Below is a guest post written by Tas Kronby. Tas Kronby are Autistic members of the disability community with developmental, mental health, and physical disabilities. They use them/them and plural pronouns and we/ours in writing. They advocate for equal access and awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity. They aim to use their voice to break the stigma surrounding any and all invisible disability diagnosis and author the blog tasthoughts.com.
Thriving While Living as a Verbal and Nonverbal Autistic
Society expects you to conform to their idea of normal. It is pounded into your mind from a very young age and continues into adulthood.
When people look at us or interact, the comments we hear are:
You are so well put together.
You communicate so great!
Why do you say you struggle with social settings, you seem fine.
We had a job interview. We spent two hours stimming, pacing the room and humming, trying to calm ourselves so we didn’t stim during the interview. We have learned to mask our stimming so others are more comfortable. So when we are nonverbal, it confuses and agitates people. We become nonverbal from anxiety, stress, or a plethora of vocal stims that prevent clear thoughts from being vocalized. Also, due to our complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), we can have flashbacks and be caught in a silent loop of terror. Sensory overload like loud sounds will make us nonverbal. Since disorientation and confusion comes with our nonverbal behavior, we learned American Sign Language (ASL).
Our Nonverbal Life
At the age of fifteen, we learned to communicate with our hands instead of vocally. ASL has been a lifesaver for us and is our preferred method of communication. On our safety plan, we have ASL listed as a second language in case of an emergency.
When we can’t talk vocally, we can sign.
ASL is not used by everyone and this has limited our nonverbal world. When we are out in public, we use a notepad or a phone app to talk with people if needed. Our partner is our walking translation device when we are struggling to communicate. We have a text-to-speech app that can say what we type, which is helpful in certain circumstances. Also, we have an emergency app that can tell people why we do not speak. It includes emergency contacts and a request for someone who can communicate with us in ASL.
We are proud that ASL is our second language and have met many great people in the Deaf community that are accepting of nonverbal autists. Being around people who speak the same language as us is refreshing and is a place of safety.
Another important part of our life is using noise-canceling devices. If we are nonverbal from sensory overload, we have to cancel the noise. Otherwise, we spiral into a panic attack, or worse, we have Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES). Once we have a seizure, our ability to speak stops for a longer time.
We attend online school to accommodate our nonverbal times. We do not thrive in an on-campus experience because we cannot function in that level of noise. The same with working virtually, we can do the work, but we can’t also do virtual meetings with our camera on or with voice. Nonetheless, that is more acceptable now in remote work environments.
Life is not free of its challenges, and we consistently meet obstacles in our path.
Barriers to Success
Meeting people when we are nonverbal has led to extremely uncomfortable situations. One day at work, pre-COVID, we were sitting in the lunchroom. We were lost in thought and were startled suddenly by a coworker coming up behind our chair. He shook the chair with the intent of pranking us. This was a serious issue since it triggered our CPTSD. We immediately couldn’t speak. For the rest of the day, we wrote emails and avoided in-person interactions because we knew our nonverbal state would be a problem. Our supervisor at the time noticed and asked why we were not speaking. We wrote down what happened and explained that we will sometimes be nonverbal.
This was met with a string of invasive questioning requiring us to explain not only our autism but some of our traumas. After that, the work environment was never the same. It was consistently condescending and biased towards us because of being autistic.
We value this experience because it taught us to be unapologetically ourselves.
The Positive Outcome
We learned that self-advocacy was needed in this circumstance and leaving that place of employment. The stigma around being nonverbal is baseless.
You can function in the world and still have times when you are stimming and nonverbal. Autism is a spectrum and everyone is different. For us, our trauma impacts our daily functioning, and our autism impacts our processing and executive functioning. We had to come to terms with the fact that people see being autistics from biased lenses.
In fact, the idea that being nonverbal or stimming is a negative trait is flawed. We have built coping mechanisms around our life to ensure that we can still be successful. Really, every person on the spectrum does this in some capacity, just like neurotypical people adjust their routine so that it fits them.
But it is okay to stim and be nonverbal. It is not something to be ashamed of.
Every piece of the autistic experience is unique and sometimes another diagnosis will change how intensely your autistic traits manifest. For us, it is a roulette wheel every day, and we never know what may increase or decrease our nonverbal events.
We are verbal/nonverbal neurodiverse autistics. This is a part of our identity, and we are proud to show it!