Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Saturday, October 31, 2015

#AAC Awareness Month: When speech output isn't best

First, an explanation of the abbreviation. AAC stands for Alternative and Augmentative Communication, and it's the fancy professional word for how disabled people communicate when we can't talk or when speech alone isn't meeting our communication needs. I've written before that I'm not a huge fan of it being considered alternative because that implies speech as a default. I still have that issue. However, I am a huge fan of people knowing more about the ways we communicate when speech isn't working or isn't enough, and I am a huge fan of better support for folks who use communication methods other than speech.

I am usually able to speak. I am often highly verbal. I am reasonably fluent (but not always speaking) in two languages --English and Mandarin Chinese. I am definitely literate, and I type about 60 good words per minute. That's not typical conversational speaking speed of typing, but it's still pretty fast, at about 85th percentile of typing speeds overall.

I have several methods of communicating when speech isn't working. Two of them have speech output: eSpeak on my laptop and Proloquo4Text on my iPad. These two see the least use of all my AAC options. Not the most. The least. It's not because these are the wrong sorts of speech generating devices for me, either. I have iPad, laptop, or both with me most of the time as a college student. As a quick typist with little use for visuals and a good understanding of language in general, typing out what I want to say is faster than searching for saved phrases. Word and phrase prediction are handy and can sometimes speed things up, but Proloquo4Text has that capability.

It's not that these are the wrong speech generating devices for me. It's that my speech generating devices are not usually as effective as my other AAC options, in the environments where I spend most of my time.

That still leaves the question of what I do use, because I absolutely don't just stop communicating when speech stops working! And I don't hide away, either. I still go to class. I still present at conferences. I still go to sports practice, and I still get on the field and play points in Ultimate (Frisbee) tournaments.

In my math classes this semester, I sit in the front row all the way to the right. Because of the classroom set-up, I can reach a side board from my seat without needing to get up. I carry a white board marker, and if speech isn't meeting my communication needs, I'll uncap my marker and write on the side board. I came to this solution when speech went offline unexpectedly in measure theory (one of the math classes I'm taking this semester) and needed to improvise. Since then, I've brought the iPad to class a couple times and even tried to use it once. I've found the board to be the better choice.

I also write on a white board in my office, in my classmate's offices, and in the graduate lounge. I answer questions about our homework assignments and have full conversations this way, just not very loudly since writing on a white board is nearly silent. I tutored someone in real analysis (senior math class) writing on my office white board once as well. The white boards in the math department get quite a bit of use from the times when speech isn't working for me.

Picture of me writing "This is my most used communication board" on a white board. My shirt reads "My other disability is a bad attitude." 
Take yesterday for an example. Two of the lights in my building started to flicker, and completely predictably, this did a number on my ability to talk. As soon as I saw the first light, I reported it (seriously those are a safety risk, photosensitive epilepsy exists, my losing speech is nowhere near the worst thing that could happen because of a flickering fluorescent.) I also knew that I needed to make sure I had a workable communication method other than speech at all times for the rest of the day. As it turned out, speech stuck around until about 1pm, then I got it back briefly around 2:40. It went kaput again right before 3 and came back around 4, after which it was iffy but extant for the rest of the day. Two of the three no-speech hours, I wrote on a white board to communicate. Writing on a white board is definitely my most-used "AAC."

It's also something every single one of my colleagues does as a supplement to their communication when teaching, but it doesn't go under the "augmentative and alternative communication" umbrella when they do it. I think that's because it's not alternative or unusual for a teacher to write on a board while speaking, but it is unusual for a teacher to write on a board while not speaking.

After writing on the white board, my most-used communication method is probably Flip Writer, on my iPad. This is an application designed for use as AAC, unlike the white board marker which was not designed with disabled people in mind. When I'm having a conversation one on one, probably sitting down, where it'd make some degree of sense for us to be on opposite sides of a table, I'm using Flip Writer. Yesterday, when I wasn't expecting speech to stick around, I brought my iPad to lunch with a professor. (Lunch wound up being the last thing I did before speech went.) I actually used Flip Writer yesterday before seminar to talk to a classmate, and I used it at Autcom to order food at a restaurant when I couldn't speak.

Next up is regular old pen and paper. I've used this at ultimate practice a couple times to talk to a captain or the coach, and I've used it when I didn't have the iPad with me and either didn't have my laptop or didn't want to take it out for something fast.

Now we get to my speech generating software. I tried Proloquo4Text once in measure theory. Once. Technically it was after class had ended, but everyone was still in the room. I tried it for one sentence and went straight back to the white board I could reach from my seat. I do use Proloquo4Text on the side lines at Ultimate (Frisbee.) I also used it meeting with my department chair when I needed a permission number to register for measure theory. I typically use Prolquo4Text when I'm in a small group, want to address everyone in the group, and don't have easy access to a white board.

I use eSpeak for similar reasons to Proloquo4Text, under similar circumstances. The big differences between eSpeak and Proloquo4Text are that my laptop takes more time to set up than my iPad (point for Proloquo), my laptop has a physical keyboard while my iPad does not (point for eSpeak), eSpeak doesn't have word prediction (point for Proloquo), and eSpeak can generate speech in Mandarin Chinese (point for eSpeak). Proloquo4Text currently can't do Mandarin, so this probably the biggest reason I use eSpeak. It works with Chinese. (So does Flip Writer.)


  1. I'm like you in that I'm usually verbal, but sometimes I just can't, and one thing I always have trouble with is how to let people know when speech isn't working for me. It's fine when I know the person, but relative strangers who don't know that I have different needs and abilities (and may have seen me talk before and therefore won't understand)

    Growing up I really had it forced on to me that speech is the most important thing and my not being able to isn't acceptable which I'm still trying to break myself away from that mindset and put my own needs first for a change. It makes me hide away when I can't speak, which isn't always great for me. I just wondered if you had any advise an a quick to the point way of letting people know I can't speak right now, who probably don't have a lot (or any) knowledge of Autism to begin with?

    1. I've found that if I start writing or typing instead, people figure out pretty fast that I'm not able to talk, but beyond that I don't really know.


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