Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Non-Verbal Autistics are also Intelligent


                When many people hear “lower-functioning” autistic or “severely autistic” they think of someone who is not right in the head, like someone who is mentally insane with no control over their selves.  They think that they are simply out of touch with reality.  They believe they are not intelligent beings.  They see them and see someone flapping their arms or spinning in circles.  They recognize that they are people who cannot speak or take care of themselves, or if they speak through facilitated speech, they don’t consider that a valid form of communication.  However, it is not necessarily that way.  Many deaf people cannot speak and use sign language, expressing their thoughts, feelings and information in a different way just as people using facilitated speech do.  Many non-autistic people with other disabilities cannot take care of themselves, such as the Nobel Prize-winning author and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.  Yet many non-autistic people assume “severely” autistic people to be out of touch with reality because they have repetitive behaviors such as hand-flapping or rocking that our society just doesn’t tolerate.  They think “they don’t think like we do.”  Yet simply because they don’t speak like you do doesn’t mean they don’t feel like you do.  When someone hurts them, they feel pain.  When someone loves them they feel joy.  Just because they do not like to be hugged does not mean they do not wish to be loved by their mother, or brother, or father, or anyone else.  It may be that their senses work differently as so many autistic people’s do to.  Autistic people, according to autism expert Lisa Jo Rudy, do stimming behaviors, such as flapping arms, because it helps relieve stress and anxiety, just as biting one’s nails tends to do.  The only difference is that biting one’s nails is much more acceptable.  Some stimming can be addressed by helping relieve autistics anxiety, such as through medication.  Several intelligent accomplished people with lower-functioning autism include Amanda Baggs, SueRubin, Birger Sellin, and Amy Sequenzia, who all communicate through facilitated speech.  Yet when many neurotypicals hear this said, they think of some lower-functioning autistics who have no type-speech ability, whether real or presumed.  Therefore they tend to think of them as unintelligent, but that is not automatically the case.  These autistics have never had the chance to communicate what they know or can do in their minds because they do not have the communications skills to do so.  According to psychiatrist Dr. Laurent Mottron, that IQ tests deem many non-verbal autistics unintelligent due to lack of speech.  He says, “A blind person has a disability and needs accommodation, but you wouldn’t give a blind person a test based on vision.”  Other’s may point out that for some lower-functioning autistics, they can’t understand what other people are saying, or can’t respond.  But I know as an autistic that I and many other autistic people tend to think about things more visually and don’t respond so much to the word.  One of the hallmarks of autism is lack of recognition of abstract concepts.  For a lot of us, I know, when we see something like “keys,” we don’t think so much about “keys,” but that particular set of keys, so often times we have trouble understanding this visually.  When I think of the keys to my dorm, I think “my keys.”  When I think of the keys to get inside my house, I think “the keys to my house.”  When I think of the keys to my mom’s car, I think “Mom’s car keys.”  I do this to help me identify concrete things because that is how I think, yet it doesn’t mean I or any other autistics are less intelligent than you or any other intelligent people you may know.  To learn more about how severely autistics learn, you might check out Ellen Notbahm’s Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew.

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