20 January 2009

No Shirt, No Speech, No Service?

Well...I was wearing a shirt. It was pretty chilly that night after all.

In the recent times at the cafeteria, I have had difficulty with telling what's what on the menu. Given that I am vegan with a probable dairy allergy or intolerance, this can delay me a bit.
So we, as part of the student disability organization, put in a request for individual labelling of all the items.
Which has not come to pass. So I will put in another request of this.

But in the meantime, what was supposed to happen if I was confused about
what an item was, is I was supposed to get help from someone there.
Since I often can't talk in there, I go near to somebody and point to
the location, and use body language and such. Which usually takes a long
time because I have a hard time identifying somebody who works there,
but once I see them then they see me and help me and no problem.

However, today right from the start I was in front of somebody working
there (who was the cashier working, so busy I understand, but still
there were several times when there was a lull of people coming in and
she went to do other things such as going to the coffee and wiping
tables, walking past me, giving me a look and then passing me by).

I start to think, after 10 minutes or so, that in the off chance she
hasn't seen me standing there, and after 20 minutes try to exaggerate my
expressions and flapping and rocking more. Now by this time I didn't
even care about the dessert anymore, but I just didn't want this whole
"ignoring me to go right past me and do tables and stuff"
to go on.

After about 40 minutes when she does acknowledge me (after having walked
past me, cleaned the dessert table I was standing right next to), she
said, "Okay, what do you want?" Indicating, aside from the eye contact,
that she had indeed seen me trying to get her attention.
I pointed to the dessert I was interested in and to the sign that read
"vegan" to the side of it and postured myself questioningly, as I wasn't
sure that it was referring to that dessert or not (there was no board
listing the desserts tonight).

She said, "Yes, you can have a dessert if you want."

And walked off. Then she said to another adult there, "She's always
acting like this."

Then later on she kept going to clean tables and glancing at a newspaper
as I kept trying to get her attention, using the body language of the
sentence of "But that doesn't really answer my question" and continuing
to flap my hands and look and point at the dessert table and the "vegan"
sign, as well as to look in her direction.

When she finally did come back, she said, "What do you want?" and picked
up a dessert. I pointed at the dessert, then pointed at the "vegan"
sign, and then she said, "Yes, it's vegan. Do you want it or not?" and
held it in front of me. I took one from the table top. She then said,
"You have to talk louder so I can hear." I then touched my throat and
moved my hands around so that she may understand that I was unable to
speak, not speaking softly. She then said, "There's nothing wrong with
your throat." Which A) she didn't know even that because I didn't talk
in the greenery today and B) obviously she doesn't know about interacting with autistic people.

I'm not sure what to do except for there to be better understanding
among school staff (including dining venues) about how interacting with
someone who's partially non-verbal doesn't mean you have to freak out or
think that they're non-communicative, particularly when clearly communicating
about something this simple. I hate this myth that NV = not
communicating, and even though I'm mostly verbal I run into it a lot.
It's not that you don't notice that the person who is rocking and waving
and pointing at the table and looking back at you needs help - it's that
you think their method of communicating their need is lesser, and
therefore not in need of attention. That's exactly the kind of attitude
I'm constantly up against, and the kind we need to educate out of
existence, so that we prevent consequences that are far more serious
than waiting an hour for a meal or a dessert.

Note: In another correspondence about this matter, there appeared to be a bit of misperception about where my complaint lies. I wrote the following to clarify:

This kind of dismissal of nonverbal communication and derision of the individual who communicates atypically, has led in the past and if not address will continue to lead to, far more serious repercussions to the individuals experiencing these attitudes (some of them from a non-school setting such as institutional abuses, whereas many, many others may also occur in a school setting). It is like a parallel to a woman who is forever considered a "little girl" and not considered capable of (or deserves protection from) making decisions for themselves.


Tera said...

Ugh! Too...disgusted to think of a snarky comment, even.

It's not that you don't notice that the person who is rocking and waving and pointing at the table and looking back at you needs help - it's that you think their method of communicating their need is lesser, and therefore not in need of attention.

Yes. Exactly.

Like, how we tell people who have a hard time with speech (like young children and some kinds of disabled people) to "use your words." And the person saying to "use your words" knows the other person is communicating but refuses to respond, *precisely* because they are using an "inferior" form of communication (i.e. not words).

Holy smokes, that came out jumbly. (The awesomeness of verbal language in action!)

Name: Annette said...

That must be very frustrating for you. I will be more aware of this issue since I read your post. My son is non-verbal but now that I think about it, he communicates all the time, just not verbally. Thanks for posting this.

Claire said...

"She's always acting like this." --Gee, I wonder if that means that's how she is! /sarcasm

I am amazed how unwilling some can be to adjust the way they communicate, even in the smallest way, in order to connect with those who communicate in different ways. It's an expression of privilege, and it's not right or fair.

Your mention of the student disability organization's request makes me think of my school's food service. All dishes in the main cafeteria are labeled with color-coded, hard-to-read stickers, but I don't know about the other areas where food is available. There's one blind student who always receives help from the staff at meals, but he is (as far as I can tell) neurotypical, and seems perfectly comfortable with verbal communication. It makes me wonder about the extent of my school's disability services. I think I'll do some research. Thanks for alerting me to this issue.

On another note, I'm glad to hear you were wearing a shirt. :P Also, I didn't know you were vegan. Is that a recent development? There's a girl in my dorm who can't eat dairy, so I've been exploring vegan baking. If you visit, I could sooo make you vegan gingerbread.

Now I'm veering completely off-topic, but I think you might like this film -- The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. It's based on the story of a man, Kaspar Hauser, who had apparently been locked in a tower for 17 years. As might be expected, Hauser has a hard time adjusting to 19th-century German society. It's a really well-made, interesting film, and I enjoyed it.

geosaru said...

"I am amazed how unwilling some can be to adjust the way they communicate, even in the smallest way, in order to connect with those who communicate in different ways."

Yeah. It reminds me of a comment I was reading in another blog post, where someone mentioned that while communication was more comfortable for them with eye contact, that if communicating with an autistic person with a lot of eye contact, it would be a lot less stressful to use less eye contact than to force eye contact.

"Also, I didn't know you were vegan. Is that a recent development?"

Fairly recent. Though I was briefly vegetarian as a child, though we thought you needed expensive things like morningstar faux meats for protein ;-0 and I didn't know anything about gelatin; even told a kid at school he was lying about jello when he tried to tell me.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, have you tried writing with her? That is less ambiguous. But of course it depends on your ability to produce said writing on-demand, and her willingness to read it.

geosaru said...

Unfortunately, my battery and battery charger for the alphasmart were on the fritz. So that was not an option at the time. Also, I have found that the most difficult part is not in non-verbally communicating, but in getting the attention of people in the first place (whether speaking, or typing, or gesturing). With all of these methods I am frequently overlooked, though once I have been noticed, I can generally communicate quite quickly (though of course this all depends on the willingness of both parties to try to understand the other as well as to make themselves understood as unambiguously as possible).

BigTimeSynesthete said...

Hey, you started to become vegan? Way to go, 896! Sorry I haven't talked to you for a while. I've been kind of busy, if you remember your junior year. I had to drop AP physics, unfortunately (did I tell you that already?) Most advanced academic courses don't challenge me the right way. They just want to speed me up and expect me to memorize everything. It really 705's me off >:(

geosaru said...

Yeah, I've found that it's generally a bit different in college. Maybe just because I had the AP Physics experience already, or just because it was fundamentally different in structure. But somehow we seemed to cover a lot, and it doesn't seem to be that fast. But then again, we do seem to do a few sections per class day for each text, so I guess it is kind of fast, but just doesn't seem like it. It also helps when that's all you're doing is the physics, calculus, and computer science like I am, whereas in high school I was doing AP Physics, AP Chemistry, AP Calculus, US History, English lit, taekwondo, plus all my creative writing classes.