April 11, 2014

Don't Put Words In My Mouth

One of the first questions I answered online for a parent of an autistic child was about prompting. Prompting, when it comes to eliciting speech, comes from a good place. It's the idea that you can help a person say the words they are looking for. People want to think they are helping and I understand that, but in the case of my experience with autism (and my son's apraxia), it really doesn't. In fact, it makes things worse.

don't put words in my mouth onequartermama.ca
Don't put words in my mouth

There are times when I lose my words. Yes, I am normally very articulate. Yes, I write prolifically. However, those things are not always dependable. There are times where, for the life of me, I cannot get words out. Everything comes out jumbled. Sometimes, the correct language does not come out. I want to speak English and German comes out. Or French. Or Irish. Or a mix of all those. It's incredibly frustrating.

Sometimes I am reduced to just pointing at things while my husband guesses what I need. At least I have an understanding husband, but when out in public, especially while interacting with people I don't know, I look like I don't understand or am stupid.

People try to "help" by repeating the same questions, raising their volume or guessing what I want to say. When they are not being helpful, they are dismissive and sometimes outright rude and insulting. It is hard to be taken seriously when no one will listen. Most people are rushed for time, so a lot of people don't have any patience for someone who cannot express themselves quickly and clearly.

When I am struggling to find a word and someone starts throwing out random words, thinking they can guess what I want to say, it's incredibly annoying. It's very hard to think with someone asking more questions. It's like trying to count while someone yells random numbers at you.

It makes me feel like they are impatient, and this is someone I do not want to interact with. It makes me feel like they are more interested in doing something else, rather than listening to my needs. It makes me feel small. It makes me feel dismissed. It makes me feel unsafe around this person.

What you can do to genuinely help is give me a few seconds to think. Give me silence to allow my brain to process and my thoughts to make sense. When you give me space, I feel safe and free from pressure to perform RIGHT NOW and lets me relax enough to think straight.

After all, conversation is not a race to see who can speak the fastest. It's an exchange of ideas, and if you create a space where people have the time they need to express themselves, you may hear some valuable gems. Sometimes good things come to those who wait. 

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