Editor's note: Amanda Baggs is a 26-year-old woman with autism. A video she posted recently on the Internet describes how she experiences the world. She is featured on Wednesday night's "360" and blogs here about why she made her video, "In My Language."
Amanda Baggs, who is autistic, says she never thought very many people would watch her video.
I'd been planning on doing something like it for some time to counterract the idea that there is only one kind of real language, real communication, real person. It was not meant to be about autism, and I was not expecting many people to watch it.
My viewpoint in the video is that of an autistic person. But the message is far broader than autistic people. It is about what kinds of communication and language and people we consider real and which ones we do not. It applies to people with severe cognitive or physical disabilities, autistic people, signing deaf people, the kid in school who finds she is not taken seriously as a student because she does not know a lot of English, and even the cat who gets treated like a living stuffed animal and not a creature with her own thoughts to communicate. It applies to anybody who gets written off because their communication is too unusual. (Watch Amanda's video, "In My Language")
It was not specifically about me, but about the many people who have no way of translating from their own language to English, the many people I have known and heard of who have put enormous effort into the communication process only to have their communication and even their status as people dismissed. I already have a voice in the dominant language of my country. Many people don't. I'm not trying to be their voice, because they have voices of their own and would all say different things from me and from each other. But I am trying to point out that everyone does have a voice and we need to learn how to listen to the more unusual ones.
The dedication was to two groups of people. One is people who still aren't considered communicative or real people because they do not speak or write English in a way others understand or are willing to understand. The other is people who write our behavior and communication attempts off as meaningless and pointless. The first group already implicitly knows the message of the video, and the second group really needs to hear it.
One of my favorite responses to the video came from a man who'd been in rehab for brain injury and had been told sternly and explicitly, along with his fellow patients, that nobody would care what he had to say unless he used words. Their other means of communication were ignored. He immediately understood what I was talking about. We did not need to have the same condition in order to understand this common experience. Another of my favorite responses was not about disability at all, but a discussion among several people about the experience of growing up Spanish-speaking in a country that values English.
What I appreciated about these responses was they took the ideas in my video and applied them to their own worlds. That's what the video was intended for. It was not intended to give specific insight into autism, or into another world that I am thought to live in. It was meant to be about the world we all live in, autistic and non-autistic, disabled and non-disabled, from all different cultures and backgrounds, and all communication methods. It is about which of those we recognize and value, and which of those we don't, and why. And it is about why we shouldn't have categories of people whose language, communication, and personhood are not considered as real as someone else's.
Ask Amanda what it's like to live with autism