What is your language?

Everyone has their own path to follow through life. Easy to say, somewhat harder to believe because most of our daily experiences involve others who live incredibly similar lives to ours. This sometimes gets in the way of us realizing that there are differences in this world, and that the path that we’ve chosen for ourselves – or that has been thrust upon us – may not be the best path for everyone.

Earlier this week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN blogged about his recent introduction to and conversation with Amanda Baggs, a 26-year old autistic woman who gets around in a wheel-chair and communicates through a text-to-voice device. In his words, Amanda “opened his eyes about the world of autism.”

Amanda is obviously a smart woman who is fully aware of her diagnosis of low-functioning autism, and quite frankly mocks it. She told me that because she doesn’t communicate with conventional spoken word, she is written off, discarded and thought of as mentally retarded. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A far cry from how autistics, especially “low-functioning” autistics, are typically portrayed in the media. (Compare, for instance, to this portrayal on ABC’s PrimeTime earlier this week.)

Just as technology allows her to communicate through the voice synthesizer (on which she can type over 100 words per minute), technology – in the form of YouTube – has allowed her to be heard by a much wider audience. In fact, it was her video “In My Language” that caught the eye of CNN. Amanda’s description of the video:

The first part is in my “native language,” and then the second part provides a translation, or at least an explanation. This is not a look-at-the-autie gawking freakshow as much as it is a statement about what gets considered thought, intelligence, personhood, language, and communication, and what does not.

I encourage you to take about 10 minutes and view Amanda’s video. If you are already somewhat familiar with autism, this will help you understand even more. If you are not familiar with autism at all, this is a good start in understanding that you really can’t judge a book by its cover.


Amanda was also featured this week on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

I’ve also written a bit about this on my autism blog in 29 Marbles – Why don’t more people understand this yet?

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