate with your child. As I said in We Are Not (parentheticals removed):

We do communicate-we just may not know how or even be able to communicate in or understand your usual way. It is a language barrier that, if you are willing to love and accept your child for who and what they are and put the work into learning our way of expression and help guide us to understand the peculiarities of your language, this barrier can be broken.

However, this focus on spoken language as superior and important leads some terrible parents to think that their child is somehow lesser because they can’t talk (anti-vaxxers would say that their child is vaccine-injured…We Are Not talks about that), and thus they don’t listen to their communication through behavior, or try to find other methods for their children to communicate (sign language or assistive tech of some sort, both of which fall under the category of “Augmentative and alternative communication” or AAC). I have nonverbal friends on Facebook which use AAC devices for communication, and that’s something that these parents wouldn’t even bother with because of their biases towards spoken language and their selfishness of not trying to put effort into understanding and trying to enable their children to communicate…which is screwed up. I do realize that this is difficult to do for parents, but frankly everyone deserves a chance. Even if that doesn’t work for your child, recognize that all behavior is communication. ISAAC defines communication as:

Communication is the essence of human interaction and learning.

The nature of communication is dependent on interaction between two or more individuals and understanding is constructed through that interaction.

Communication is a basic human right and essential to our quality of life as a social species. As human beings, we use communication to: relate to others, socially connect, greet, call attention, share feelings, express an opinion, agree, disagree, explain, share information, question, answer, tease, bargain, negotiate, argue, manipulate, compliment, comment, protest, complain, describe, encourage, instruct, provide feedback, show humor, discuss interests, be polite, make friends, express interest or disinterest, etc.

Our focus should be on the thoughts and emotions that are being communicated, not on the method that they are being transmitted, and we should value all methods of communication equally, not valuing one type as somehow special. To do so, I feel, is not only harmful to those whose feelings we invalidate, but also harmful to ourselves because we’re limiting how we connect to our fellow humans.

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