My Journey to Communication: A Call for Change in Schools for Nonspeakers

This blog post was written by my friend, Ben Crimm. We are advocates with Spellers and Allies at https://i-asc.org/spellers-allies/ You can visit his blog at https://aquestforwords.wordpress.com/

A Quest for Words

I am overjoyed that I have my voice. That I can tell you what I want for breakfast. That I can share my knowledge and opinions. That I can make plans and bring fun to others. That I can tell those close to me that I love them.

I was not always this lucky.

For 25 years I could not communicate any of these things. I have never been able to speak to communicate. I tried really hard but was never successful in doing so despite many years of speech therapy. I also tried a primitive PECS system a long time ago, like when I was about 7 years old. I loved flipping the laminated cards and was able to make a few sentences 4 or 5 words long. My Dad worked with me on our first computer when I was about 8 years old. Learning to keyboard was really…

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Teaching non-speaking students has got to change!

Please hear my plea. Question everything you know about teaching autistics. Accountability is near and the trying times must vanish from all schools. I was a person who didn’t matter, because I couldn’t speak. Mastering movement and speech is difficult, but never having a chance to learn is heart wrenching!

Much can be said about how I spent my time back at my old school. Activities were motivated by keeping all the autistics occupied. People said loosely that I made meek attempts at reading, but my aides never gave me a chance. Many students I saw were treated like nuisances because they couldn’t slow down their mind like some of the kids. People looked at me like I didn’t matter, yet I don’t pale in comparison to them. Teachers need autistics to bring talk to another level of thinking. Treating all their students with the same respect is taking “talking about inclusion” from the theory, to the practical.

When teachers look at us like losers, because the “rule makers” often do, it makes us give up on trying. Many times, lessons wore me out because they were too easy. More math calculations need learners to be engaged, and not bored, because we are intelligent and deserve better. My right as a human is to have an education and to be lauded with challenging and interesting learning opportunities. Look at us as thinking, sentient learners and not mute!

Panic stricken teachers often have no idea how to teach non-speaking students. Fear is high with teachers who used to only teach neurotypical kids. Try to face the fear of failure and teach anyways. Looks may be deceiving. Laughing can mean leering, especially when meaningful teachers, particularly in elementary school, think that the child is cute. They assume lots of things that aren’t true. Teaching a teenager, the autistic bible of task oriented, passive learning does little to stimulate the mind. You best teach him the same as you would anyone who wants to learn. Think of this sadly misunderstood fact: lack of speech does not equal lack of intelligence.

Lastly, I feel that there is a higher power at work and that he’s looking straight at you. Do you want to be passive or part of the solution?

Speaking is difficult and mugs are breakable!

BANG! went the lovely mug that belonged to my teacher. Panicked, she tried making me personally responsible. I was too embarrassed to take responsibility. I am autistic and I do not speak because I can’t. I behave badly when I am angry. I throw things and I upset the people who are making me angry. I always feel bad afterwards. Taming my impulses is a challenge because I feel too dysregulated.

The pieces flew like rockets, lasting moments in mid-air, as if they were going to explode on impact. My instinct was to run away, but my legs abandoned me. Looking back as I often do, I should have just made my teacher, shocked as she was, understand how it feels to be silent, without a voice. Wavering between palpable fear and always looking to please is exhausting!

Marred by my tremendous feelings of guilt, I acted the only way I knew how, by looking for a way out of the classroom. She chased after me, with her heels clacking somberly behind me. I wish I could have told her how sorry I was, and how her talking too much really made me feel foolish. “I promise that when I get caught, I will take the time to pause and reflect on my actions.” Lamenting painfully on why I did the dastardly deed. I tasted victory too soon! Lacking speech is massively torturous, and slows the maddening ability to make oneself heard, and is the equivalent to a mallrat needing eyes to see!

The learning of lessons is a hard masquerade, to keep all of your feelings inside. The panic that I felt because I was going to get caught, OOPHF! is nothing compared to the absolute fear of being punished for my sins, and for my silence. I decided to stop running and to start learning that fate will always catch up to you! Looking back, I never should have run, because I was really running away from MYSELF!

Eerily quiet was the classroom, upon my return. Leering eyes looked back at me as I was being brought back to the classroom. Much of the class felt bad about the teacher’s mug. Masking tape couldn’t repair this mess, and I was not even going to try! Keeping a straight face, I looked into her eyes and said, “sorry for breaking your mug.” Looking right at me, answering back she said, “that’s the last time I leave my brother’s mug at school!” She said I was brave for trying to speak. The truth is, I only said “sorry”, because that is all my inside voice came up with. Talking doesn’t always agree with me. “Matthew, I love you and I sadly have to send something to the principal to explain what happened.” I was taken aback to a place that I had not been before. Life continued, and I never threw another thing again.