« Parenting

Seen and Not Heard

by Brad Ludwig

Speech does not equal or reflect the level of intelligence of a person.

This is something that, we as people, may struggle with. Some people lower their expectations of someone's intelligence based on whether or not they can speak. I counter that perception with Stephen Hawking   He's arguably one of the most brilliant scientists to ever grace the Earth. His struggle with ALS has left him needing to use a speech generation system to verbally communicate with others. He also uses an input device that tracks his eye movements to type out the words he means to communicate. This doesn't diminish his intelligence in any way. It is actually an tribute to human ingenuity in the ways we've sought to assist others share their ideas and communicate with others.
Communication is not limited to the spoken word. We have portable, handheld computers that can connect us to the world. Using texting or other programs, we can have our voices be heard. So why do I run into this perception when I'm talking with other parents of neuro-typical children?

I remember explaining what Autism is to my best friend's son, in his family's living room. He wanted to know why Alex couldn't talk. I sat for a moment wondering how I could explain the complexities and uncertainties of Autism to a seven year old. Then it hit me. "The brain is like a house. You know how your house has rooms, with doors? Each room of your house is for something specific. Your kitchen is where you cook food. The bathroom... well you know... Your bedroom is where you sleep and read and so on. Now imagine the brain the same way. You have a room for memories, a room for words, a room for making friends, a room for how to ride a bike and so on. Alex's door to the room, that has words, is stuck part way open. It's hard for him to squeeze the words through the door and that's why it's hard for him to talk." That made sense to a seven year old and it was the best I could do, on a moments notice.

Image of Horham Hall

Image of Horham Hall is in the Public Domain
For Alex, it's not just his speech that is affected, it's his perception of what is said to him that he has an issue with. He has an issue with auditory processing .
Essentially, the words spoken to you travel to your ears and then go through a process of comprehension and filtering of what was said. Then you assign meaning to the words that have been communicated to you. At that point, you begin to understand what has been communicated to you. Any breakdown in that process can slow down or stop that process from happening.
The part of the brain that handles that, in Alex, has issues. With speech therapy, this has gotten better, over time. I often speak slowly to Alex to help give him time to process the things I say to him. I sometimes mix in sign language to give him a visual equivalent of the words I speak to him. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not but we try to help him make those connections. Going back to my previous mention of hand held communication devices, Alex sometimes uses an iPod or iPad with an app called Proloquo2Go. This app allows Alex to build simple or complex sentences. We have also created some preset phrases for ease of use so he can communicate a little quicker.  Image of Alex shhh-ing me
Alex letting me know I'm talking too much

Communication can take many forms. Whether it's sign language, device assisted or the written word, we should approach everyone we meet with patience, tolerance and understanding. You don't know the other person's story. I bet they could teach you a lot, if you are open to all forms of communication.