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 1, 2016

#AAC and the day taught lab without speech

After just over two years teaching, it finally happened. I had to teach, and speech wasn't working. This is for a lab class, introduction to digital circuits, and for the sections I work, there's three of us in the room. There's the professor who is generally in charge of lab for the class, and there are two teaching assistants. I'm one of the assistants. So I'm not alone in charge of the room anymore, though I am still one of the people in charge. People tend to assume that the folks in charge can communicate via mouth sounds, and I usually can ... but not always. I've usually been able to plan so that speech is working when I teach, tutor, or present ... but not always. This was the first time it happened as a face to face teacher.

Now, I'd thought of quite a few ways to handle this ahead of time. For me, competence at anything has to include competence at doing the thing while speech isn't working, and this is now my third year teaching face to face. It's a lab now, and it was a lecture before, but the general idea is similar. I need to be prepared for speech to give out while I'm teaching, because if I keep teaching long enough, eventually I will need to teach while speech isn't working.

I thought I could write on a white board. In some classrooms, I probably could. It didn't work out in the lab. There's one white board, and it's not near the lab counters that people are working at. Helping a student with their set-up while running back and forth to the white board every time I need to say something isn't practical. Since I'd been in the classroom before and noted where the white board was, I wasn't completely shocked when this didn't work and did have more back-ups, but the white board marker has been my go-to for a while. The white board, after all, is my most used communication board. 

I thought I could carry my iPad and use one of my communication apps on it. In some classrooms, I probably could. I think this would work fine in a lecture style class, since lots of teachers use iPads and projectors nowadays. It wasn't practical in my lab class, because the iPad is frankly ... too big. Space is at a premium at the lab benches, and my iPad doesn't fit in my pockets.

I had no illusion that my laptop would be the answer in the lab. Typing into a word document and projecting my screen to the front of the room is something I've done before -- it's what I did when I presented at Autcom without speech, and it works fine when there's a projector I can hook my laptop to and I can be at my laptop. That doesn't work when I need to move around a lab where even the iPad is a bit big for my purposes.

Which brings me to pen and paper. It's a writing solution, just like the white board marker is, but it's a bit more portable because paper is smaller than a white board. I use blank 4"x6" index cards to print my reading notes, because a note card system similar to the one I was taught in high school works well for me, except for the part where my handwriting is terrible and will eventually make my hand hurt. Still, if I slow down enough it can be read, and that makes it a viable communication option when typing might not be.

So I put a pack of index cards in one pocket along with a pen, and that was my communication solution. If a student had a question that required a linguistic answer, I pulled out an index card and wrote on it. I then left the index card with the student when I went on to help the next person, which meant they didn't need to remember my answer. They could go back and read it again if they needed to. This seemed to work quite well, overall. There were a couple students who thought they could skim my answers instead of reading every word of them (seriously, these answers were 1-2 sentences, read the whole thing) and then got told by one of the other instructors to fix the problem that I'd just told them about, which was a bit awkward. (I underlined the relevant words from my original answer and waved the card at them at the same time that the other teacher started telling them about the problem with mouth-sounds.)

Other moments from the class:

  • One student asked if I'd lost my voice. I wrote, "Approximately." She said that sucked. "Not really." But ... "It's my normal. I'm not concerned." That's so sad! [I point back to "Not really."]
    *Sigh* She was definitely following my lead on the assumption that I could teach while not speaking, but seemed to have some trouble with the idea that my being disabled and prepared to teach while disabled was not sad or needing pity.
  • The teacher who runs all the lab sections for the whole course asked me if I was OK. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm autistic and sometimes speech doesn't work." She circles "autistic" and says she'll need to look that word up. I turn the card over and start writing 自闭症 on the other side. She goes "Oh!" Sometimes the fact that I read, write, understand, and sometimes speak Mandarin Chinese comes in handy. She doesn't seem particularly concerned by the fact that I just disclosed a developmental disability that has lots of bewareness campaigns around it, and she does realize that I'm working with students and successfully helping them while speech isn't working. 

So that was that. For something I spent two years being worried about (and being prepared for) this was rather ... anticlimactic. I'm not surprised, really, but it is a relief that it finally happened and now I know from experience that losing speech in the classroom as a teacher is not a big deal. Students were fine, fellow teacher type people were fine, nothing is exploding, metaphorically. Literally... a few LED bulbs blew, but not based on my advice!


  1. Hopefully some of the students who asked you about temporarily losing your voice will later be more likely to entertain the notion that disabilities can fluctuate, or even at times appear to "flicker" in and out of existence - a phenomenon that too many people are ignorant of.

  2. I know a few disabled professors at my college. One of them has a neurologic condition and there were interaction in class very similar to the ones you experienced. I think the students in my professors' situation assumed the "pity" route out of fear of pissing him off since we are trained in our society to not say "yay your body is malfunctioning today" etc. The professors condition was different on different days which certainly made class interesting but I never saw any student doubt his teaching ability and I think that says a lot of good things about society.


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