Someone, back when I was in college, insisted I was expressive compared to an Autistic 10-year-old she knew: Yeah, but you’re different, you’re expressive. This post could go in a few different directions that I’d like to list because there were so many issues I (still) have with that statement:
- that’s it’s okay to not be a wordsmith out loud or at all;
- that comparing two people with an age difference of ten years – or comparing Autistic people to each other at all like that – isn’t useful;
- that expressiveness doesn’t just come with words, so stop discounting people who don’t do them out loud well or at all;
- my personal experience with the concept of expressiveness, movement, speech, and trying to go fast to keep up.
I chose the last one.
I may think in words, not pictures or concepts – but getting the worded thoughts to speech is another task entirely. Spontaneous conversation is hard. There’s this thing I do, which is simultaneously talk really fast, and not say half of what I wanted or meant to say. The speed at which conversations go doesn’t always give me the time to say the appropriate thing, so I spit out then closest thing in my head to what I mean. Sometimes it’s the wrong thing or makes no sense.
I don’t use spoken echolalia from pop culture and people around me so much as I use the same format for sentences over and over again, slipping in different words – or I stumble through words, speaking quickly but not always coherently.
I move in the same way I talk: scuffing and stumbling on stray objects. I can’t always find my body in space; I can’t always figure out object proximity because of visual processing and go crashing into it. I can’t cut food or tie shoelaces effectively, and learning how to do needlework was a short-lived venture. My feet drag the ground when I walk or I put my feet down with unnecessary force; there isn’t an in-between. Door frames are my enemy.
Or: I rock to other people’s rocking, flap to other people’s flapping, turn to look in the same direction as anyone I’m with – I’m echopraxic and copy movements. Or I don’t remember how to move at all. If I move, it’s fast, though – and it takes a lot of work.
I am tired of trying to move fast in conversations with non-autistic people (and sometimes other autistic folks). I am tired of the fast pace of movement I set for myself, lest I fall behind non-autistic standards. I am tired that the ways I communicate and move don’t seem to be enough for a lot of people.
Or, if you flip that coin, I am tired of the way people dismiss the struggle to move fast and the struggle to sound like I know what I’m talking about and call me expressive.
I want to learn to stop going so fast. I want to learn that it’s okay for me to take long pauses, stimming idly as I let the words form and coalesce into sentences.
I don’t want to hear that I’m expressive.
I want to learn that it’s okay to never be able coordinate my movements when I turn toward a door frame, resulting in the inevitable collision. I want to learn that I can focus on my movements, unapologetically Autistic in the ways my hands move, slowing to let myself tap invisible pianos and move my hands back and forth to the music.
I want people to learn to value diversity in communication and movement. I want people to make the effort to understand me, as I make the effort to understand them. I want people to learn that the ways I speak and move are, now and always, acceptable and valid.