She sat at the back of the room in Princeton. Next to her was a friend who was able to interpret her meaning through the words that she wrote in a book and the invisible language that they had developed between the two of them. Described, someone might use the term 'non-verbal'. But in real life, in the real world she was able to communicate quite clearly wants and desires, further she was able to communicate deeper aspects of her personality. Everytime she was understood the trill of being 'heard' registered in her body and radiated through her face.
The next day in Oliver a man, a skinny little guy in a track suit with balding gray hair and a manic manner of movement, reacted emotionally to the workshop. Stories of teasing bothered him, descriptions of how people with disability were treated disturbed him. He came up and cried, a little - not as a means of grieving but as a means of saying 'this makes me sad' - then he indicated through rudimentary sign a gesture that this had happened since his childhood. After about 5 minutes I realized I had been deep in conversation with someone 'non-verbal.'
I hate the term 'non-verbal' because it's archaic, meaningless. I have met many who do not speak and none who do not communicate. A woman in an institution guided her staff in the meeting of her needs by the light in her eyes. A man in a group home lets his likes and dislikes, his ups and downs, clearly be known by the movement of his shoulders. A little boy told his mom that he was hurt at school by his behaviour and manner. All of these were 'non-verbal'.
Anyone who works with those who do not speak know that the word 'non-verbal' used to mean 'non-communicative' is just a falsehood. The more you know someone the more you know what makes them happy, what makes them sad, what foods they like, what colours they prefer. It' intellectual laziness to suggest that a human being can be in your company for more than a few hours without 'saying' something. Good heaven's baby's communicate well without a word - but they communicate well because parents really want to listen - really want to watch for meaning - really want to be in relationship with their child.
It scares me when justification for harsh or barbaric treatment is suggested and the explanation is that the person is 'non-verbal.' This is a means of tricking those who don't know people with disabilities and their myriad strategies for communicating into believing that consultation or consideration can't be done with someone 'non-verbal.' It's a lie.
In all the discussion about Ashley's treatment she is only 'non-verbal' - umm that's the first warning signal that something is wrong here. I saw a picture of her. She was smiling. That picture alone said that she could communicate happiness. That picture alone gave the lie to the idea of 'non-verbal' as 'non-communicative.'
Perhaps it would be better if we described Ashley using the word 'victim' to replace the word 'non-verbal' and perhaps we'll understand the situation better.
Anyone who knows someone 'non-verbal' who communicates well, please respond with your story to this blog. Let's make the point that one can only talk if another chooses to listen.