An elevator speech can be a really useful tool to have in your arsenal. I have several, depending on the situation, but I thought I would share just this one with you, dear readers, in the hopes it will give you some ammo when trying to get through the day. What is an elevator speech, you ask? It is a quick, couple of sentences speech that explains something complicated in a simple way in about the time an elevator ride would take. People have short attention spans, and talking about disabilities in general can make most people extremely uncomfortable. I have found when working with others, if I start talking about autism, they are likely to roll their eyes (here she goes again!) or change the subject quickly, or most often, people are inclined to believe that “autism” is not really “real” and it is much easier to believe that I am a hypochondriac, or a spaz of some sort, rather than wrap their brains around what we are really dealing with. It baffles me, but often people do not think that autism is a very serious disability! After all, she looks totally normal, right? Very often I have had the experience where people think that if only my daughter had better discipline, or would only “pay attention” she wouldn’t have these problems, and so obviously it must be my fault, since I am, you know, a crappy parent. Most of the time I try to limit the amount of time I have to spend with such people, but sometimes it is necessary to enlighten people who will be working with your child, or relatives who will be interacting with your child, who have resisted your efforts to educate them, so that they can understand what is going on. Here is one of my speeches, which deals mostly with sensory issues, but it can be adapted to what your child’s needs are:
Autism is like being deaf, dumb and blind, but in subtle ways. It is like being deaf because background noise like florescent light bulbs and fans can severely limit how much she can hear. She can’t process them or filter them out the way we can. Also, loud noises can cause her physical pain, and cause her to “shut down” or act out. She is also deaf in a social way. Sarcasm, humor, and other abstract social cues are impossible for her to hear. It is like being dumb, because she has severe limits on what she knows how to say. (Readers: please keep in mind my daughter has Asperger’s, so she has lots of speech.) Many people with Autism cannot speak at all, but my daughter has great difficulty getting the ideas in her head across in an understandable way. Communication is very limited because autistics don’t process spoken language very well or quickly. It may take her up to seven seconds to process what you have said to her, she is not ignoring you or being insolent, she is merely processing what you just said before she can answer. I find counting to seven in my head very helpful. It is like being blind because she has actual vision impairments, like seeing sparkly dots which cover everything ( which is a classic mercury poisoning symptom) and she also has no depth perception to speak of. The lack of depth perception makes moving around a room without bumping into things very hard for her. She is also blind in another way- she can’t “see” social cues the other people can. Facial expressions like disapproval or teasing don’t mean anything to her. Giving her a meaningful look doesn’t compute. If you need to communicate something like that to her, you need to tell her straight out. If she does something that you find offensive or inexplicable, please remember that she is really blind, deaf, and dumb in all kinds serious of ways.
There you have it- short, sweet, to the point, and dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. If it loses something in the way of accuracy, that is ok in my book, because this is not a speech you give to someone who is really interested in that facts of autism, this is a speech you give to someone looking for an easily digested sound bite, to convey the seriousness of our endeavor. I have printed this out for teachers, and given it to relatives who thought I was being over protective when my daughter didn’t want to try water skiing, and I didn’t “make her” try it, since I was the only one who knew how terrifying it would be for her. I have also used bits and pieces of it in situations where someone has made an insensitive remark, to educate them. Good luck, friends. I hope you can come up with a good elevator speech- if you think about it, you probably already have one. Writing it down somewhere can help you organize it into a really sharp, incisive tool that is hard to argue with. Speaking with the authority that comes from being prepared, and sounding like you know what you are talking about, can be priceless.