April is almost over and it’s been a busy month. Starting off with April Fool’s day, followed up with Easter and Earth Day and other anniversaries, there are a lot of celebrations as spring arrives. The pictures of trees for this post are for Arbor Day and Earth Day.
There is another event in April, which is Autism Awareness. I suspect most people don’t hear about that, unless they know someone with autism or they are autistic. There are many views on whether April should be Autism Awareness, or Autism Acceptance. At times there are heated discussions about how autism should be talked about. I have learned a great deal in reading the different viewpoints during this month.
This year I’ve been thinking about communication, again. I’ve been thinking of the focus on verbal communication and how it affects our perception while being only one part of a person. I have an example of a problem with verbal communication, not with an autistic person but with someone who did not speak English very well.
Many years ago I worked on a project that had a diverse team. One person was an immigrant from China. I remember working with him and getting frustrated because it wasn’t always easy to understand him. I tended to shrug off his ideas or look down on him for not communicating clearly. One day, after an interaction with him, another person told me that he was an amazing person who had 2-3 advanced degrees and had to struggle to leave China and enter the US. When I was told this, I felt shame at not seeing the whole person and judging him only by how he spoke. The project required advanced knowledge and I suspect he contributed a lot more to the final product than I did. I also suspect he received a lot less recognition because of his speech.
I thought of this and why it might be. I suspect this is because when a person does not speak our language well, it can sound child like. When this happens, the person gets moved into a lower category in the social hierarchy and becomes less important. With autistic people, they may be a native speaker but their language may be awkward or inappropriate at times. The person gets moved into that child like role and their message won’t be treated as importantly as someone else’s.
While it’s tempting to view this as a trait that is hard wired into people, I have observed that some adults treat others well in spite of their language difficulties. This implies that viewing poor or non-verbal individuals as child like is culturally based, which means it can be overcome.
Just a reminder to myself to respect others, listen, and be patient when listening to others who have difficulties speaking. As I hope other people will treat me when I have difficulties speaking.
Pictures by J.T. Harpster