For this year's Autistic Acceptance Month, Autistics United Fort McMurray chapter organizer Christopher Whelan has written a series of short essays on autistic rights. We have selected a few of our favourites to share!
[Image description: An Alternative and Augmentative Communication placard with signs for various food and drink related words]
Normalize Alternative Communication
Traditional methods of communication, like spoken word, are often inaccessible to autistic people. Some autistics do not speak. Of those autistics who can speak, many of us find spoken word to be overwhelming to our senses and uncomfortable to do for long periods of time, if at all. Some members of our population go into “non-verbal space” and are drained of their capacity for spoken word when they are in sensory overload.
While speech language pathology is often prescribed for autistics that are disabled in spoken communication, and can be very helpful in bridging communication needs, normalizing mandatory speech rehabilitation as a default prescription is not inclusive or in the spirit of Autism Acceptance. Speech language pathology is a barrier to place on an autistic person as it is an extracurricular exercise they must take in order to accommodate typical society. Instead of placing the onus to “make up” for their disability on the disabled, we must make society more inclusive of the needs of people disabled by communication demands.
To achieve accessibility of communication, alternative communication must be widely understood and normalized. Alternative communication can come in the form of sign language, hand signals, writing, typing, symbols, pictures, and Alternative and Augmentative Communication as shown in the placard above. Alternative communication can be its own language, agreed upon by people who have never met each other, such as American Sign Language or written language, or it can be as simple as a hand gesture privately shared between two people who know each other.
Autistics call for the expansion of alternative communication so that more people are familiar with these communication styles and can reciprocate communication with them. Alternative communication must be normalized and held in the same regard as if the person using it was speaking.
Christopher Whelan is an autistic social worker living and working in his home community of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Christopher is a founder of Neurodiversity YMM and Autistics United Fort McMurray – Cree, Dene, Dane-zaa, & Métis Territory. After months of consultation with autistic self-advocates, Christopher published The 95 Theses of Neurodiversity in April 2020. You can read more of his work on his blog, AutisticRights.net.