When I was asked to write a blog post about why those of us involved in the Spellerverse use the word “nonspeaking” instead of “nonverbal,” I immediately thought of my friend Thomas Pruyn. While, of course, I could share (and teach people regularly the reason behind this semantic choice), I believe that it will mean more coming from a nonspeaker himself!
Below you’ll find our conversation about why our choice of words matter – in this case, I think it’s safe to say that the two of us would love to NEVER hear another person say “nonverbal” again, and I don’t think it’s the last conversation about the language we use and the weight our words carry that the two of us will have!
Kelly: Do you think our choice of specific words, and how we use language matters?
Thomas: All the words we use matter. They mean exponentially more when we are using them to describe someone. When someone describes us as nonverbal, their word choice signifies that they believe us to be unintelligent, which is not true. There is lots of weight behind words and they should be chosen carefully.
Kelly: While we are on that subject, perhaps we should talk for a moment about the difference between language and speech. Want to take this one? How would you explain that to someone?
Thomas: We should absolutely touch on that, I will happily explain it. We have this misunderstanding that we use the same part of the brain for expressive language as we do for speech, and that they somehow are connected. However, that isn’t the truth. They are two different areas in the brain. Language is cognitive, and speech is motor.
Kelly: Well said, Tom! Speech is the physical production of sounds, and yes, it’s how many communicate their thoughts, but it’s not the ONLY way to communicate!
Thomas: Exactly, and I am able to communicate anything using a letterboard or a keyboard.
*the rest of this discussion was completed using written language only, typing the questions and answers without speaking!
Kelly: I could actually stop talking and just type my questions in and let you read them, and we could both communicate using the keyboard, without any speech. Let’s do that, just to hammer in that point. We all communicate in different ways, and ALL of the ways we communicate involve motor. It’s just that speech is fine motor, which is especially difficult for those with apraxia, and with S2C we take communication out of the fine motor, putting it into the gross motor of pointing to letters on a letterboard, and eventually a keyboard.
Thomas: That’s a great idea, I’m in.
Kelly: So back to nonspeaking versus nonverbal. You said that when you hear someone describe nonpeakers as nonverbal, it signifies to you that they think you are unintelligent. Why is the word “nonverbal” not accurate to describe you and other nonspeakers?
Thomas: That really was the whole point of this. The word verbal is a Latin word that really means “words.”
Kelly: So when people say “nonverbal,” what does that mean?
Thomas: To me, that means that I am without words.
Kelly: Obviously very untrue!!! And what about “nonspeaker?” Why is that semantically accurate to describe individuals who communicate using the letterboard?
Thomas: We are without speech, we are not without words and language.
Kelly: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thomas: Yes. Thank you for asking me to help write this.
Kelly: You’re so welcome! Thank YOU for your help! Maybe we should make it a series…is there another word you would like to never hear again when it comes to nonspeakers? Perhaps we could talk about that another time!
Thomas: You’re welcome. I would personally love to eliminate the word behavior, let’s talk about that one some other time.
Kelly: Let’s do it!
Thomas Pruyn is a nonspeaking advocate and hosts his own channel on YouTube, Austastic Tom. He is a long-time friend to Growing Kids Therapy Center and has long been outspoken about his view that speech does not equal intelligence.
Kelly Berg is an S2C Practitioner at Growing Kids Therapy Center and a member of the I-ASC Leadership Cadre living in Herndon, Virginia. She is incredibly thankful for those she is lucky enough to call friends.