Thursday, September 1, 2016

"Don't Judge Me On How I Talk": The Curse of Verbal Clumsiness

I had something happen to me the other day at work that I just knew had to be made into a blog post. I was in the washroom of all places, finishing up my business when I started making small talk with another gentleman who was washing his hands. After the usual "you're working late" and "another day, another dollar," cliches had been exchanged, I found myself suddenly feeling awkward and struggling to string together a logical sentence. It was as though my brain knew it wanted to be smooth and casual, but my words wouldn't co-operate. I rambled slightly, grinned awkwardly, washed my own hands and promptly escaped from the scene and back to my desk. 

From talking to some fellow Aspies and reading testimonials online, I know I'm not the only spectrum-dweller who experiences this. It's as though my thought processes move too fast for my speech to adequately explain them. When I try, I fumble, struggle or have to calm myself down and try again. My friend Nancy has taken to calling her ability to understand me in these situations "speaking Adam fluently," but as giggle-worthy as that is, it highlights a problem many of us Aspies and Autistics face. The fact is, verbal communication is often too sluggish and limited for the thoughts that go through our brains. 

I've often had the experience that I write far better than I speak. My old manager at Blockbuster Video (remember that place?) used to say that I was slightly awkward, and I certainly felt that way when speaking face to face with someone. When given either a pen and paper or a computer with a word processor, however, I've often amazed others with the eloquence of my communicative ability. I've built worlds, created entire species, argued for political change and expressed the deepest, darkest parts of myself through the written word in ways that I could only dream of doing with my mouth and verbal communication. In short, writing sets my mind free from the constraints of my physical body and its limited communication abilities. After all, words, gestures and the unconscious interpretation of pheromones and facial features (in non-autistics at least) are so limited compared to the soaring imagination of a mind freed from these things and allowed to explore. 

For this reason, I think it's silly that many psychological professionals judge the intelligence of Neurodiverse individuals on their ability to speak and their speaking patterns. There are, after all, countless tales of savants who can't speak a word but who are capable of great works of music, culture, art, and even philosophical insight. Speech is not the only means of communication available to humans, and on the flip side, to quote Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, "the ability to speak does not make one intelligent." We need to move beyond thinking of verbal speech as the only way people can talk to each other and express themselves when it simply isn't. Only a more open-minded approach to human communication will allow all those of us who are neurodiverse to participate fully in our society and truly share our gifts with the world. 

As always, yours in diversity. 

Adam Michael. 

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