The fact that nonspeakers can communicate now should make others treat us like the smart adults we are. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. The majority of nonspeakers are still not given a way to communicate because people assume we are intellectually impaired. They assume we are non-thinking just because we are nonspeaking. You can’t imagine how frustrating that is to put up with.
Let me tell you the ways in which we continue to be underestimated.
· Open your mind to the fact that I am smart and I understand everything you say.
· Stop talking about me right in front of me.
· Let me speak for myself now that I am able.
The most important thing you need to do is stop talking down to me. I may not have gotten much of an education, but I have been listening and learning my whole life. The thing to remember is that I am just as intelligent as you are. Don’t treat me like a child.
The reality is that our bodies do all kinds of things that make us look different. But those movements are mostly involuntary and have nothing to do with our intelligence. We try to control it but our apraxia prevents that. That is no reason to assume that we don’t understand when you tell us to stop. Even though we are not stopping, you should still remember that we understand what you’re saying. It’s a sad reality that people are judged by appearances. Take the time to get to know us and you’ll be delighted by how intelligent we really are.
The main reason people underestimate us though is because we don’t speak. The world is used to judging intelligence by what comes out of our mouths. Let’s stop. Take the time to really communicate with us even though we don’t speak and you’ll discover that we are just as smart as everyone else. The very different way we communicate has nothing to do with our intelligence. Stephen Hawking couldn’t speak either, but because he could spell with his eyeballs, people knew his intelligence wasn’t affected by his ALS. The same is true with autism. It is a sensory motor problem that prevents us from using our mouths and our bodies in typical ways. The assumption that we have a cognitive, language or social impairment is just wrong. We simply need an alternative way to communicate in order to tell the world all we know.
The most important way to not underestimate us is to support our use of keyboards or letterboards to communicate. Start us when we’re young and educate us like our neurotypical peers. You’ll be rewarded with our accomplishments. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit the Spellers & Allies page.
Sam Becker is a 29-year-old nonspeaker from Bridgewater, New Jersey. Sam became a member of Spellers & Allies Advocacy Network in the Spring of 2022. He is building a community of spellers in New Jersey and is studying math and music theory in college.