Letterboard Ettiquette

I hate people watching over my shoulder as I talk. I prefer that we have a conversation between us and not be eavesdropped upon.

I also hate when someone takes my letterboard and tries to talk to me. I know I make it look easy, but it takes training and patience. Grabbing my letterboard is akin to sitting in someone’s wheelchair or trying someone’s hearing aid.

Also, I hate it when someone tries to talk to me when my support person isn’t there. Really hard and unfair to me.

I hate when someone doesn’t want to have a conversation with me on the letterboard. It’s ableist to insist I talk to you verbally.


Originally published in The Communicator, Volume 24, No. 1 – Winter 2018

What most people don’t know about me is that I have been actively writing my thoughts for as long as I can remember. Being non-verbal, I’ve had to develop a way to write down my thoughts and store them away until I had a means to communicate them. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have tomes of thoughts stored away in my mind. The most frustrating thing, aside from not being able to communicate independently, is not having the means to share even one percent of my thoughts, because it takes so long to spell everything out with the letterboard.

You might think I should be grateful for the letterboard – and I am – but now I wish I had a way to get all these stories, histories, and opinions on paper. Were it available, I wouldn’t hesitate to have some type of technology implanted into my brain, because it would allow me to communicate as rapidly as NT’s do. The thing is, I don’t know if that technology is ever going to show up in my lifetime. But I waited thirteen years to finally be able to relay my thoughts – what’s thirteen more? Or twenty, for that matter. Because I now know that we nonspeaking autistics have to step up and reclaim our voices to keep others from taking them away from us. Yes, there are some who mean well – but until we, as a discriminated class, find the opportunity to share our experiences and claim our right to speak on our own behalf, nothing will change. You have to fight for that right, because no one is going to just give it to you without a fight.

My expertise in being autistic supersedes the voices of professionals, parents, researchers, and even other autistics who are verbal. There’s an intrinsic value in allowing us to speak on our own behalf, and we need to seize that powerful right back. Aiming for true inclusion is the goal and the purpose of my tapping out these words day after day. Also, it keeps my mind at ease to know that someday we will attain it.