Changing the Conversation About Autism

Barry Prizant, Director of Childhood Communication Services in Cranston, Rhode Island and an adjunct professor at Brown University has published a new book, “Uniquely Human.” The book is about changing the conversation about autism. It is often referred to in conjunction with Steve Silberman’s New York Times bestselling “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” which provides neurotypical people practical strategies for understanding and supporting people with ASD.

In the late 70’s, Rock Brook hosted a conference on a new area of focus in the field of speech pathology, called Pragmatics i.e. understanding the function or use of language for communication. Dr. Prizant was one of the key note speakers and helped us understand that looking at how we use language to communicate was as important as how we produce speech sounds to communicate. He also did a lot of work with echolalia and documented that it is a strategy for acquiring language.

Overtime this area of focus on use of language became more important as the number of students in the autistic spectrum grew. For individuals in the spectrum communicating to other people does not come easily especially if you don’t want to talk about the same things they do and if social interactions in themselves are difficult and overwhelming. In the book Dr. Prizant encourages all of us to try to understand behaviors and how they are communicative events and not just “non-compliant” or manipulative behaviors. The approach is a compassionate one as we problem solve situations as language difficulties impact the ability to express feelings or needs. We try to do this for all our students regardless of their diagnosis and we all need to humanize people with autism and all disabilities. Behavioral reactions are often as a result of people who are more vulnerable, more sensitive and have difficulties communicating and seeking support.