One day, a “Quora” member asked: Why don’t nonverbal autistics speak? I’m trying to understand why my autistic son says very few words, mostly parroted), and am curious how it works. Is he just incapable, or does he not like it, or is he worried he will get teased for being slow?
Hoping that my experience might help this parent to understand, I answered:
All I can say is from my own experience. I was verbal as a child, but had selective mutism (as if I had a choice.) A lot of the time I couldn’t talk. Those around me thought I was “just shy,” or later would get upset at me for being rude (in my teen years.) Neither were true.
The truth was I had the thoughts – whether in words or more often pictures – but frequently couldn’t make the connection between those thoughts and the spoken words.
It was as if there was one road that would take me from my thoughts to the spoken word, and very frequently that road was inaccessible. Despite the fact that I could speak at some times (yelling at my brothers for instance) there were other times (much more frequent) when I absolutely could not speak.
In fact, the more I wanted to speak, the less likely it seemed the words would come.
So if I were in school, I usually couldn’t speak. Even saying “hello” to people I really liked (my grandparents, for instance) was impossible most of the time.
As an adult, I really worked at rewiring those pathways so that now (at 41) I mostly can talk when I want to. I still struggle when I am really anxious, depressed, or uncomfortable, though (even in a place, and with people, that I can talk to on good days.)
When I was diagnosed, I was told I have an expressive language disability – but I write often and frequently. If people had allowed it when I was a child, and especially a teen, I would have written to them – maybe then they would have understood.