For reasons partly explained elsewhere, I’ve started compiling a list of useful ASL words and phrases for when I end up nonverbal in public. Since putting together that initial list last night, I’ve thought of a few more signs that belong in the “core” vocabulary, including “yes/no,” “pain,” and the alphabet.
(I also owe Dr. Vicars a significant and personal thank-you, since I’ve been relying on the Lifeprint lessons almost exclusively to build these core vocabularies.)
A sign I considered putting in the core vocabulary but then deliberately omitted is “sorry.” It’s not that I don’t think “sorry” is a useful concept, or that I don’t need to know how to communicate an apology. It’s that I need to get “sorry” out of my own core vocabulary.
I was raised in a household where the answer to everything wrong in the world was guilt. If we could guilt ourselves strongly enough, we could eliminate any and every potentially hurtful behavior. As much as I disliked the “Divergent” series, I have found it useful at times to tell people I was “raised Abnegation.” The fact that Emma’s parents emphasize her self-advocacy skills in posts like “Emma Refuses to Get Off the Bus and a Self-Advocate Is Born!“, and that increasing numbers of parents of autistic children are emphasizing their children’s advocacy skills gives me so much hope, because nobody ever emphasized mine.
I have long believed that if I can say “sorry” big enough, often enough, strenuously enough, I can make up for imposing the inconvenient needs of my autism on the world. The fact that these needs only become “inconvenient” in the first place because I live in a world not designed to accommodate me is, to the guilt-trauma center of my brain, irrelevant. I’m the screw-up, the defective one, the freak. I’m the one who needs to say “sorry.”
“Sorry,” verbalized, has become an autonomous response to my own distress. It bothers my husband to no end. I’ll have a meltdown and sit there, rocking and repeating “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry” on an endless loop; meanwhile, he feels frustrated and helpless because I’m so busy apologizing for my needs that I can’t tell him what my needs are.
And that’s why, in developing an alternate vocabulary for the moments in which I have the most need, I am deliberately omitting “sorry” from the front line of communicative options. My needs have to come first. Apologies, if necessary, can come later. But I cannot advocate for myself if I cannot stop apologizing for myself.