On the other hand…


I was just reminded of one pretty solid indicator that the guy who works for me in the afternoon actually sees me as a real person.

Whenever he leaves, he says really casually, “See you guys later.” Always has, since his first day here. Just did it again about five minutes ago.

He means me, the dog, and the cat. He addresses it to all of us. He realizes that when he’s in my apartment, there’s four sentient creatures in the room including himself.

There was a staff person I knew in California who was the same way. She talked to me and to my cat, neither of us with baby talk, as if we were actual people. She was training to be a speech pathologist, and I think she’ll make a good one.

(I’m remembering in particular how Fey and I used to watch her while she did stuff, and she talked to both of us when we did that, “Why are you two staring at me!?!”)

And I’ve found that staff who instinctively see the dog and cat as worth talking to, just casually, and acknowledging them like that, tend to see me as a person, and an equal, as well. Not a hard and fast rule or anything, but so far I haven’t met many exceptions.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

16 responses »

  1. I have lovely conversations with my cat. I’ve never felt she’s aloof, or not caring, or any of the other misconceptions about cats. I don’t baby talk, though I do admit to sometimes going overboard with the flattery. Most conversations that are verbal are about everyday stuff (I speak English, she squeaks cat) and non verbal conversations consist of slow blinking, forehead kissing and just gnerally feeling as though I’m not alone if she and I are the only ones in the oom.

  2. The connection here might be that people who see animals as “people” of a different species are flexible enough to understand that different minds need not be thought of as nonexistant minds. Therefore they are willing to communicate to those who are different–including animals, including nontypical people.

  3. I’ve been lurking here a while, but not posted before. I’m not autistic, I don’t have any autistic family members, and I don’t happen to have had very many encounters with autistic people in my life – I’m in my early 40s. It wasn’t until I began reading this and other autistic blogs that I had the slightest clue about life as an autistic person, which turns out to be more complicated than I could ever have imagined.
    I’m a vet, and so at work I do often have to communicate with people I have never met before, many of whom are not “normal” in lots of different ways. Before I read autism blogs, if I were put in a situation where I had to interact with a non-verbal autistic person, without having been told anything about them beforehand, I might very well have overlooked them in favour of talking to the person with them, just because I would have been too ignorant to know that being unable to speak (for non-physical reasons) does not make somebody unable to understand. (and also, because if I am trying to find out what’s wrong with an animal, obviously I do need to get information from somebody as to what the problem is, and animals aren’t verbal either!) Now that I know better, I would definitely make a point of trying to communicate with the non-verbal person, although I don’t know how much successful communication I could achieve in the space of a few minutes, which is all the time I would have.

    But if someone is employed to help you, surely they are given some briefing before they start work? If someone knows how eloquent you can be on this blog, how could they not treat you as a sentient equal in real life? I am truely amazed that people who are trained to work with you routinely don’t speak to you as sentient. Surely they don’t have the excuse of ignorance, after all?

  4. My parents used to have a dog that would work out puzzles for herself. I don’t mean she could use jigsaws, rather that she would think of alternative ways of solving a problem. One example was that one day another dog in the household was playing with a chew bone that the first dog wanted. She tried brute force at first, it didn’t work. Then she got this tiny, soggy, frankly disgusting looking, scrap of an old chew bone and started playing with that in front of the other dog, making out it was the most exciting object ever to have graced the earth. The other dog dropped his chewbone, allowing the first dog free aceess to it, so he could get the tiny scrap.

  5. Alison, apparently (and i say apparently only becos i never experienced this situation first hand and am going on what people with staff tell about it), the staff can have so little training (either in general about possible disabilities of clients, or in particular about their current/future clients) that it’s not even funny. also they are badly paid and have a high turnover. this tells you what kind of value the organizations sending them out are putting on the work they do. i hope this makes sense.

  6. n., if you mean “makes sense” in the moral/ethical sense of the phrase, then it doesn’t at all.

    Of course I assume you meant “makes sense” intellectually, in which case it’s clear at least to me. And, unfortunately, consistent with the impressions I’ve also gathered (though I don’t have first hand experience either).

    These factors in institutional settings are probably part of what contributes to the abusive atmosphere that many of them tend to have — both in the sense of of the word “abusive” that most people recognize (physical, sexual) and also the verbal/emotional and “playing mind games” kind of way that Amanda has described so eloquently in, as just one example, “Outposts in Our Heads.

  7. I agree that in most places, the qualifications and training for aide jobs is almost non-existent. These are generally entry level, low-paid jobs with high turnover. Not to mention hard work if you’re doing them right!

    But back to pets–Do you mean that there are people out there that DON’T talk to their dogs and cats? Hmmm. Maybe they are the ones that always look at me funny…

  8. I have a friend who told her adult daughters that when they are thinking of dating a man that should first look at how he treats pets…as in he might be on good behavior trying to impress the girl he wants to date but how he treats pets might be closer to his real self…I thought that pretty astute advice….I actually knew a couple who were very affectionate with their pets but actually seemed somewhat cold with their children…I found that quite odd and I think it was uniquely so….I do think a lot is revealed by how someone relates to their pets. I always liked the sign I saw once that declared that the pets lived in the house and were allowed on the furniture and if the visitor had a problem with that then they should realize the pets were there first!…We have two dogs, one with hip displaysia and they have orthopedic doggy beds all over the place…That is so they can comfortably be with us wherever we are…We have a couple of pads outside as well…all home made…

  9. One of the things I loved about an old boyfriend was the way he would approach animals. If the cat Grendel was in his chair, he would look pained and say, “Grendel, I need to sit there.” Then he would hem and haw and finally resort to actually picking up a disgruntled Grendel and depositing him on the floor. This is exactly how he would react if a human was in his way– he would feel awkward, say something very politely, and wait. Even though it might not have made a big difference to Grendel (who usually refused to even wake up until picked up), to me it showed that he was sort of assuming Grendel’s personhood rather than seeing him as some kind of fluffy object.

  10. This is not the same guy from the previous post, right? ‘Cause if it is, oh, do I have an intellectual ramble for you! I’m pretty sure it’s not the same guy; you said the first guy works at night and this guy works in the afternoon, but for a second I thought it was the same guy, and that you were giving the guy credit for usually acting decently while incidentally acting like a jerk. I hope it’s not the same guy, both for your sake and for the sake of my cerebral stamina . . . ’cause, oh, the dynamics if it were!

  11. Not the same guy.

    The guy in the previous post works the phones on a system that helps me at night from a distance (sometimes people come out, but they are not the people who answer the phone).

    The guy in this post works directly with me on a daily basis every evening (and is here right now).

  12. Ah. Gotcha. I guess I didn’t gather that the conversation was over the phone. Well, that’s extra jerky of *that* guy, then, ’cause he doesn’t have any basis for claiming that he’d ever “respected” you. And you’d think the guy who works the phone would have some experience in dealing with, ahem, emergencies.

  13. My dog Charlie has the same status as a human being. Everyone I interact with treats him that way. He was a rescue Jack Russell who has since become my assist dog. He tells me when there are changes in my environment…..phone, washer, dryer, microwave, boiling pots ect. He woke me up at 4 am because the hot water heater was going to blow up. I got to it first and shut it down, killed the gas, drained it out.

    I talk to him, and I believe he basically understands me. Not to say he works calculus, that is my job-but he certainly has his own wisdom and I am safer for it.


  14. I always talked to my dogs.

    I have a friend who had a cat, part Siamese, who would meow a lot whenever I came over. So I’d talk to her. She’d meow, I’d say something, she’d meow some more, it was lovely. Her human was highly amused and just loved watching when I came over.

    But what else do you do to a cat that’s looking at you and meowing?

    (I apologize to the cats I don’t let in my lap — I’m allergic and it’s one thing to be in the same room with the cat, another to have it on me.)

  15. The silliest thing is to NOT talk to animals. I carry on regular and animated conversations with my two Siamese, who have an astonishing range of vocalizations that they use in reply. They know their names, they know what “no” means, and the fact that they don’t always do as I say means simply that they’re ignoring me — not that they don’t hear and understand me.

    This phenomenon is not limited to Siamese by the way, nor to just the animals who live with me. Nor to me. My boyfriend, who is highly allergic to both cats and dogs, wouldn’t even look them in the eye when we first started dating. Now we live together (thanks to a fabulous air cleaner and HEPA vac), and he has an amazing bond with one of my cats, whom he talks to constantly. While the cats are technically not allowed in either our bedroom or the boyfriend’s office, I keep catching them in both places, because boyfriend has let them in there. His explanation is that, “Well, I told them they could come in if they stayed on the office chair (or the windowsill), and they’re good boys.” While they certainly wouldn’t put up with such restrictions from me, they do seem to listen to him. Weird, huh?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s