Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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A Bad Take on Going Nonverbal

(Trigger warning for mishandling of disabilities and twisted assumptions.)

While looking for something else, I stumbled across this helpy article on people who go nonverbal sometimes. It's horribly intolerant, and reminds me of when Deaf people were abused for using sign language because hearing people demanded speech from them. It just pissed me off, so I decided to kick the skeletons out of the closet.

The underlying assumptions are heinous:

* Only verbal speech is acceptable as human. Nothing else works or is permissible.

* You don't have a right to choose the mode of communication that works for you.

* It doesn't matter how painful, terrifying, or exhausting speech may be for you. Other people can demand it of you whenever they want and you have no right to refuse no matter how horrible it is.

* Speech is a requirement for participating in society. If you can't speak, or prefer not to, you are unwelcome and unworthy.

* If you can't speak, or choose not to, you're broken and not a whole person. There is something wrong with you.

* Human rights are only for people who speak on demand.

* Other people have no obligation to communicate with you. They can ignore all your efforts.

* Other people's desires are more important than your needs. You have no social status. You're just there to make other people happy.

* All people who go nonverbal have the same feelings about it and must be forced into compliance because they don't have a right to their feelings or choices about whether and how to communicate.

* There is no exit plan for treatment other than speaking on demand. Everyone who can speak sometimes must be forced to speak on demand and has the potential to perform as required. If they haven't submitted to the demands, they're not done with treatment, instead of unable to perform.

And that is what leads directly to people with disabilities becoming anxious or depressed, because they are tormented; to isolating themselves, because nobody wants to be with abusive assholes; and to police murdering people who are unable to perform speech on demand because they are mute, Deaf, otherwise disabled, don't know English, injured, ill, or otherwise impaired. It's a load of heinous bullshit. It's EVIL. It's never going to get better if people don't call it out and say Fuck That Noise.

So, here's a better approach:

* Everyone goes nonverbal sometimes. Human brains exist in layers, and speech is in the outer sapient layer -- the inner primal layers are nonverbal. That means under enough stress, the speech centers shut down partially or totally as all resources get rerouted to survival. It's just that most people experience this very rarely, while a few people experience it much more often, and some people simply have less consistent connections within their brain. Those who experience it rarely should think about when they have, and realize the nonverbal person may be in that much stress on a frequent basis, so compassion is called for.

* Speech is useful, but communication is more important. Use whatever mode of communication works for you. It is okay if that means different modes at different times.

* There are many choices for nonverbal communication. These include sign language, writing, text messages or chat programs, speech synthesizers, communication boards, point cards, and more. All of these have been used by people with speech obstacles. Experts can assist people in finding a comfortable and effective communication mode. There is nothing wrong using these options.

* If it bothers you that sometimes you go nonverbal, and you want to extend your ability to speak, then by all means do so. You have a right to help and to be treated with respect in pursuit of a solution. Some people can get over going nonverbal, others can't. So take a baseline of your mental and physical health before you start treatment, track changes over time, and make an exit plan in case treatment makes you worse instead of better. You might need a different treatment or your condition could be unfixable. If you have a child who goes nonverbal, apply the same principle of making sure that treatment doesn't make things worse instead of better.

* Going nonverbal can be a huge pain in the ass, but it is one of those disabilities that is almost entirely social, not innate. It can be worked around if people are willing to quit pushing, back off, and accommodate alternative communication. When other people help instead of making it more of an obstacle, then it is much less disabling. Also, for the many folks whose mutism is triggered by stress, lowering the pressure tends to reduce the frequency and duration of flareups.

* Everyone deserves kindness and respect, regardless of whether they can speak or not. You are human and you have human rights.

* People who knowingly hurt you are doing something wrong. If that happens, try to find better people to be with. If harmful people say they love you or are helping you, they are either lying, mistaken, or inept.

* Real friends and family will help you, not hurt you. They will try to accommodate your needs and desires, in balance with their own, even if those change sometimes. Things may not always work out, but good people will do their best for you and pay attention to your communication.

* Share inclusive stories about people who speak rarely if at all, or go nonverbal at times, and are still accepted by their friends. [personal profile] dialecticdreamer has at least two of them, Mariset and Matthew. I have Novalie who is routinely nonverbal, and some other characters in An Army of One with very different speech patterns.  Shiv occasionally goes nonverbal due to age regression or stress, and is fairly fluent with other nonverbal people.  Want more? Ask us during any relevant prompt call. If you've seen Penn & Teller live or on television, you may have noticed that Teller customarily performs without speaking -- and is quite eloquent with his nonverbal communication. That's an artistic choice, and it works for him; we need to see examples like this.

* I have more resources about going nonverbal here.

To all my friends who sometimes go nonverbal: I'm sorry your mind/body bails on you sometimes. I still like you and want you to be around as much as you feel comfortable doing so. You don't have to communicate when you don't feel up to it, even online -- it's totally fine to lurk, or to copy-paste things you need to say often instead of typing them out. Take care of yourself. You matter.
Tags: activism, networking, safety
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