Tag Archives: Language

A bunch of stuff that needed saying

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The following stuff is important stuff I wrote elsewhere on the net. If some of what I'm saying doesn't make sense, ignore it, it's just context that I'm not able to describe right now. The main thrust of what I'm saying should make sense without understanding the full context of what I wrote. And I can't rewrite it all right now for this blog. So the following is pretty much as I wrote it. Also sorry for all caps in places, it was because where I was writing it I couldn't use other forms of emphasis. And please don't assume that this is all about autism. Everyone always assumes that everything I say is all about autism. It isn't. Most of it isn't. Not even the stuff that talks about autism is all about autism. I am fed up with just about every such assumption because my world isn't made up of only or mainly autistic people and when I talk about things I always get replies saying “This applies to people without autism too” and I want to say “no shit Sherlock, that's what I meant in the firs

This turned into a long post, and it may not apply to the people I’m replying too, but this conversation just brought up a lot of things I’ve been thinking but having trouble saying.

Thank you for writing that. It’s really important.

Also another point I want to make. There are many autistic people whose best method of communication is nonverbal. By which I mean, not speech, not writing. Some of us this is true of, can communicate well by speech or typing also. Some of us can’t. But we usually have trouble with receptive language — either some of the time, all of the time, or especially, during the early formative years of our lives. I’m one such person.

Most people don’t know this because the current theories of autism all involve us being terrible at nonverbal communication. By which people mean, terrible at one specific kind of nonverbal communication that most nonautistic people are good at. Also, most autistic people who can talk about their experiences in words, are (or believe themselves to be) bad at nonverbal communication, and their experiences get seen as applying to all of us, when this is not true.

So for many of us — nonverbal communication, and the world of things outside of words, are our best way of communicating. Whether we can also use words or not. I wrote about one such group of autistic people in my contribution (“Untitled”) to the Loud Hands anthology. Because I want people to know we exist. Because I want other people like me to know they aren’t alone, in an autistic community made up mostly of people who experience themselves as terrible at nonverbal communication. Where people even say that autistic communities are communities where people can use text or other forms of language, rather than having to deal with nonverbal communication. Even though there’s plenty of us who do better in person, BECAUSE we communicate best nonverbally, because words, whether we can do them or not, whether we are or seem good at them or not, are so hard and so difficult and so painful to keep using.

There are entire groups of autistic people out there who communicate with each other using our own unique forms of body language that are different from nonautistic body language, different from other autistic people’s body language, specific to ourselves, specific to each other. Who communicate best reading each others writing, looking for the patterns that exist between the words, rather than inside the words themselves. Who communicate best by exchanging objects, by arranging objects and other things around ourselves in ways that each other can read easier than we can read any form of words. Who share the most intimate forms of communication, outside of words, outside of anything that can be described easily, in between everything, seeing each other to the core of our awareness. Who see layers upon layers of meaning outside of any form of words.

In “Untitled” I was writing about my favorite communication ever, my video chats with AnneC (and her cats, when they show up, which Shadow absolutely loves communicating with me over video and reminds her every Friday at the right time because he loves it so much). I don’t necessarily do the best at visual stuff the way most people think of it. But I can see the patterns of movement in other people, including cats, whether or not I see them well in the usual forms of visual perception. And those patterns of movement tell me more than any word ever could.

I can even read nonautistic people fairly well at times — just not in the ways nonautistic people read each other well. That’s one of the problems with nonautistic research into autistic people’s abilities to understand nonverbal communication. Most of it relies on the understanding and use of words at the same time as understanding the nonverbal communication. And most of it relies on the kinds of nonverbal communication that nonautistic people are most aware of. This frustrates me to no end — how can people research forms of understanding that they don’t themselves have and therefore they don’t themselves understand even exists? I’ve actually told researchers ways they can research autistic people’s understanding of nonverbal communication without having to resort to the faulty methods they usually use.

And one researcher told me, when I asked, that every parent of an autistic child she ever met said that their child picked up easily on things like stress in the household, but that SHE ACTUALLY DISREGARDED IT UNTIL I ASKED HER, BECAUSE SHE’D BEEN TAUGHT THAT AUTISTIC PEOPLE COULDN’T READ BODY LANGUAGE. I’m totally serious. If researchers are that biased themselves, how can they possibly hope to even notice that we can understand things they assume we don’t understand?! I taught that researcher a bunch of very simple ways to test that without relying on the painfully stupid research methods that guarantee researchers will find only what they expect to find — relying on us to use and understand words, relying on our understanding of actors and stage conventions rather than real people’s real nonverbal communication, relying on nonautistic people’s limited ability to read autistic body language, all sorts of other flaws that seem obvious but that researchers themselves seem never to notice. So hopefully she will set up some real experiments that show our real abilities.

Anyway. Back to what I was saying. There’s entire subgroups of autistic people out there _ not just my own — who rely on nonverbal means of understanding the world, and nonverbal means of communication. That’s one reason I usually put myself in my videos — because I know that certain other autistic people will be able to read me like a book, even if nonautistic people usually can’t. And that nonverbal communication is a crucial part of my videos. (See why the entire first half of “In My Language” has no words in it. I was trying to make a point about the best way I communicate, the best way many people communicate, autistic or not, verbal or not. Mostly lost on people, who think it’s a video about autism. It’s not. It’s a video about communication and understanding and personhood, that happens to be made by an autistic person. Big difference. I told CNN why I really made the video, and they left out that part of the interview in favor of putting their words in my mouth. I think my real intent was too political for them.)

Anyway. I may be a writer, but my real best form of communication has nothing to do with words. I use words because I have to. Because most people won’t understand me if I don’t. I don’t use them because I like them, or because I “can’t do nonverbal communication so text is best for me”, or any of the usual reasons most people assume. If I could never use language again, spoken or written, I would be really happy. But the world won’t let me do that, so I carry on using a means of communication that is outright painful for me.

I don’t know the people in the video, but I know that the way their bodies move makes intuitive sense to me and communicates things whether they intend it to be so or not. (The forms of nonverbal communication I understand best are unintentional, in fact. That’s one reason tests using actors don’t work on me. I know an autistic woman who failed a test of nonverbal communication because it used actors and she kept describing their real feelings instead of their acted ones. What this says about nonautistic people’s understanding of nonverbal communication is… interesting.) Whether they are able to use spoken language or not, the video would lose a lot if it only relied on showing them speaking or typing the words.

And I really dislike a lot of the self-advocacy movement for relying mostly on the self-advocacy that happens through words, written or spoken. This leaves out people who can’t do either but who are nonetheless quite capable of advocating for themselves through their actions and movements. If I hadn’t spent a lot of my life forcing myself to do words, I might be such a person, so I am always aware of this. Words are not natural to me the way they are to some autistic people. They’re difficult and my development could have gone either way. There are also people who, no matter how much effort they put in, could never have used or understood words, and they are also extremely important, and they are also capable of self-advocacy, and they are still capable of communication that is more full of meaning than the communication of many people who use words.

I wish there were videos using their communication — which by definition wouldn’t involve words. Both people who would have been able to use words had they put in a crapload of effort at critical times in their development, and people who would never be able to use them no matter what. Such people exist. I sometimes wonder if they are too inconvenient for some autistic people to remember. I hate when people tell parents, “If you just gave your child a communication device they would be able to type words (or use picture symbols) and everything would be solved.” You don’t know that. You just can’t possibly know that. I hear that a lot, this idea that autistic people would all be able to communicate in words if only they were given a means to type them instead of speak them. And it’s so not true that its utterly ridiculous. I hear it both from people whose main way of communicating is speech, and also from people who use typing, and people who use both. It’s wishful thinking and it’s not true. There are people whose understanding of the world is just like a typical “aspie” except they couldn’t speak for motor reasons, and they are the most likely of those who use typing, to believe this myth.

Reality is that there are lots of people who will either never be able to use words, never be able to understand words, or both. Or whose use or understanding is so limited that they will never be able to use words as their primary means of communication. But they do communicate, whether the communication is intentional or not. And they do matter. And they are capable of self-advocacy. And they should be included in self-advocacy movements if those movements ever expect to represent autistic people, developmentally disabled people, cognitively disabled people, disabled people in general, whatever group is trying to represent itself in that movement. And in order to include them, you have to show their movements and their sounds and all the things they do that aren’t words.

It’s true that many people who are thought not to be able to use or understand language, actually are. And it’s terrible that they are overlooked. But in their desire not to overlook such people, many people claim that all disabled people who can’t communicate through speech fall under this umbrella. And that’s simply not true. In order to communicate with people who will never use words, you have to learn their language. (And surprise, that’s one thing that “In My Language” was actually about. And it would be about that whether I used typing or speech to communicate — either one would be my “second language”, and as such I can easily, easily envision a situation where I never learned and never would learn to use speech or typing, both of which I used at different points in my life.) And each person has one. Sometimes several people have a language that is in common but is not words. Sometimes each one has a separate way of communicating that is not words. But either way, you have to learn how they communicate, not force them to either communicate how you best communicate, or else be considered “non-communicative” for the rest of their life. And yes it’s possible to get consent to use their communication, it’s just sometimes harder work than asking a yes or no question in words.

And a community that doesn’t include such people isn’t my community. The developmental disability community is far better at including such people than the autistic community is, even though not all of the DD community manages it either. One reason I’ve spent a lot of time communicating with people who can’t use words in any form is because I’ve been in the developmental disability system for pretty much my entire adult life and have spent a lot of time with a wide variety of people. And I’ve spent a lot of time communicating with people who can’t and may never use speech or typing or even picture boards. And that’s something that certain segments of the autistic community are sorely missing. Even parts of the autistic community that involve people who don’t use speech, are often made up of only those people who were able to learn typing, and often put forth the (false) idea that everyone could learn typing if only they tried hard enough or were exposed to the proper teaching methods.

The response someone made is true: Some of the people in the video use typing, so they could never be shown speaking the words in the video. But I’d like to go further than people who use speech and people who use typing, because unlike a lot of people, my social world is made up of a lot of people who can’t do either one. And also made up of a lot of people who, even if they can use speech, typing, or both, those are not their best means of communication, and it would be better to show us using our best means of communication rather than merely the form of using words. Not everyone has words but everyone has a voice and a means of communicating. And not everyone who uses words sees words as their primary voice or their primary means of understanding things, and that needs to be respected. And I’m sick to death of spending time in communities where most people seem to miss these facts, and automatically see having a voice as the same as using speech or at least using language.

Blogsy

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I pretty much never write posts like this. But the reason I've been able to post more recently is an app called Blogsy. I really have trouble using the WordPress site, and even the WordPress app for some reason. I've had trouble learning to use Blogsy, but now that I know how to use it (for WordPress at least), it makes things very easy in ways I didn't know were possible.

I don't know if it exists for other platforms, but it exists for iPad, which is my primary communication device (using Proloquo2Go) these days. I've heard of it existing for iPhone and iPod Touch, but I've heard the opposite too, and I don't see them in the app store, so I don't know what's going on there.

For some reason I don't understand, it also makes it enjoyable to post things. That seems like a weird thing to say. But for whatever reason, it happens to be true. I don't know if that's because of me, the app, or both. And making something enjoyable doesn't always make it possible to do something, but it at least makes it easier.

It's the sort of thing where when I was younger, I used to type random things into word processors and stuff just because using them was fun. If I'd had a blog when I was a kid, and this app was around, I doubt anyone else would have enjoyed reading it. Because I would mostly be posting random stuff just to use the app. This post of course couldn't possibly qualify as a slightly more complicated version of the same thing. ;-)

Communication page I used to handle that invasive woman I met.

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It’s been quite some time since I posted my letter to the woman who accosted me on my way to the para transit van. But I wanted to update people on how I handled the situation when she approached me the next day. Which was a success.

I knew that I have trouble coming up with new language of any kind in high stress situations, especially involving people with bad boundaries. So I spent most of the night creating a new page for my communication software.

I use Proloquo or Proloquo2Go for most of my communication these days. My super-expensive, clunky Dynavox has been collecting dust in a corner ever since I first got Proloquo2Go years ago. Proloquo2Go has two separate sections. One where you type and it speaks out loud. Another where you can say something by pressing on one or more pictures.

I created a page where everything was about boundaries in one way or another. These are things I’m often unable to say in real time. I have a hard time remembering its possible to say these things. And coming up with words. And monitoring my emotions in response to situations. And communicating around invasive people. And pushing words past what feels like a barrier between my mind and everything else. Let alone all this and more at once.

Here’s the page I created:

[Description: A communication page arranged as a grid with one sentence per square. Each one has one word or sentence. Words in parentheses are what the previous sentence is an abbreviation for: Back off. Don't patronize... (Don't patronize me.) Don't talk to me. Don't touch me. Don't want talk about. (I don't want to talk about it.) Fuck off. Get out of my face. Go away. I am not a child. I don't care. I don't do eye contact. I'm not kidding. I've a right to be mad. (I have a right to be mad.) it's not funny. Leave me alone. Now. Please. Stay away from me. Stop it right now. Stop. That hurts my brain. You put me in danger. (You're putting me in danger.) you're hurting me. You're too close to me.]

I tried to make it so that I could use various levels of politeness, forcefulness, and rudeness depending on the situation. One way I did this was with different icons. Obviously, “leave me alone” and “fuck off” are very different. But another way I did it was by adding icons for “please” and “now”, the two squares outlined in blue. This made it so, by hitting two buttons in a row, I could say “please leave me alone” or “leave me alone now”. So I have a pretty good variety of intensity I can use.

I was expecting her the next day. She had said she wanted to meet me in the morning. So I prepared myself. I tried to stay connected and aware of my surroundings. She sat down at the table next to me. And she watched until my staff person had to leave me alone for a minute. Then she approached.

Because I was expecting her, I was prepared for the onslaught people like her carry with them. That thing where when they get close to you, it almost feels as if they are overlapping with you. So in my head I made sure to mentally separate us, which made it easier to communicate. I hit “please” and “stay away from me”. She yammered some sort of explanation and went back to her table.

I maintained deliberate mental distance the rest of the morning that I was anywhere near her. My case manager later made an effort to find her. She’d heard the story from a guy who witnessed it, and she wanted to report this woman. But we never found her. And things went just fine the rest of the day.

In any alternate universes where I didn’t make this communication page, the likely outcome is much worse. I would have been pretty much trapped around this woman, and that would have done a kind of emotional damage that takes time to recover from. It’s nothing that has any kind of official name, it just leaves me more vulnerable to other people like her until I can reverse it.

Another important thing I did besides create the communication page, was to rehearse everything many times beforehand. If I don’t do something like this, it’s hard to use the communication icons. Contrary to popular belief, just having the ability to type or use icons, doesn’t solve every communication problem.

And without rehearsing, there’s a big chance I’ll never use a page like this. My fingers won’t know where to go. My mind won’t remember it’s possible. My eyes won’t remember to look through the page to find possible things to say. My will won’t be able to push through the barrier between experience and expression. And much more. That’s a lot of places for communication to break down.

It is absolutely vital that people who use communication devices, have ways to respond to violations of our basic boundaries. Disabled people are far more likely than others to have others behave invasively with us, ranging from subtle to violent. People teach us from our earliest years onward that such invasion is normal, natural, and something we should accept without complaint. We have to have the means to say no.

And we have to have the means to say no forcefully, even rudely. We need to be able to use cuss words, even if we have the kind of personality that would never use them. Sometimes the only reason that we appear unnaturally even-tempered is because we’ve never been allowed to be otherwise. We have the right to say fuck off, but people don’t always give us the ability to do so.

Of course, even if we say things like that, there’s no guarantee anyone will listen. Some people’s reactions when I get mad, remind me of the way people giggle at my cat when she swipes someone who touched her in a way that hurts her. It’s like she and I aren’t real enough to them, so our anger is cute and funny.

I’ll also never forget the time someone made an asinine comment when I was out in public. I typed a response and stuck the speaker up to his ear so he could hear it. All his friends burst out laughing. One of them said “Dude, that guy’s cussing you out using a machine!” Which is… so much not the response I was going for.

But still. We need to be able to have the full range of responses that other people can have. To do otherwise smacks too much of that idea that we should be passive and sweet all the time. Being able to say no, being able to cuss, being able to tell people to go away and leave us alone, these are some of the most important things people with communication impairments can learn to say. But often people don’t teach us that stuff, they don’t want us to know it.

Another important thing: Communication pages like this are not just for people who absolutely can’t ever speak. They are for anyone, anywhere, who for whatever reason would be unable to say things like this in situations where they need to be able to say it.

I’ve run into too many people lately who desperately need something like this, but are afraid to use it because they don’t fit the popular image of someone who needs a communication device. Some of them have even been told that it’s horrible or disrespectful of them to even consider using a communication device. But my position on it is that having the most effective communication method possible can result in better emotional and physical health, in some situations it can even save lives.

So given all that? If something like this can make your life better, for any reason at all. Whether you can’t ever speak, can only sometimes speak, can only speak about certain topics, can speak but it isn’t what you mean, can speak but typing or using picture icons works better or uses fewer mental resources. Or anything else like that. Do whatever works best for you, and screw anyone who tells you different.

Anyone who feels the need to act as the supreme gatekeeper of all things assistive technology… not only do they have too much time on their hands, but they are letting ideology get in the way of real people leading better lives. And that is just plain wrong, and fundamentally unfair to people who could benefit from a communication aid.

 

Thank goodness for that instinct.

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That instinct was back again this week. I’m pretty sure I’ve written of it before. Despite terrible conscious body awareness, this instinct has popped up to save me more than once. It tells me “There’s something wrong with your body. If you don’t find a way to detect and treat it, you could die or end up in the hospital.” It sounds ominous but it’s not a panicked “OMG I’m going to die AAAAAAACK!!!!”, it’s more like a calm but firm realization.

In the past, it has warned me of things like organ failure, untreated bronchiectasis (treated it’s only a little more dangerous than asthma, untreated it can kill you), and the beginnings of going septic. And this week it popped up two or three times (seemed like twice, but the first time it happened it seemed to be warning me about two separate things).

The first time it popped up recently, I was away at a recreational program. It told me to go home, not even to wait a day, just go home now. The warning seemed to be twofold: Something was going wrong with my lungs, and my body was so out of energy (from being pushed by others, but that’s another story) that I was experiencing symptoms I haven’t experienced since my last major health crash. Between the weakness and the coughing up disgusting colors of phlegm, this seemed pretty obvious, but the warning gave me the extra urgency not to wait overnight.

So I got some antibiotics ordered and went home. By the next day, my brain was actively checking out. By checking out I mean, being technically awake but not conscious of anything, or being aware only of these weird series of images that went by. It had a feel similar to past experiences of delirium, rather than shutdown or something, and during periods of better awareness I became very glad this was happening only in a familiar place among familiar people. And I was able to begin the resting that I badly needed in order to get through this in one piece.

I began to feel a little better the next day. But then, abruptly, things became far worse. I couldn’t get to the bathroom and back without falling or coming close. I sometimes felt like I was going to pass out. And I couldn’t get near food or water. I couldn’t put words to why, I would just try to drink and my head would turn away. And I felt generally cruddy and woozy. And most disturbingly, the instinct was back. It said “There’s something else wrong and this time it’s not your lungs or sinuses but I can’t tell you what it is.” Grrrrrrrr.

I told all this to someone who persuaded me to go to the ER. (Note: I nearly always have to be persuaded. A good friend describes my attitude to that place as “If Amanda got her leg lopped off, she’d be insisting she could bandage it herself rather than go there.” I’ve just got friends who refuse to give in if I say I don’t want to go there. And mostly I’m glad despite my loathing of the place.) The reasoning was that the lack of water alone would make it harder to cough things up, and bronchiectasis makes that hard enough already, and that could spiral downward fast. Plus it wouldn’t be good to pass out alone in my apartment.

Once I got there, the events unfolded in a very strange way. Normally they’ll give me IV fluids for practically no reason at all, but this time (when I was actively saying I was unable to drink) they insisted on testing my urine for dehydration. I was having too much trouble holding onto language to explain a lot of things so someone was with me explaining them. They kept demanding to know why I couldn’t drink, and the person kept telling them that autistic people can have so much trouble describing subjective experiences, that sometimes “I can’t do _____ and I don’t know why” is all you can get, and that you have to really dig and do a lot of tests if you want to find the reason, rather than acting like nothing is wrong because the person can’t name it. I was treated radically differently from my roommate, who was treated with the utmost respect. (This is common for DD people in general, including autistic people.) They even tried to get me to drink water, which is weird as usually when I’ve been given IV fluids I’ve been perfectly capable of drinking but they’d never given me water in a cup. And all I could do was wet my tongue a little and then my head turned away.

Nearly eight hours later, they came back with a way more respectful attitude to me. Why? The urine test just happened to pick up on the fact that I had a UTI. And they now thought that between a urinary tract infection, sinus infection, and lung infection, I might just have a reason to have no appetite. So they then proceeded to give me two bags of IV fluids and a prescription for yet more antibiotics before letting me go.

What scares me is what would have happened if they hadn’t detected the UTI. It’s not like they were even bothering to look for an infection. The information just popped up when they were testing for something else. And while I could tell the problem was somewhere in my torso, that’s a huge area of the body to look through for symptoms. Nothing pointed me in the direction that a UTI would have been in. And this physician’s assistant was not doing what you should do with a sick autistic person (check for all common things that could cause the symptoms). In fact, since my way of communicating my loss of appetite was so unusual, she wasn’t even treating it as a loss of appetite but rather a matter of willpower or not wanting to drink.

But somehow despite all that I’m on all the antibiotics I seem to need to be on, and seem to have found all the infections that were setting off my “get treated or you may not survive or at least may end up in the hospital” instincts. I’m just glad those instincts are there, or I would have delayed if not avoided altogether, getting everything diagnosed and treated. I certainly wouldn’t have known anything but the lung/sinus infections was causing all the new symptoms. It’s odd to have a body that won’t tell me basic information half the time, but will tell me “You’re in danger, get help NOW.” I wish that simply communicating this instinct to a doctor would result in getting tested for whatever things seemed likely. I think I could do that with my GP, but not with some of the random people you get in the ER. And trying to negotiate all this while disoriented and confused is just… gah, I’m glad it somehow worked out because I honestly don’t understand how, especially given I wasn’t “all there” during times I needed to be communicating clearly.

By this point I’m pretty wiped out and still having appetite problems, but I’m feeling a lot better. I don’t need my bipap while awake anymore, I can get around a little using my old crutches for stability, and my brain is no longer randomly checking out, nor do I feel like any moment my surroundings will burst into a Disney Acid Sequence (warning: the link is to TV Tropes and may suck you in and spit you out twelve hours later). And I’m hoping we caught everything the instinct was talking about.

Words that bite my brain

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I can’t stand these words.

Words that cause a range of cognitive pain for me.

At minimum, there’s a sense of them pulling me diagonally. I may understand the meaning, but they still strike me wrong. If I do understand them, they cost cognitive effort to figure out. Not the kind of effort that anyone should be expected to put into understanding things that are difficult for them. That kind of effort is effort I’ve already spent understanding regular words. This effort is beyond that and is destructive to my ability to do other things I have to do. Have to as in have to, not as in “feel like doing”.

Then the worst of these words. There is little to no understanding here. It feels like a miniature explosion in my head every time I read them. I can’t find another way to put it. And the pain they cause, although not physical, is quite intense and feels like a cognitive version of nerve pain. Anyone who’s had serious nerve pain will know how bad that is.

Most of the words are ones I rarely if ever use. But some of these are words I can bring myself to use, some of the time. Some are even words I’ve coined. That doesn’t seem to matter though, they still hurt my brain. So don’t assume that my using or even coining a word means it being easy for me or expecting everyone to like or use the word.

I will say that these are words commonly used in communities that call themselves “social justice” related. The reason I put “social justice” in quotes is that, as a word in the midrange of mental pain levels, I can’t quite bring myself to write it down as if I were using it. That would make it look like I know what it meant. (Not that that always stops me from using a word, but it often does.)

There’s a reason, though, that I’ve abandoned the idea of writing most of these words down in public, in this post.

Because when I’ve brought it up in the past, I’ve gotten a variety of pretty offensive responses.

People patronize me.

They treat me like not knowing these words is a sign of some kind of privilege.

They openly brag about their extensive knowledge of the subjects the words refer to.

They assume because I can’t handle or don’t understand or outright get pissed at the existence of a certain word, then I can’t possibly know anything about the subject the word is supposed to refer to.

They try to patiently teach me the meaning of the word, ignoring me whenever I try to explain that this doesn’t work with this kind of words.

They suggest that I don’t like the words because I don’t experience the kind of oppression that the words were built to describe.

They sigh and roll their eyes and get scornful. Because I’m obviously just some noob who wants everything explained to me (possibly because of an overdeveloped sense of entitlement).

Often their reaction is more than one of those things combined. “Well I for one totally know what the word means. I’m an expert in that area. I guess you are just too privileged to understand. But here, let me try to explain anyway. (As if I should have to.)”

I know it’s not about that, though, because often I know what the word is trying to refer to. I just can’t connect that meaning to the word without a lot of effort and pain. And the connection is never really complete.

Let me just say straight out that I would rather deal with one person who gets words “wrong” (and may even use lots of words deemed offensive due to not being able to keep track of that kind of thing) and may sound “clueless” to the social intricacies of communities or the meaning of words, but has good ethics and a grounded sense of reality; rather than a hundred people repeating all the right words with only a superficial take on the issues at hand and a tendency to want to blend in more than to solve real problems.

I only decided to write this post after seeing other people mentioning their own problems with this kind of language. Not identical problems, but clearly I’m not the only one who finds these words difficult. I’ve seen suggestions that these kind of words can shut people out of the discussion, even if that wasn’t the intent. I have to agree. I also saw someone who had an extreme emotional reaction to a similar set of words, and they wondered if their brain was responding to something real… like something about how people turn words into some kind of rigid ideology, and I have to wonder about that too.

[Note: I may be unable to quickly process comments starting very soon and then for a couple weeks minimum, so please don't be alarmed if your comments don't show for awhile.]

Paintings of language overload and its opposite

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I painted these earlier today. I started photographing these while Fey was hiding in the bathroom:

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(Picture shows Fey hiding in the bathroom, looking octagonal. I knew someone with an octagonal cat once. But didn’t know Fey could be octagonal too.)

I only wished I was hiding. There was a fireworks show tonight and I could feel every explosion rattling my bones or something.

Anyway, the first painting is about language overload. There are letters in it, which show much better in real life than in photos. So I took one photo of it the way it should look, and then another photo with light behind it so that it would show where the letters are. But the photo with the letters has extremely distorted colors for the same reason that the letters show well.

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It’s orange because that’s the color that always seems to be there when I’m overloaded by language. There’s letters throughout (ones that are yellow, orange, or clear synesthetically) but they don’t actually spell words (the same as language both imposes on me and makes no sense when I’m overloaded by it). And in general it’s supposed to convey what it’s like to be stuck in this overloaded language mode and not be able to get out.

After doing that, I felt kind of icky even though I wasn’t overloaded, so I did another painting that’s the opposite of language and the opposite of overload both.

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This one looks a lot better when you look at the larger versions on flickr. I have no idea how to describe it. It’s got a lot of layers and texture, and it’s hard to see some of the texture in a photo (but you could actually put your hand on it and feel some of the shapes). The photo isn’t a direct shot because that seemed to get the flash to mangle the colors, and I’m not good at photographing the kind of paintings I do. They always end up looking less complex than they are, when I photograph them. But that one photographed reasonably well as long as I did it at an angle like that.

What I mean by “beneath” words.

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I was trying to explain to someone what it meant when I said that I spend  so much time “beneath” words, and have to climb up to them from below. And it hit me that I could depict all of the different layers I go through one on top of the other. I once depicted them (but not all of them, and not showing them as layers) before, so I already knew some of how to do this. I used cut out pieces of construction paper to do the top six layers, and paint for the bottom two.

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I’m numbering the eight layers from bottom to top, but describing them from top to bottom. So I am going to start with the eighth layer.  Also these are the layers for written language specifically. Some of them do correspond to spoken words.  

The eighth (top) layer shows the words, “Don’t you know another”. It could be any words, but after not having a clue which to use, I chose the start of a sentence that a guy in an emergency room told me when I was a teen, after I was picked up very overloaded in public and humming one tune over and over to calm down. (He was in that mode people get in when you’ve become unable to talk so they suddenly decide you’ve become unaware of your surroundings too, and they mutter at you in a specific tone that seems to assume you will never tell anyone what they said.) These words represent what happens when you understand the words perfectly well.  

The seventh layer reads “melly doxel rin tunsh”. It represents being able to recognize the sounds a word might make, but not being able to understand their meaning. Whether or not you know that words can have meanings (I didn’t know that when I learned to read, and had skipped over some layers entirely that only became meaningfully separate later).  

The sixth layer reads “ncj fv rztlh xlm hnnc”. This layer involves recognizing the letters as letters, but not deriving sounds from them. 

The fifth layer shows a series of symbols such as circles, squares, zig zag lines, and other shapes. They are arranged as if they form words with spaces between them. This represents recognizing the letters as symbols, but not as recognizable letters.

The fourth layer shows a series of small slightly wavy lines, arranged in a pattern. This involves recognizing the letters as separate things, but not recognizing them as symbols. 

The third layer shows a bunch of joined together lines. This represents seeing and noticing a black pattern on the background, but not really separating out the pieces. 

The second layer is painted. It shows a variety of shapes, some recognizable and some not, some vague and others clearer, all blending into each other and the background. The photo has different colors than the real object due to the flash, for instance something medium green came out almost light pink. There is some loss of the actual multilayered texturing that’s in the real one too.  This layer represents just sort of seeing a lot of shapes and colors and visual textures, and the patterns those things make, and not even noticing the text at all.  Although it’s by nature visual, this is usually happening in all the senses at that point. 

The first layer is gradually and unevenly shaded into by the second layer. It shows a textured black background with a white circle in it. This is when not even sensory impressions make much of a dent in conscious awareness. The white circle is meant to show that even though this may seem completely blank in some ways, it’s not as empty as it may seem. (When things seem totally empty I feel “disappeared”. I did not attempt to draw this, but it would be zero.)

The things I drew were usually somewhat arbitrary. It would be possible to include more or fewer layers, or things “off to the side” that don’t fit into a simple sequence. I drew this to communicate a basic idea, not to do a perfect representation of everything.  There are doubtless layers above eight too — but I drew this to show what is beneath what most people think is the most basic, not to show all the different levels that fluent reading can take.  

Anyway, in different people who experience all these layers, things may work differently. For instance someone might live in the sixth layer, climb to the seventh layer easily, climb to the eighth layer with more difficulty, fall back to the fourth layer during ordinary shutdown, and the second during more severe shutdown. Such a person will have a very different experience of each of these layers than I do (for instance viewing the second layer as total confusion instead of comforting, familiar, and easily navigated).  And a second person may live in the sixth layer also but never make it to the eighth and have great difficulty with the seventh. And someone else may live in the fourth, and climb to the seventh easily by skipping the fifth and sixth altogether. 

I generally live in the second and first layers. This is where I am comfortable and have the widest experience navigating. I have a lot of experience built up there and it isn’t disorienting.  There are things that can disorient me during shutdown but they aren’t part of the scope of something about reading and are hard to depict. And then there’s layer zero during shutdowns. 

Climbing up to layer three and four can be done with some effort. It’s not always possible but it’s easier than the things above it. 

Layer five has a barrier that takes much willpower and effort to push through. Layer five is when things become pretty painful. It’s like each time I look at a symbol and recognize it for one, it burns my brain and squeezes on other aspects of thought until they run off and hide. 

There is a similar thing that can happen to me when at a similar layer in perceiving my surroundings in general. For instance, I might pick out anything circular in my surroundings and each circle I see hurts my brain the same way.  And in listening to my environment, I will generally pick out a really annoying and short musical rhythm or tune from the sounds around me, and hear it boring its way into my ears over and over. 

Past that barrier, things might be hard but nowhere near as hard as going through that barrier is.  Sometimes I go to the sixth level and sometimes I skip it and go straight to the seventh. 

Between the seventh and eighth there is another barrier. Not as big as the barrier between fifth and anything below it, but still recognizably difficult. My guess is that’s because putting actual meaning into the words is very different from, say, matching a set of sounds to a set of visual squiggles, which is just pairing one sense with another without having to match it to concepts. 

(The concepts themselves are usually not one word at a time. It’s more like, what set of words goes the most often with what set of experiences, and then which patterns of word orders and such go with which others.  And then skip the words you don’t understand (more than you might expect) and take what’s left and hope it makes sense.)

Anyway, obviously most of these layers involve climbing, and some parts of the climb are steeper or more difficult than others. But often I will find that it’s impossible to climb any higher than a certain point no matter how hard I try. Other times it’s impossible to climb because I entirely forget that the higher layers exist. Frequent cutoff points for both of those are between two and three (the point where the text is noticed), four and five (the point where symbols are recognized), and seven and eight (the point where meaning of words is introduced).  

Additionally, most of the time I let go I fall down to at least the second layer if not the first. Sometimes I fall down to the third or fourth instead. But there are two really terrible things that can happen instead. I can get “stuck” in one of the really painful areas. 

Getting stuck in the fifth layer happens sometimes. It’s as if the symbol-recognizing thing in my brain has so much momentum that it takes time for it to stop and drop down to something easier to take. Everywhere I look there are symbols. And every symbol noticed is pain. There is no way to stop this except to ride it out. 

But even worse is getting stuck at the eighth layer. This happens if I read or write too much without falling back to the lower layers to rest. I described this layer as the one where meaning is added. But I meant this only in the sense of matching a set of words to a meaning. I didn’t mean meaning as in meaningful. Quite the opposite.  

When stuck at the eighth layer, there is no escaping the words whether I look at words or not. The words have gotten inside my head.  The meaningfulness that I derive from the second layer is nowhere to be found. Direct experience is nowhere to be found. The only thing to be found is words, words, and words. 

Things go orange or yellow (the two most painful colors) and flickery, accompanied by an equally flickery ringing in my ears, and a dry burning all over my body.  And inside my head all I see or hear are words. Flickery words. Buzzing words. Words. Words. Words. Words. Words. Repeating like that in an endless loop.  And the terrifying emptiness that to me seems like the essence of what words and all other abstractions are (yes I am a writer with a loathing for words).  

The longer I try to do something like read to take my mind off the flickering, the worse it gets and the longer it takes to go away. Time seems infinite at times like this. The only thing to do is suck it up, lie down in a dark quiet room, and tough it out until it either disintegrates or I fall asleep.  If I’m awake, I gradually experience more and more periods of dark quiet, until finally the humming flickering wordiness dissipates. Usually at that point I’m exhausted and possibly have been frozen in one position for hours. 

I can think of very few experiences I like less than becoming stuck in the eighth layer.  I would far rather deal with shutdowns where nothing I can’t feel/see/etc. exists and I keep hitting layer zero and vanishing from my own awareness. 

Another important thing is that people operating at the same layer are not necessarily experiencing the same thing. My ability to read means I can operate at the eighth layer despite living at the first and second most of the time. Another person might live at the eighth. Another person might live up at some sort of eleventh layer I haven’t got into, and be experiencing the eighth due to shutdown. The person who lives there will be the only comfortable one. I will be uncomfortable because I am greatly stretching my abilities and hanging by my fingernails. The person from the eleventh layer will likely be distressed and disoriented because their usual abilities are gone and they don’t have the long experience functioning in that layer that someone who lives there does. 

This is one reason I find it really offensive when people assume that every person who can read and write (at least some of the time) has identical experiences. That assumes that everyone who can sometimes get to the eighth layer lives there, doesn’t understand the other layers that come before it, and can always get there. It’s not that simple. It’s not even as simple as the picture makes it look (and this picture is only about reading!). Life is quite a lot more complicated than that. 

So that’s my simplified guide to what I mean when I talk about living “under” or “beneath” words. Similar but not identical things apply when I talk about what’s “beneath” certain kinds of thought, perception, movement, etc. Oh and generally writing something this long puts my reading at layer seven at best, which is one of several reasons I can’t easily proofread, summarize, remember what I wrote, or do various other things.

Don’t just hand me things.

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This post has to do with the same topic as my old post Safety Hazards. By the way, the Foradil is no longer a problem for two reasons. One, I had a routine set up so that a staff person would hand me the inhaler with the capsule already inside and punctured. Two, insurance quit covering Foradil and gave me Serevent instead, which is a discus not a capsule.

And now I am typing around the body of a cat who timed her snuggle so that it came after the sound of the nebulizer shut off.

Some background: Now that they know the breathing trouble was bronchiectasis, not asthma and not me just being a pest, I have a treatment routine that makes the “breathing takes effort” thing and the “coughing only brings up phlegm the size of a pinhead” thing far less of a problem. I take two nebulizer treatments a day, each with a vial of 7% saline. But it’s really important to use my inhaler first or else the saline can do terrifying things to my airways that at best take eight puffs of my inhaler to keep me out of the ER.

So the usual routine is someone hands me my inhaler. I take two puffs. Someone hands me a nebulizer mask. I put it on. Depending on my position either I or the other person connect it to the tube and turn on the nebulizer.

So today someone walked into the room, handed me the nebulizer mask, and made a bunch of clanking sounds as well as a small sound like cuujooholdhis. So of course I put the mask on and things could have gone very badly.

The other thing is that I usually have to make an effort for words to be words and not random noise. It’s not just an auditory processing thing, it’s a cognitive/language processing thing where I spend most of my time in a default state where words haven’t even been thought of yet. And even when I concentrate I sort of phase out into that state a lot. So to me, most of my interactions on a typical day involve seeing patterns of movement, hearing patterns of step and tone and stuff, and mostly interacting by the process of being handed something, and then doing whatever I usually do with that object.

Which means “could you hold this?” is just a set of quiet sounds with an offhand, casual feel to them.

And handing me an object you don’t want me to immediately use can be a dangerous idea, depending on what you’re handing me.

The Fireworks Are Interesting

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The closer you get to the heart of things, the more words fall apart. First they get shaky. Then they start contradicting each other or getting paradoxical. Then they just fall apart, dissolve, vanish.

The way my thoughts work creates some similar problems for language. And it’s not just that I haven’t found the absolute best combination of words to translate my thoughts with. It’s that on a fundamental level the thoughts don’t translate.

My thoughts, such as I am aware of, are mostly observations of the world, that I have allowed to slowly and quietly settle themselves into patterns. They are not symbols of those observations. Symbols would have a better chance translating. They are also silent — no words pop in to describe them, there is no “loudness” about them, they don’t announce themselves with any kind of fanfare. I suspect to many people they would seem like an absence of thought.

I have also observed words. I have seen which clusters of words attach most frequently to which situations. And that is how I use words — as imperfect translations of situations that present themselves in my mind. I use words because they are the most readily recognized way to communicate with most people.

[With some people, words are not necessary. There are better ways to communicate. That is wonderful in every sense of the word.]

The way I use words can present problems though. I start with a situation and then I throw words at it. The problem is for any given situation there are many ways you could approach it with words. Some of those words might even seem contradictory if set side by side. But it’s not that the situation itself is contradictory, it’s just that language can be complex that way.

For instance, in my last post I described what could be called, and what are often called, subtypes of autism.

Someone replied saying they don’t believe in one type or many types of autism but that it seemed from my post as if I believe there are many.

The reality is more complicated than that.

Autism is not a thing. There are only the people who get called autistic.

I recently tried to describe the process that led to modern notions of autism. I have read many of the original sources for that and for other areas of psychiatric classification. My language skills were less fluent than stuff I normally publish online, but even though I am eating again (I was sick when I wrote it) I still can’t come up with more fluent language for the description I gave of the way ideas of autism have come about.

Were original people designated as autistic.

Original people had their be.

Original people had their “seem to professionals”.

Those not the same.

Then people later might identify with the be. Or with the seem to professionals. Or with the seem to professionals of the original seem to professionals.

So later version of who is autistic ==

People be like original people be.
People be like original people seem to professionals.
People be like original seem to professionals seem to later professionals.
(…)
People seem (to self or professional or family) like original people be.
People seem (to …) like original people seem to professionals.
People seem (to …) like original seem to professionals seem to later professionals.
(…)

Which total complicate what people see now as one thing and try to find one common deficit.

So when I say autism it is a shorthand for a modern language-based classification of a bunch of human beings that involved a lot of biases, historical accidents, and clutter-minded evolution of the sort I described above.

So when I say subtype of autism I mean there are people with some cognitive things in common, who also happen to be classified by those stilts-upon-stilts-upon-stilts standards as autistic. I mean to refer to real live people that I have observed patterns in. Not the baggage that comes with the words.

So I could just as easily have described us in a way that involved a questioning of the entire category system that gave birth to notions like “autism has many types” or “autism has one type”.

This may not be the same reason that the guy who replied to me doesn’t believe in those things. But it is still a lack of belief in those things. And my lack of belief in those things is not changed by my use of the words that most people are familiar with — autism, subtypes, and so on. My lack of belief in those things also is not a good reason for a troll to reply saying something like “If you don’t believe in those things then stop calling yourselves autistic damn you.” To say such a thing is to take my words on entirely the wrong level, and such comments will be cheerfully deleted.

There are third, and fourth, and fifth, and so on, ways to describe the situation in the last post or for that matter in any of my posts. It can be hard to know which one to use, whether to combine a few, or what. And no matter which way I choose, I will be leaving out a world of important things.

Because of this, please don’t persist in telling me what I believe after I have confirmed I don’t believe it. It doesn’t matter if you come up with ten separate examples of words you are totally certain prove I believe something or come at it from a certain viewpoint. If I say I don’t, then I don’t.

To get back to the way I think, I am not even certain I have “beliefs” (even if I use the shorthand as if I do). Once you peel back the layers of language that I use for communication… I have observations and experiences, I have patterns of observations and experiences, and so on. “Belief” seems to require jumping up into language again. So do many other concepts that seem more language-based than anything. Language forces me to use many concepts that have nothing to do with the way my mind works when I am not writing. Those concepts form weird mesh-like frameworks in people’s heads and they then associate me with the mesh-like frameworks instead of with the person beneath them. (And it’s not just me this happens to, but everything.)

But if you look between the words (not the same as between the lines), rather than at them, you can start to see things far more interesting than the words themselves. (This is not abstract. This is as concrete as it gets. The words are the abstractions.)

The use of language has the annoying property of insisting on the reality of lots of abstract concepts. Even seemingly concrete words like “green” are arbitrary, and different languages will divide the colors different ways. (The Irish language, I am told, has more than one word that translates as green and one of them involves colors that in English would be specific shades of green, grey, and brown.) Whereas just looking at an object of certain colors doesn’t require figuring out how any given language classifies them. So literally anything I perceive has to go through a horrid process of translation and distortion and oversimplification. Even the most “literal” language is hopelessly abstract compared to what language is trying to describe.

Every single time I write, I pick up a set of tools. Those tools are the phrases I cobble together into sentences.

“Subtype of autism” is one example of such a tool. It is a shorthand for certain people that I have made certain observations about.

Just because I happen to use the nearest available set of translation tools does not mean I have, in picking up those tools, agreed to the entire worldview of the people who built the tools. I don’t have to agree that autism is a real thing, or that it is not socially constructed, in order to use phrases that include the term. I use these tools because the alternative is silence, not because I have picked up an entire set of beliefs about the world with every phrase I use.

Even more, my failure to describe something does not mean I haven’t observed it. A friend once told me that she envisioned my brain as having these enormous clumps of detailed information, but without a way to access most of it. Most of what I know, I can’t say. What I do say is just an approximation of a sliver of what is in here. Notice how much trouble I had describing part of the history of autism. Even when not sick almost all my attempts have looked similar. Does this mean I lack awareness of what has happened? Does this mean I view autism as a concrete reality, as a type of neurology, as all these other ideas words bring in? No. Not even if I use the word “neurotype”. I know this can be hard to understand but it’s true. No matter what I say will leave out 99% of the information and distort the rest. Don’t be fooled by words.

All of this is just a reminder for everyone, of how and how not to read the words I write. I am not trying to force anyone, or to say everyone is able to do this. I am just trying to give a reminder of how I do and don’t work. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t sweat it. It’s hard to get words to make sense on a topic as completely opposed to words as this one. It’s a little bit like seeing antimatter and trying to use matter in it’s vicinity. The fireworks are interesting.

Why I never expect to be right

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A friend of mine read my post on my reaction to the blog carnival theme of intersectionality. She and I have fairly similar thought processes, and both arrived at the same conclusion about intersectionality as a concept. (That is, that it’s a fairly abstract theory-land construction of a very real-life situation and that we preferred practical descriptions to using an abstract term for it.) However, she arrived at the conclusion instantly, and it took me a whole post worth of muddling before I figured it out. And today I finally realized why there was such a time discrepancy in our reactions.

The fact is, I come at the world as if everyone knows more than I do, thinks better than I do, understands more than I do, and is generally in all ways superior to me. It’s a deeply ingrained unconscious reaction and has nothing to do with reality or even how I think about these things (I don’t even think that kind of inferiority/superiority exists. But that’s how I think.

Don’t tell me I shouldn’t feel this way because people who were classified as gifted children/child prodigies never feel this way. It’s not true. First off, I never knew I was classified that way until (ironically) I was at an age where I no longer even tested that way (which I wouldn’t know for many years to come). Second off, I doubt the knowledge would have given me the equally ridiculous sense of superiority that it gave many children around me.

Why? Well look at it through my eyes: I was in a world where everyone but me seemed to know sone important thing that I didn’t know. My receptive language was barely there, and I relied on patterns and the keen observation of non-word-based aspects of the world around me to navigate the world. I was good enough at it that nobody guessed the extent to which I didn’t understand things, but bad enough at it that I ended up making and wearing a fake nude suit out of construction paper in response to finally watching the behavior of other people to try to piece together what was wanted of me during an assignment that was due that instant that I hadn’t even picked up on as existing. (The kid I was partnered with kept drawing attention to his hat, and lots of the paintings in a book we were supposed to give a presentation on were wearing hats. Lots of them were nude, too, so I stood in front of the room covered in orange construction paper reciting fairly random sentences.)

And understanding language was only part of it. It seemed to me that everyone other than me was moving along to the pattern of music that I couldn’t detect. And that every time I tried to insert myself into the pattern, no matter how hard I tried the music turned dissonant and terrible and pushed me out again. So I would never have guessed that my ability to turn written into spoken words, or my general ability to find and memorize and analyze the world through patterns, had been impressive enough for a five-year-old to earn me a high score on a test that people believed all sorts of ridiculous things about. (Meanwhile the people who tested me thought those abilities meant so much that they would disregard my receptive language scores and all other scores that didn’t make sense to them. My guess is that my being white and middle-class also helped them forget.). I still remember the test and the manner in which I worked out the answers. I literally didn’t know the meaning of the word “test”. But my answers were apparently impressive for a five-year-old (not so much for a fifteen or twenty-two-year-old, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, despite my talents, I never really compared them to anyone else or even knew I was ‘supposed’ to. I only knew that I was outside this intricate dance that everyone else seemed perfect at. So when I did learn to compare myself to others, I only noticed my faults. And as I got older, and the gap widened between my abilities and other people’s expectations (whether the generic.l expectations of someone my age or the inflated expectations of ‘gifted’ children), I only became more convinced that I was uniquely defective and destined for some sort of hellish life of the sort that I knew ‘had to happen’ to people who didn’t measure up.

This has resulted, even now that I understand how nonsensical such comparisons and hierarchies are, in a deeply held assumption that if lots of people write about something I can’t seem to write about, then it’s because they know something I don’t. I almost never think that my way of understanding things is real or valid. So I frustrate myself by bashing my head on a concept for (at least) hours before realizing that my instinctual reactions to the concept have merit. And even when I figure out they do, I am sitting there just waiting to hear that I am just ‘too stupid’ to contribute anything to the discussion.