March 9, 2023   ·   0 Comments

I remember being called a day-dreamer by one of my elementary teachers.

It was her admonition for not being verbal enough. Her euphemism – or soon-to-be slur – for someone who risked being ostracized by not speaking. Keeping up a conversation made my brain car sick.

Feeling speechless is a natural part of autism. If only I had known I was autistic.

“I believe that it is this whirl inside my brain that contributes to my occasional inability to speak. To be clear, I don’t identify as being nonverbal, but I often lose my verbal ability,” says British autistic comedian Hannah Gadsby.

She admits these things can be hard for some to understand. Expressing inarticulate feelings is not easy with autism.

“Especially if I am overwhelmed by a lot of sensory information at the same time as I am trying to identify, process and regulate emotional distress. This is what is called selective mutism, which commonly exists alongside ASD, but is not exclusive to it.”

Refrained speech is a way of giving my autistic brain time to recuperate. Conversations at this junction will only aggravate neurologically. The old adage holds true here: ‘If you have nothing good to say, say nothing’.

Being autistic means dealing poorly with a little thing called peripety—sudden or unexpected changes in things.

I stress over maintaining a routine which minimizes social mutability. Until I started taking a nerve medication anxiety was pervasive. Getting my autism diagnosis at age thirty-nine showed it was numbingly second-nature.    

Lately, I deal with acoustic  hyposensitivities—translated I will pass a hearing test but seem deaf. Sounds commingle  together to form a clump of white noise. It is very hard to hone in on milder tones like conversations. Working in warehouses alongside forklifts and noisy machinery does not bother me at all.

Autistic troubles with sensory things are  “cognitive in nature,” says Dr. Luke Beardon of Sheffield Hallam University. “And will affect the way in which information is processed.”

Many people are completely unaware we deal with these every day of our lives. This is why autism is known as an invisible disability.

Autism is also located under neurodevelopmental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) written by the American Psychiatric Association. Our lives are worth ten pages of deficits in this definitive diagnostic manual.

“It would be useful also if they double-checked that the assistance they’re offering is of real relevance to the person with special needs, and not about gratifying their own desire to care,” says best-selling Japanese autistic author Naoki Higashida.

We know today people are born autistic. Autism is a genetic variant caused by heritable and de novo gene variations.

Some days I am confused that being alive can bestow symptoms.

Where I am most resigned is conversation.

“The conversation did not flow as David displayed some inflexibility,” says the CAMH psychiatrist on my autism diagnosis report.

It was her professional opinion that I did not defer to her words properly. Her reasoning – or stereotype – for someone who did not adhere to a decorum of unspoken obligations.

Our meeting lacked truly feeling genuine because of clinical methods. Blame rested squarely on me for reacting badly to her verbal entitlement. Sometimes words were irritating like a sewn-in manufacturer’s tag  on my neck.

Synesthesia is a natural feeling with autism. I  sense paraverbal language—tone, pitch, and flow—as a tactile sensation when I hear it. Nothing can turn off this neurological sensation.

“What is even more interesting, the sound can be both felt on their skin and seen by their eyes simultaneously,” says Olga Bogdashina at the International Autism Institute.

“Too much noise creates visual chaos – making it impossible to interpret their environment and comprehend what is going on around them.”

Selective mutism actually helps to alleviate our alleged social inflexibility. We also avoid stimulating something worse called autistic meltdown.

Beardon describes it as “an involuntary release of emotion which can take several different forms, and can be deeply unsettling or even traumatic for the individual.”

One meltdown felt like suffering amnesia. What I experienced was something known as executive dysfunction—the cognitive inability to recall, organize and perform basic functions.

Unfortunately selective mutism is often misconstrued as a faux pas. Lack of empathy for our autistic mindset exacerbates things for us.

“I can’t avoid concluding that too often too many people interpret those of us with autism in ways and for reasons that serve their interests first, and ours a distant second,” concludes Higashida.

Trying not to let sufferance interfere with my routine is part of daily housekeeping. Routine helps to give me forbearance.

Often dealing with dysregulation (difficulty reining in our emotions) means twice the work for the same outcome.

Nonverbal autistic people like Naoki Higashida have their work cut out for them. There is a misconception that autism affects nonverbal people differently.

“Severe nonverbal autism does indeed look like a severe cognitive impairment, the truth is it’s not: it’s a severe sensory-processing and communicative impairment,” says Higashida’s translator David Mitchell.

This goes beyond verbal articulation. Absence of speech does not mean a nonverbal person is less accessible. Our nonverbal literacy is found wanting.

Old prejudice says using sounds to make words defines us as humans.

“To deny that a severely autistic brain may house a mind as curious and imaginative as anyone  else’s is to perpetuate a ruinous falsehood,” says Mitchell.

David Vahey


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