Communication as a Human Right

Filed Under (Aides and Assistants, Communication) by Estee on 24-07-2013

Every morning since returning from The Communication Institute in Syracuse, Adam has been typing. I’ve realized that he actually doesn’t need the levels of support that I thought he did, when given the right equipment at the right angles, and when I present opportunities for communication that are for now, more constructed. I don’t tell Adam what to write, I’ll suggest it. I’ll begin by asking him to get a book we can read or talk about together or he’ll get a toy on his own. We’ll start to write a story – this morning we wrote one about a green dragon. When he seems stuck, I’ll say we’ll write the story together and I’ll write a line. We’ll read it together, then he’ll write the next line. When he types for things he wants, he is a two-handed typist now, and reading his own sentences assists with his verbal speech.

For someone as literate as Adam, as are many non-verbal autistic children, often labeled with hyperlexia when they were very young, with-holding communication technologies with the proper teaching and support people who are trained becomes a discussion about human and legal rights. I dread thinking of all the days many autistics are taught to label and verbally “mand” without access to other supports. People, we’ve got to change the way we rethink literacy and autism, AAC and supported typing!

In the meantime, I’m writing a paper on this dealing with the discursive tendencies to think of communication as normative, and typical language is, but also how autistic individuals have a right to this access to level the playing field.

“Is it normal to use only spoken language as the accepted currency for exchange of interests? It is certainly usual or normal for talkers to talk, but if you are not a ‘talker’ you might use other methods to converse.” (Lawson, 2008). I’m certainly aware of the work it takes for Adam to translate his experience, if you will. I’m in no way undermining it by suggesting that to write and type is the only way to be a person. He is already a whole person. He just lives as a minority in a majority world of talkers and he has a right to communicate in his own language as much as is his right to be able to have access to translation and interpretation. When I think of support workers for communication, I think to my lectures, where a deaf individual is supported with two translators who must translate normative speech to deaf sign and vice versa. It takes two sign language interpreters to support this person in a three-hour class.

Why should the standard be any lower for the non-verbal autistic person in terms of support?

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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.