Last Friday, Neurodivergetn K wrote a post on the phrase “Use your words.”. I only read it today and, partly because I got triggered by this post, I am going to blow off some steam about this phrase. A lot may seem like a repetition of what Neurodivergent already said, but well, there can’t be too many autistics speaking up against NTs putting their own arbitrary standards of normalcy ahead of our needs.
As readers who’re familiar with me and my blog will know, I reside in a psychiatric institution. Its aim is rehabilitation. I’ve been on a ward that had an even more open rehabilitation-focused vision at least on paper, but staff there were much more willing to bend the rehab paradigm a bit to accommodate me than the staff on this ward are. Note that rehabilitation has two meanings in psychiatry, one in which the client is as much in charge of their care as possible, and the other where the client is trained to become (or appear) as normal as possible. I’m talking about the second meaning here, as I have absolutely no problem with the first.
“Use your words.” As I wrote in a comment on Neurodivegent’s post, this phrase is often accompanied by “You’re intelligent” or “I know you can do it” or some variation on this theme. Let me address these follow-up phrases too.
“You’re intellignet.” And now what? Firstly intelligence is not the same as speaking ability. Second, what if I weren’t intelligent? Would I be cut some slack then, or would my needs just not matter as much? A variation on this theme which I’ve come to hate almost as much is “You’re an adult”. It has its own implications in light of my multiplicity, discounting part of me that actually isn’t an adult. If I act like a child, maybe it’s because at that particular point I am a child? I know the staff aren’t going to buy into that since they’ve thrown out my DID diagnosis, but it’s not like I’m any less or more multiple now that we call it BPD.
On a related note, telling me that my abilities are incongruent, isn’t going to help me. I know they are. I know I’m sometimes able to do things that I can’t do at other times. I know I’m able to do seemingly complex tasks but not simple ones sometimes. I know I can have quite spontaneous-looking, appropriate conversations sometimes and barely make any sense of my words at other times. Telling me this is not possible is denying the obvious. Telling me this is not appropriate is like telling a blind person to look harder because they can hear fine or telling a person who is night blind that they should be able to see in the dark because they could see fine during the day. (I know many night blind people are also partially sighted, but I’m simplifying the situatioon a bit.) It’s not like developmetal disabilities like autism are any less real than visual impairment just because they’re more difficult to understand and seemingly easier to overcome through behavior modification.
Let me talk about that now: behavior modification. I was going to write a separate post on that, and maybe I will write one more. Here’s the thing: telling me to “use my words” will most likely get me to pull out a script. You didn’t know I had them, clueless neurotypical who knows me just enough to see my non-autistic appearance but not well enough to truly listen? I may have somewhat more elaborate scritpts than the example Neurodivergent gave, but I do have them. This is why, when I’m interrupted or distracted while executing the script for telling the staff I’m distressed and need help, I often end up having a meltdown. And this script gets interrupted a lot of the time, oftentimes even by staff. They want exact explanations of what I want or need from them, even if they know pretty well what I need. I’ve sometimes gotten to ask for my PRN when that’s not what I needed just because it was the shortest script in that part of my brain I could access. Asking for some quiet time with a staff member, which is what mostly helps me, is a much harder script to execute. Please know: “Can I say something/ I’m distressed,” is not okay. It’s got to be: “Can I please speak to you in a quiet place for a bit when you’ve got the time? I’m distressed.” Sometimes I think it’s NTs who are literal-minded.