January 27, 2021

There’s a short film called “The Silent Child,” which is not about autism. It’s about a deaf girl, and an aide who introduces her to sign language.

Ultimately, it’s about a fruitless attempt to convince hearing parents that their daughter needs a language of her own.

I relate to the aide. From the very first scene, she can see what the little girl needs to communicate and be happy. It reminds me of my job as a teacher assistant, advocating for autistic students.

I’m not teaching anyone a whole new language. But I often suggest ways that teachers could adjust their language to be more literal, precise, and thorough – from my perspective as a former student, forever autistic.

I’m grateful to work with teachers who welcome my ideas. Our school culture is rooted in collaboration – with one another and with our students, to understand what they need to thrive.

“The Silent Child” shows another kind of culture, where a semblance of normalcy is valued over empathy. It’s heartbreaking – and it’s a reality for many on the autism spectrum.

We spend our lives trying to learn the language of the majority. We need others to learn how we communicate, too.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.