Layer by Layer
My experience of being nonverbal is only my own, it may or may not be similar to other autistic and neurodivergent experiences.
We are not a monolith.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about the myriad ways I experience inability to use verbal language for communication. It has led me to want to peel these layers like an onion, to fully examine them.
I’ve spent my entire life being told by most people, that I am a bad friend, lover, or family member. That because I am to flakey, because I only see them when it suits me, because I don’t know how to reciprocate love and friendship my connection is worthless. It has caused many hurt feelings and broken hearts over the years, both others and mine.
So perhaps a manual for my self at least…and perhaps it will help others understand that we communicate as best we can, that just because we show love differently that doesn’t mean it was not or is not there. That it is ok for others to not be able to be engaged with the way we love, communicate, or connect. But if a body is able to see us, our love, affection, and companionship is like the ocean, deep, mysterious, sometimes still as glass, but absolutely always there.
1. Passive Emergent Nonverbal –
This is my default setting more or less unless I am particularly stress free or able to self/medicate my anxiety effectively.
in this setting, i am entirely unable to reach out to people outside of my regular routine. I usually don’t struggle with what or how to say things in this layer. this is not social anxiety, it detours away from how or what, long before I can get to self flagellation street. During these longer and longer phases I am prone to mild disassociated states which may make me socially passive with people inside the safe schedule of routine, familiarity, and family as well. I may have difficulty with the back and forth flow of conversation, get lost in words, or forget common words like elevator or that one i can’t remember right now that describes a particular feeling of unease.
My writing will have more skips, more repeated sentiments, more echolalia wording, more awkward sentences, and sentences that eat their own tail..also more visual analogies roughly tranlated into allistic English. I will more often miss things, am likely to struggle with brain fog as well, and lose track of my train of thought…like I just did.
But I’m usually aware of feelings of sadness and isolation, and am receptive to verbal communication if a conversational template I understand is presented to me.
2) Broad spectrum Nonverbal- In these instances I can not communicate at all with words, except with trusted people whom I know can speak this language of English words translated to pictures and translated back into broad stroke synonymous words. This level is often but not always triggered by autistic burnout, panic attacks, or long term high level anxiety for me. People’s response to this can exacerbate or loosen up words depending on whether it is met with understanding or confrontation.
3) Nope No Written Words Either – This level is, for me, often but not always paired with the second level. It is fairly self explanatory and means I have the same difficulty with written communication as i do verbal. This includes receptive language like reading and auditory language understanding.
4) Short Term Complete – For me this is usually caused by panic attacks or trauma. During these periods I may be entirely incapable of any communication, or I may only be able to communicate through limited gestures or even just nods and head shaking. Certain soothing stims or familiar trusted people and rituals (or resolution of the anxiety) will usually slowly bring my ability to communicate back at least somewhat.
5) Long Term Complete – During these times I have no words of my own. If I have to communicate with other humans it is often extremely minimal amd entirely echolalia scripted. My word bank feels asleep or in stasis rather than clamped shut. For me this can be caused by trauma, autistic burnout or conversely a soothing routine in which I do not have to communicate with people regularly.
Now it is important to note that as a partially verbal or selectively mute autistic person i do hold a position relatively privileged. There are autistic people who are unable or unwilling to speak, or use word based communication at all and those people are 1 million percent valid too.
Just because they/we can not verify their/our feelings and connections through words, it does not mean those feelings and connections are not there.
cn: *eye contact*, implied nudity
[image description: a heavily filtered sparkly but disjointed close up of me, a white nonbinary transmasculine person, in the bath, head on knee, looking at camera, during a period of being nonverbal]