My friend and I drove to the bookstore this evening because she needed a journal, and while she was looking for that I wandered around and happened upon the section with all the books about Autism in it. Out of a sort of morbid interest, I decided to flip through a few of them; most were just your run-of-the-mill biographies and ‘advice for parents’ type books (for some reason there never seems to be anything there written for autistics to read) but one in particular seized my attention. I didn’t really pay any attention to the title, but it was of the ‘advice for parents’ type; I decided to give it a look-see anyways. In and of itself there was nothing wrong with it- it wasn’t riveting but it wasn’t horrible like some of those books are. However, on the drive back (we live in a relatively small town so it’s about a forty minute drive to the nearest non-used bookstore) I started turning it over in my mind and thinking- always a bad sign, as the joke goes. It was about autism and communicating, a notoriously tricky subject for us, and the main thrust of it was how to teach your child to communicate more effectively.
Now of course, I knew that by ‘communicate’ they basically meant ‘communicate like an NT’, but that’s not the problem I have with it. Let me draw a comparison: let’s use languages. There are a lot of languages in the world, but the big two (at least at this time) are English and Mandarin Chinese. Almost anywhere you go in the world you’ll find somebody who speak one of those two languages, and quite frequently, that’s not their first language, it’s their second-plus. And when they speak that, they have an accent, right? It’s always been a pet theory of mine that the way autistics communicate is a separate language- a highly individual one, yes, but distinct from ‘normal’ English/French/what have you. Just like every English speaker has their own unique vocabulary, so does every autistic, verbal or no.
The trouble is, no one speaks our language but us. We live in a world where the majority of the population is NT and thus, it is necessary that we learn to speak their language. It’s kind of like a Russian moving to Germany. They’ll learn to speak German, obviously, because that’s the language they use to communicate there. But that doesn’t mean they have to stop speaking Russian, or that they won’t have an accent. Likewise, learning to speak NT doesn’t mean that all of us have to abandon our own language and our own take on it. But here’s the issue that I have: communication, as I have always been told, is a two-way street. And there’s only traffic in one direction right now. We learn to speak NT every day (and most of us will probably work on it for the rest of our lives) but no NTs bother to learn our language.
Our language is seen as inappropriate and unnecessary, something to be gotten rid of, not preserved or understood. It’s always sad to see a language die; there are worldwide efforts to preserve endangered languages going on and yet, no one’s looking to save ours but us. But it’s not just that- even when we struggle to speak NT, we’re frequently criticized for not speaking NT enough. One or two remnants of our original tongue remain, enough to throw off whoever it is we’re communicating with. If you’ll let me continue my comparison, it’s akin to criticizing somebody for speaking English with an accent when it’s their second language. Standing there asking them to speak more clearly is ridiculous; at some point, you’re going to have to put more effort into understanding them.
I’m starting to ramble now, so I’ll just go ahead and try to bring together my point. Basically it’s this: I know that I have to learn to speak NT if I want to get by in the world. That’s just kind of a given. But I cannot (and will not) abandon every aspect of my ‘first language’ just for the sake of saving everyone else a little effort. There’s a whole segment of the population whose ‘language’ most NTs don’t even bother to try and understand, and that more than a few actively seek to destroy. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want that to happen. I’m sick and tired of being told that I communicate wrong and need to get it fixed. I may speak English, but my first language is Autistic, and I’m not gonna get rid of my accent.