Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Beyond Verbal

Right now, life is teaching me about communication beyond words. Communication beyond the sequential, logical, verbal mind that (they say) lives mostly in the left hemisphere of the brain.

Our culture values this communication so much. 

Like, speaking—and speaking well. I remember how invisible I was during my first year attending business school as a foreign student. And the immediate respect I appeared to gain with some people when I managed to raise my hand in class and articulate something coherent. Suddenly I was visible. I was worthy of attention.

Over the last years I have been told by different people that they believe I have great communication skills. Some people love my stories when I’ve told them face to face. Some people tell me they connect deeply with my writing. Some people specifically praise my body language; the way how I naturally animate the messages in my mind with physical gestures and expression. And recently I heard from somebody who actually found me very hard to follow precisely because of all this non-verbal communication I use. This was so interesting to realize, because what she described was exactly what I’ve felt when listening to some people and attempting to follow what they’re saying, but my logical mind can’t.

In those cases, it hasn’t been about being distracted by their movement or their expression. What has limited me is the fact that not all the words are there. They’re expressing images and emotions from stories in their mind that I don’t quite fully grasp. They see it all perfectly. They’re articulating it, feeling it, living it, expressing the immensity of it, but my logical mind lacks some context, lacks some details, is not able to see it specifically and follow sequentially thought to thought. “Do you mean___?”, “Who are you talking about?”, is what I’ve wanted to ask.

Recently I met a lovely woman, and she spoke this way at times. And I was so amused to realize that I wasn’t bothered in the least. That in that moment, I didn’t need to understand exactly what she was referring to every second, because there was so much information that was beyond the words. And what was exciting was to realize how much we understood each other; how much we shared. And we did share very specific things. But I found fascinating to notice that this requirement I have at times to follow logically, sequentially, specifically was not operating there. There was vibration. There was non-verbal communication. There was recognition that we were talking about something greater than words could convey. It was hard to define, but we knew it was there and we were both seeing it. We were meeting there. There was ease, curiosity, excitement, authenticity, expansiveness, openness to interpret and respond, and then see how it was received. Without any pressure. Like play.

There has been so much communication beyond physical words between Joaquin and I. From the time he was little and his words were not there yet, and still now, as verbally fluent as he currently is. There is so much information in our conversations. Messages that pop above the words and stories we exchange. Information received through dreams, meditative experiences, pictures, games, touch, songs, stims, free writing, interruptions, and thoughts.

Because words, speech, and writing are not the only way how we communicate.

The right hemisphere of the brain (they say) processes a lot of non-verbal information. And did you know that this information contributes a much larger chunk than language to the messages we perceive?

Some time ago I would use only my logical mind to explore myself. Then at some point I decided to learn to use my intuition in a more direct way. I decided that I wanted full access to all aspects of myself to gain and process information. Am I fluent in both? Probably not in the same way; I have more practice using logic, but I feel I have gained so much. I have so many more tools and ways to navigate than I did before. I have more access. More channels to tune to when I ask my questions.

I think right now, my curriculum may be leading me to integrate these “channels” in a stronger way than I have before.

Stretch-rest-stretch-rest… Integrate. 
Left-right-left-right… Come to balance in the middle. 

This is how we’ve learned. Joaquin and I.

3-year-old surrounded by a roomfull of shredded paper

Years ago, the log reads: “79 minutes! That’s how long we went ripping Joaquin’s old sketch books (filled with numbers) before he asked for his foam letters (fave thing in his whole world these days)”.

Looking back from the future it amazes me… How many symbols, how much communication, even when his words were not there to explain himself. Not ever a paper ripper, he destroyed the numbers we wrote, and wrote, and wrote for months, and then went on to immerse himself in letters and words. He taught himself to write and read in the next months.

I’m done with our neighborhood’s address numbers mama. I want language now, his game said.

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