HomeHealth'A day without words' can be filled with meaningful communication

‘A day without words’ can be filled with meaningful communication

An image from the book A day without words.

Tiffany Hammond and her 16-year-old son Aidan communicate in familiar ways, such as hand gestures and body language. But when Aidan wants to express himself with words, he uses a tablet.

Aidan is autistic and doesn’t speak, so when his mom asks a question, he can press a button on the screen to vocalize his answer.

Hammond also has autism, as does his youngest son and Aidan’s brother, Josiah. The family has built routines around their diagnoses, but they are often not understood by people outside the household.

“Every time we leave the house, there’s something. There’s a comment, there’s a remark, there’s an evil look,” Hammond said. “And you get lonely a lot, and our family gets lonely a lot.”

About 25-30% of people with autism do not speak or speak minimally, but that loneliness and those reactions from strangers pushed Hammond to find a way to represent the different ways autism can manifest itself. She said that when people look at her child, they may not even think that she has autism or that she doesn’t speak.

The cover of the book A day without words.

“But as soon as he makes noises, growls or jumps a little bit, or uses his iPad to say he wants fries or he wants to go to the park or whatever, that’s when you get the stares,” Hammond. saying.

The result of this experience is a children’s book by Hammond entitled, a day without words, Illustrated by Kate Cosgrove. She follows Aidan through a normal day as he pushes buttons to tell his mom what she thinks or what she wants for lunch.

Hammond spoke with All things considered host Sacha Pfeiffer on the importance of the book and what she hoped to achieve with the writing and illustrations.

An image from the book A day without words.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On what communication is like for Aidan and his family

Back when my son was younger and because he didn’t talk, everyone was like, “Oh, he doesn’t talk.” And that’s all you would hear all the time (from) professionals. And I say, “But he’s communicating with us, through his eyes, by pointing at us, by grabbing something and bringing it to me, by grabbing my hand and taking me somewhere, when he laughs when I make a joke, when he cries when I’m sad.” “. You know, all these expressions that he had, I was like, that’s communication. He is communicating with me. He’s just communicating in a different way.

So as I got older, the language started to change around how non-speakers describe themselves and how people describe them. So today, many non-speaking people refer to themselves as non-speakers, because all humans on this planet communicate non-verbally.

On capturing “the essence and beauty of an autistic mind,” as a pediatrician described in her book

It’s indescribable, because I have one and I don’t know how to describe it. There’s so much going on, and I think one of the biggest things for me is that, especially Aidan, my oldest son, he’s so free.

He is just beautiful and dignified on his own, and he doesn’t care what others have to say or do. He’s still going to be him. He keeps spinning, he keeps having fun, he keeps hugging trees, he keeps laughing, he keeps jumping. And I love that. I love that for him.

An image from the book A day without words.

On masking his diagnoses

Well, you’re hiding a lot. You’re hiding the things you want to say, the moves you really want to make, you’re fighting yourself. It’s like a war in your head. I was telling you, “Oh my gosh, I need to do this with my fingers. I need to twist them in a way that’s really comfortable for me because I’m super stressed right now, or this is what’s going to calm me down.” “But you’re trying to tell yourself, ‘Don’t do that. Do not be like that. Don’t look here. People like eye contact, try to find their eyes.” And you’re trying to tell yourself all these things that people won’t hold against you. And that’s what masking is. And it’s not the best of world, but it keeps many of us safe in many situations.

An image from the book A day without words.

On the sensory descriptions in the book.

One of the challenges I had with this book was, from whose perspective do I write it? I didn’t want to speak for (Aidan), but I’m the closest to him. So I watch him, I see how he responds to all these different voices when they come in, and I see how he cringes a little bit when the voice is loud and booming. But he’s also kind of tuning in and listening, and then I see how he reacts when the voice is soft and soft, and then I see how he reacts when there are a lot of voices coming in and he’s trying to pick up on different things around him.

I wanted to capture all the things I see in it and try to put it in a way that people can understand and see and relate to. I feel like a lot of people who aren’t autistic can relate to something that’s too loud and it affects them, or something that’s too quiet and it affects them too.

An illustration from the book A day without words.

About how people’s feedback motivated Hammond and his goals for the book.

It was meant to educate, but I also wanted to highlight the bond I have with my son, and it was supposed to serve as a kind of love letter to him. He wanted to show that he was like all the other children. He loves to be outside and he loves the swings, and he loves to spin around in the grass with his bare feet, and he loves life, this kid. He loves to hug trees and loves potato chips, and he smiles and laughs and dances and spins.

I wanted to show that as well because a lot of times when I read other books about disabilities or autism in general, it was about people telling you what autism was like. Like, “This is autism, this is Aidan. Aidan has autism. This means this, this means that.” And I wanted to show the breadth of his humanity.

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