Jason's View

Just Because I Don't Talk... The Assumptions We Can Make

09 Aug 2017 by Jason Harris

One of the many things that make us brilliantly human is the use of language. We love to be able to communicate with others. Some of the most famous people in history were great authors and writers.

The ability to communicate is one of the core ways we define ourselves as human and what distinguishes us as intelligent beings.

But as we are starting to see through science, there are many different types of intelligence. Also there are other tools, skills, and talents we use to function. So then why are verbal skills such a big factor in how we judge intelligence? We tend to think that people who are the smartest are the ones who can convey ideas in the most articulate manner. We also tend to see people who are non-verbal, or even differently verbal, as not only poor communicators but assume they are not able to understand information that is relayed to them. This especially happens around intellectual disabilities. 

People with head injuries or the elderly are assumed not to be intelligent. My question is why do we tend to assume this view and how do we broaden our scope of understanding.

The ability to communicate is one of the core ways we define ourselves as human and what distinguishes us as intelligent beings.

There was a time we thought that we were the only ones who communicated and that made us “special.” Then we realized other creatures have the ability to communicate. We are now starting to realize there are many ways to communicate and even humans use more than just verbal language to communicate.

We are also starting to realize that there are different ways of comprehending spoken language and understanding what is trying to be said even if there is limited or no speech. For example, we can “understand” someone when they are trying to communicate with us even when they speak a different language and can only use hand signals to communicate.

We are starting to see with better technology and adaptive ways of thinking about communication that people who have limited verbal skills understand more than we give them credit for. Also we are beginning to understand that people with limited verbal skills have a significant need to express themselves. Just because you can’t speak doesn’t mean you don’t get input from the world.

People tell me ‘you don’t seem like you have autism’ because I don’t fit that so-called “autistic pattern”. I have been so used to not being listened to about even my own self that I can get defensive about it. So just because you can’t speak doesn’t mean you don’t hear and understand! Just because you have trouble expressing an idea doesn’t mean you don’t have a deep understanding and have something to offer. We need to be mindful that we all bring something to the table and have things to say and offer. We just need to listen and not assume!

Jason Harris

Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with disabilities, mental health, aging and other needs. Jason was awarded an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education and Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies from Syracuse University.  Jason is also a Project Coordinator and Research Associate at the Burton Blatt Institute, an international think tank for Disability Rights and Human Justice at Syracuse University.  He regularly contributes to the blog in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country consulting and speaking about disability issues and rights. To read more from Jason Harris, read Jason's View