|Posted by Admin on January 4, 2015 at 8:55 AM|
“Goodnight, Benson! I love you, boy,” I had said to my hamster. It was the last thing I said out loud for the next 24 hours.
I decided to go non-verbal for a day. While I’m on the autism spectrum myself, I’ve always been verbal. I wanted to get a glimpse of what it might be like not to be able to speak, as some others on the spectrum experience. Of course, choosing not to talk isn’t exactly the same thing as being completely non-verbal. It was the closest I could think to get, however.
And I made it pretty easy on myself. I didn’t have to work. I didn’t have any important appointments or phone calls to make. I was thinking it would be a really simple Saturday. I was wrong.
Even before I went silent, I started to get nervous. I posted online:
“What if people think I'm being rude because I don't respond to them right away? (I plan to use an AAC app on my tablet to communicate.) Or what if I frustrate OTHERS because of this? I wonder if this is how some other people on the spectrum feel every day...”
For the first hour or so, I was fine. I was alone, so I didn’t really have to worry about too much. And I had social media. Then I saw a post online asking me how long I planned to stay silent for. The person told me that they hoped it wouldn’t be for very long! I posted again online:
“I've already had someone ask me how long I plan to do this for, saying they hope it's only for one day. It makes me realize how bad I would feel if I couldn't speak for longer. People WANT me to speak, but I'm not. And if this were real....it's not because I don't want to speak, but because I can't. I wasn't expecting to feel guilt for not speaking.”
Soon, all I could think about was talking. Turning on the TV would have just made me want to talk more. And listening to music would have made me want to sing along. So I went online and did post after post. But it was still really quiet. Finally, I shared:
“Just a few hours into my day of not speaking. I'm by myself, and I'm already getting frustrated. I miss making sound. I want to hear my own voice. Speaking has now turned into this kind of art-form, and it's as though I'm not allowed to create.” I hadn’t even left the house!
Finally, a friend came over to help me clean my room a little. They knew I wasn’t speaking for the day. And I knew it would still be difficult, but I didn’t realize just how hard it would be for me. Even through using text on my phone to communicate, I began to feel a bit hopeless. I couldn’t have much of an opinion about what was happening. We just WORKED. Finally, texted that I needed to stop soon. I was exhausted.
After we cleaned a bit, we went out to a new store together. The plan had been that I would drive, but driving to new places is a bit difficult for me. So, to my relief, my friend said that they would drive. Then I realized that they wouldn’t be able to read my texts while driving! So I brought out an app that would speak for me. (Known as an AAC or Augmentative and Alternative Communication.) It wasn’t perfect because it didn’t always pronounce things correctly. But it was all I really had. At one point, we were getting into the car and I wanted to use the app, but I couldn’t because it wasn’t loud enough and I wasn’t able to get my friend’s attention. So I just sat there.
The store was okay. I didn’t have to say anything and my friend did all of the work. But I was still feeling frustrated with not speaking to my friend. When I got home, I took a break and posted:
“Finished cleaning my room with a friend (used my phone to text simple statements). It was really hard! After that I went out to the store with her wearing this sign. I have learned that it's easier just not to say things sometimes. Yeah, I won't have a voice, but at least I won't be frustrated as much. It's such a feeling of hopelessness though.”
(The sign reads "NOT SPEAKING FOR AUTISM AWARENESS".)
“My non-verbal day isn't halfway over, and I already have 10x more respect for non-verbal people on the spectrum. Yes, my life is hard. But I can't imagine having to grow up this way and live it every day. I totally understand why many children use physical communication (grabbing, pulling, pushing, etc.). I know it's not acceptable, but it's a LOT easier than using an AAC. And when you are already frustrated, you want whatever is easiest.”
After my break, I headed over to my friend’s house. It was just too quiet at mine. I got there and watched some TV with them for a little bit. I had so many things I wanted to comment about for what we were watching, but I just couldn’t communicate them fast enough with the AAC or through texting. So I just sat quietly. I was really frustrated and getting depressed.
When we finished what we were watching, my friend and I decided to head out to the pet store. On the way, I said I was hungry and so we decided to stop and get some ice cream. Suddenly I was nervous again. Would I have to communicate with the cashier what I wanted to order? Nope! My friend knew what I wanted. PHEW!
We got to the pet store and began to look for what we needed. A worker came through the isle holding a heavy load of bags, and tried to get by. I wanted to excuse myself and apologize for being in the way, but I couldn’t even TRY. She just walked right by, excusing herself. We paid for our items and left.
Once back at my friend’s house, we decided to try and find a movie. I typed my suggestion into my app, but it wasn’t saying it clearly. My friend had some trouble understanding. Finally, I had to SHOW her what I had typed out. I was longing to speak again.
Sometime in the middle of the movie, we began to get hungry and started to work on dinner. My friend was making a pie from scratch. Her mom was going to make the dinner. My friend had to continuously turn the electric kitchen tools on and off so she could hear my app speaking. I felt like a nuisance. At least, I did until I smelled something burning. I frantically sniffed the air and began to type out the problem. Finally, her mom noticed the smell, too. We were just in time. The pie was okay.
Eventually, my friend’s mom decided she would buy dinner for us. But the catch was that I had to order my own meal! We went to a fast food restaurant and I had my order already typed in. My friend ordered and then stepped aside. I pressed the button on the app to make it talk, and it worked! Only, the cashier didn’t quite hear the end of it, and had to ask me what kind of drink I wanted a second time. I couldn’t just repeat the single word without having to type it out again. So I had to repeat the entire order. It worked. We got our dinner.
On the way back to my friend’s house, I noticed a kid crying while leaving a store with his parents. I wanted to make him laugh. I wanted to say things to him in a happy voice. But all I could do was stand there. And that’s when I realized yet another thing I wasn’t able to do. I couldn’t tell stories.
After dinner, I decided it was time for me to head home. I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day and be able to talk. I went to say goodnight to my hamster…and realized I couldn’t. I blew him a kiss and went to bed.