We are born into a human form, known as human body – our body grows like other natural elements in the world, (earth/planet) to which we come.
In the mid nineteen eighties I was invited to a group home to work with four autistic teens/young adults, all who had been institutionalised since their infant/toddler years. They had not known play with other children and they were all labeled aggressive, non-verbal autistics. During the first session, these individuals were communicating effectively (through body language which had been validated during the sessions) with one another and my Playworks Team - so much so, that the clinical supervisor was deeply moved, crying. By the end of the summer program these beautiful human beings had been validated because their body language communications was understood and the attempt to use verbal action language emerged as a natural result.
The human body is our largest form of expression, through rhythmical movements interrelated with vibration (sound=movement; movement = sound). Yet, as our largest form of expression, it is negated to the back seat in society where verbal word langauge use is pushed to the forefront expectations of communications deemed normal. Watching or observing our pets, the animal kingdom and the plant and other natural living sources – a defining part of our planet’s existence, co-existence and co-creation – we choose to condition ourselves that verbal language is normal and those who do not use verbal langauge are less than the norm – or rather, less than average.
When arriving in a foreign geographical part of the world, where the culture is completely different than the culture one has been raised for decades, and where verbal langauge sounds are different and clearly no where like the one raised with – what do you do first? Most people will use gestures and mouth movements with a variety of sounds and or exaggerated movements to go with those gestures hoping to exact a bridge of communication to get one’s needs met. Most people will try to find a commonality with the people in that culture, common ground to communicate from. Basic and most common needs are the foremost utterances such as direction to… for thirst… water, something to eat… food. Physical and facial gestures are the front runners to open some form of common ground communications. Like a smile, touch, take a person’s hand to direct them to… etc… Yet, when those who deem themselves ‘the experts’ regarding the autistic population meet with the autistic child, teen, and adults for the first time (under that label, autism or autistic) and assumptions are made; made far removed and beyond from what is natural communications for all people. What happens?
An immediate biased is raised. Judgement begins the process for conditioning before the individual has had a chance to show how he/she communicates, naturally. Now, put yourself back into that foreign land – what if the inhabitants you first meet did the same to you, judged you, did not give you any space or time to use your references and thought processes combined with some kind of common ground and bridge to reach a natural form of communication which initially and invariably will be focussed on physical movements, gestures and some inaudible (to them) sounds. And, they started babbling away in long drawn out inarticulate (to you) word sentences. The smells, sights, sounds, and unfamiliarity of the experience is hard to process because you have no bridge, you have no time to find any concrete past associations to create a bridge or common ground to try to facilitate some form of interactive responses – so you yell something to try to shut them up, you use your body jumping up and down to get their attention to stop, you try to walk away but they keep following after you with continuous sounds of word langauge totally unfamiliar to yours. As they follow you, they start to try to make you stop and stand still, they grab you…
Imagine, the scenario above, I just wrote portrayed, is all too often experienced by the autistic community and all too often by the youngest of us all who have the least amount of life experiences to draw from. And for those who have been conditioned out of how the autistic paradigm learns naturally, they become trapped, unable to think in a conceptualised manner, unable to process in a natural way (for themselves) and sensory insult after sensory insult is like being in a combat zone, so best to shut up and hide within one’s human body.
I myself have experienced not wanting to vocally speak after many traumatic events in my life’s journey. At the time of the traumatic events, I am uncertain as to whether it was a natural response in reaction to the experience or whether I determined it – when one suffers sudden loss and trauma, it appeared to me that a reactive survival process kicked in. So, was it a not wanting to or, a physiological, neuro-physiological way to protect myself from further assault of overwhelm, overload etc…
So, how do we validate in one another the body langauge form of communications and respect those of us in all walks of society whose first or preferred (or by necessity) form of communication is through the physical realm of body langauge and vibration? Do we say all children, all humans are wrong who communicate this way? Or do we select in our society who is worthy (say by brain injury, motor vehicle accident, spinal chord injury etc…) and deem those born under a marginalised label to be unworthy of the same respect as those who come by this communication aspect by disease, accident or injury?
Selective assignments of the human condition – rather the human being – are biased and controlling. We need not go very far back in history to see this with other groups of humans in society and how those in control determined by selective processing who is quote ‘normal’ – who is ‘intelligent’ and who is not. Today this style of conditioning has gone beyond the basics and is seeping into a new and now, sadly familiar term whereby terrifying labels are floated out there to be the norm – domestic t’s or international t’s (I have chosen not to give energy to the words, hence just the first letter). A new chapter of redefining groups of humans and how they will be treated, albeit in the leadership of the free world. This is not really new, and it is neither good or bad – it is how the social fabric of our societies are determined and have been for centuries. Shall we follow, or shall we as a self defined community lead?
So, how does the autistic community wish to be seen, heard, valued, respected and communicated to and with? Until we understand and appreciate all the bountiful assets which make up the autistic paradigm we may try to continue to separate the entire population of autistic people as haves, have nots, unique and weird, high functioning and low, verbal and non verbal, physically aggressive and not, passive and isolated (in his/her own world) genius savant, dumb village idiot, a community with no physical identity to know and to identify and thus to label them ‘with autism or autistic’ – hence why and how the ermergence of ‘behavioural modification’ became the identifier of this community. And yet, those who determined we should be identified by our behaviours did not come to learn from where our behaviours are derived as individual humans within a human sub group of the human race/species. ‘Behaviour identification’ was identified as an identifier providing a correlation to label and identify marginalised for groups of people who are not obvious to the naked eye unlike the following examples who are: blacks (skin color), chinks (slanted eyes), pygmies (less than average height), albinos and the list can go on and on… Autistic people, for the most part today are identified by physical mannerisms and behaviours. But, those in the field they have constructed for themselves called ‘the experts on autism’ have determined that the negative connotations of our behaviours is the rule of thumb to use as a gauge. Unfortunately this is not the natural platform in which we should be identified. When observing our community from within, our behavioural mannerisms are far from negative, and it is the autistic community itself who should be collating the information of our unique qualities as a race, as a culture as a community.
Over many decades and during my own lifetime I have come to meet and spend many days, weeks, months and years of quality time with the autistic community, my culture on earth, the culture of which I identify and have no stressors interacting with. It is a beautiful experience to be in the presence of not a few tens of but rather hundreds of and it is energising, non compromising, expansive and in alignment. The saddest experiences I have had with the community is when I see and experience people who have been misidentified as autistic and when they have pseudo presentation through the ‘behavioural identifier model’. These such people do not function from the natural and inherent internal mechanisms of being autistic – the autistic paradigm; rather they betray themselves through the absorption function and attention seeking function which is not a natural element of ‘what it is to be autistic’. There is a definite difference between sharing, co-creating and needing attention. I have never met a naturally autistic unconditioned person who is attention seeking, I have met some autistic people who have had trauma and continue to experience traumatic denial in their families and friendship circles of judgement – this form of experience is devastating to the natural make-up of those autistic individuals, whereby the glass box which surrounds them and encases them since early childhood (when they were first misunderstood and maligned) and to which they shelter themselves.
It is not enough to accept the autistic community – we, as a community must indulge ourselves in the contrast of the human essence of being and understand, that many autistic individuals have suffered, suffered greatly. The label autism subjects many in this community to a barrier of other experiences such as medical ailments and traumatic conditions experienced by a whole host of the human race. Making autism the label the be all to any form the individual is communicating especially via body langauge and sounds misses the point of what it is to be human.
Communicating through body langauge is an essential, for all human beings, no matter what race, culture or label we derive. For centuries humans have communicated through physical expression albeit in the arts, dance, sports; sounds and movement = vibration. Let’s start by celebrating and acknowledging that this is no different for autistic people.
Listen in to my weekly broadcast with radio show host Kelly Green on Living with autism: 60 year journey to find out more about why we do what do at the ANCA World Autism Festivaland the decades of life experience which led us on this path.
Copyright Leonora Gregory-Collura. All rights reserved, November 19, 2016