#AAC Awareness Month

October is AAC Awareness Month, and so far, I’ve been mostly reading.  And thinking.  Especially about posts like this one by Alyssa at Yes, That Too.

Alyssa’s post caught my attention particularly because, as she puts it,

…I am in two categories where people tend not to think of AAC: adults, because who ever thinks about disabled adults who are off doing adult things while also acting disabled; and people with some (in my case quite a bit of) oral speech.

The reason this catches my attention is because I am an adult who is off doing adult things, and also a person with quite a bit of oral speech.  But I am also increasingly aware that my oral-speech abilities are chronically overtaxed.

For me, mouthwordmaking is very much like my hypermobile knees: yes, mouthwords do most of what I need them to do.  Yes, I can talk (and walk) more or less like “normal” people my age in all the expected contexts and for all the expected reasons.  But the point at which I should stop doing that actually occurs much sooner for me than it does for “normal” people.  Every day, I hit that point.  And I should stop going when I hit that point, because to go past that point I have to put improper pressure on the system, resulting in improper function – and, in both cases, increased “mistakes” and a chronic and ever-increasing risk of total system breakdown.

But I don’t.  Because to stop pushing the system past its limits, to stop meeting social demands that I walk and talk “as expected” for a person of my apparent age and -bodiedness, gets unnecessary and unwanted attention.  For most of my life, it has been more worthwhile to me to put chronic and unnecessary strain on my own systems than to deal with the approbation of a world that demands abled performance (and performativity).

In fact, until I read Alyssa’s post, those same performative demands had made me assume AAC wasn’t an option for me.  Not really.  I have an AAC app on my phone, but I have never used it.  I’ve learned a fair bit of ASL for times I don’t have words, but I rarely use that, either.  Even though I’m aware “alternative” means are available to me, I go on chronically overloading the speech-system.

Ironically, I’m kinder to my knees than I am to my speech center.  When a series of illnesses and medication reactions left me ataxic and mostly-bedridden from 2007 to 2011, it took me about a week to start walking with a cane and about four days to become a staunch advocate for mobility aids at any age.  To me there is no such thing as being “too young” or “not disabled enough” to need a mobility aid: if it makes it possible to live your life more closely to the way you want to live it, use it!

Yet when it comes to using an AAC device – which would make it possible to live my life far more closely to the way I want to live it in terms of communicating more effectively – I balk.  My colleagues all see me as A Person Who Can Talk At Will, and I don’t know how to navigate not-being that person.  I have no idea how to answer questions like “What happened?” and “Why are you using that?”  I have no ideological objection to giving the truthful answers: “I’m autistic” and “I realized I could communicate more easily this way.”  But I have a deep emotional terror of being Odd In That Way.

I don’t remember having any such terror about using the cane, which makes my recent reading of Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory even odder to me: compulsory able-bodiedness didn’t terrify me the way compulsory able-mindedness does.  I didn’t, and don’t, give a crap if my body appeared Odd, since I can demonstrate at a moment’s notice that my brain Works Right.  But there is something much, much closer in not-talking to suggesting “Hey, my brain doesn’t Work Right.”

(Except it does, and the point of not-talking is to help it work even more right.  But I’m so afraid of transgressing the rules of abledness performativity that I’m willing to function less well in order to continue reassuring others that I function acceptably well.  This is why I keep repeating the word “ironic.”)

Perhaps the most disappointing part of all this, for me as an academic, is that for the past several months I have been deconstructing the concept of “speaking” as it relates to autistic people, our portrayals, and how “interventions” and “treatments” are approached for us by non-autistic parents, teachers, scientists, and the non-autistic world at large.  I am, academically, well well aware that “making mouthwords at all costs” is not only an illusion, but a delusion; that there is in fact no “there” there when it comes to claims that mouthnoise “speech” is superior to other forms of communication in any way, for any other form of communication can be demonstrated to be “superior” to speech in any way attributed to speech.

(Derrida himself works through this problem in “Of Grammatology“, though I doubt his explanation is any clearer than the one I just gave.)

So, yes, I’m aware of AAC.  I’m aware that using AAC would make my life considerably easier.  I’m aware that my adoption of AAC into my range of communication tools would also make the lives of other AAC users easier by creating one more “point” at which people I interact with could get used to AAC use as just another form of communication by real, concrete humans they actually know and trust.  And I’m painfully aware that my own theoretical and ethical positions conflict with my own fear when it comes to incorporating AAC use into my own life.

So what now?  I sit with it.  I sit with the painful awareness, and eventually the pain and I will process ourselves into something less painful and more productive.  Like any other painful awareness in my life, the only way out is through.  But I would gratefully accept thoughtful, informed advice.


4 thoughts on “#AAC Awareness Month

  1. I’m the NT mom of an autistic kiddo who does very well – BUT he loses his words when he’s really upset. I don’t know how this will play out as he gets older, but hearing about how other adults deal with spoken word issues is very helpful.

    I have a couple of thoughts, but I have NO experience like yours, so please ignore if they’re not right for the situation. I know, as an NT in my mid-40’s that sometimes my brain and my mouth don’t cooperate and I just cannot come up with what I’m trying to say. It’s not the same thing, BUT “my mouth and my brain are not cooperating” may be the “brain is fine” thing to say that most NT’s will totally understand – you could add that sometimes it gets bad and you use your “verbal cane” to get over the hump.

    I wonder if those who are familiar with the issue with your knees would be able to equate that with your speech issue – that you need a “verbal cane” when you’ve hit the word hump?

    Thanks for writing about this. I haven’t met anyone who uses and AAC device, but my son saw a little girl at a local tourist spot and talked about it a bit. He thought it was neat (he’s 7) and just saw that it was how she talked.


  2. I have been inspired by your post to write down my own observations in my own post. I’d be very interested to hear what you think about my musings. The short version is I may have been in a very similar place once but with different thought being on the forefront of my mind about it.


    I’m very new to blogging. I hope it is not inappropriate to post my link below your blog. If it is let me know. I will delete it then.


  3. I learned to talk the same age as neurotypical babies, according to my mother, but I was selectively mute as a child. I’d rather shake my head yes or no and look at a certain direction so the person asking what’s wrong would get an idea of what the problem is. it’s easier this way. I dont always like talking. i have a problem turning the pictures in my head into words.
    this can be frustrating when I have an important point to make, and no one understands it. I stumble with the words like a drunken falling over his feet. I go over the argument in my head weeks later, what words should I have used to make my point clear?
    this is way I shy away from verbal conflict in order to avoid this horrible feeling. The words are right there, but I cant grasp them, while others find a way easily to express themselves. it makes me light headed, dizzy with effort and frustration.
    i’m better at writing down what i think than saying it. can really relate to this post.


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