gnommes asked: Why is it bad to say "use your words"? I was just wondering because I work in a daycare and my co-workers use that phrase everyday with the children, one of which isn't able to talk due to Angelman syndrome.
It posits verbal communication as the only valid communication.
Autistic people have had things withheld from us because we could NOT use our words, i.e., respond verbally.
Imagine if you will that you’re a 4 year old who is thirsty and wants a cup of milk. You know where it is, but you’re not capable of getting it yourself. And you have a therapist or teacher or someone that you can ask for it, but you can’t make the words form in your mouth. And that teacher says to you, “use your words” and you CAN’T. Can you imagine how frustrating that is? See, that’s what happens to people like me every day. Even as an adult.
And when you posit verbal communication as the only way to obtain consent, the implications are huge. They are that nonverbal autistic adults are not adults at all, but rather, children. You also imply that consent that is not verbal is not consent after all, so disabled people cannot consent to sex if they can’t verbalize it. On the other hand, you also are saying that disabled people who use nonverbal communication to say “no” won’t have that heard because it’s not a valid denial of consent.
This phrase is wrong. And it needs to die, honestly. Even if there weren’t nonverbal people. Children are often struggling to find the right words to say, so saying “use your words” is just downright frustrating. Even if you think they’re capable of doing so, it’s wrong.
And of course, “use your words” is a phrase that is only ever uttered when it has already been made clear that one is frustrated and does not have the words.
Let’s just say that it’s really condecending to bring it out when the problem is thatI literally can’t use my words!
I three thoughts concerning this topic:
One, I agree with most of what has been said. In general the phrase “use your words” is used at the point of exasperation. This is not only nonsensical, it is ineffectual. In my training and experience, however, it was always used to preemptively calm a potentially escalating situation. It was never used after the situation was beyond me or my students. It was preventative. In my work, or at least the way that I applied the phrase, this approach was incredibly useful for both me and my students. It very likely helped that understand not being able to use words when experiencing meltdown or shutdown.
Two, I agree that in general, the phrase is used to privilege certain modes of communication over others (i.e., you need to use the words that would come out of your mouth), and that’s pretty fucked up. I’ve seen it used in positive ways, however. In practice, I made damn sure to negotiate what “words” meant to my students. For one, words would be the verbal articulation, for another, sign language, and for others, it was picking up a pre-made sign or just turning over their school assignment sheet. When my student was calm and ready, we’d work together to figure out why they needed space, quiet, or whatever.
Three, these things should always be negotiated. I strongly dislike the teacher as commander thing— “Tell me what’s wrong!” “Stop that!” “Go there!” “Sit down!” “Use your words!”— It’s awful and doesn’t help with classroom management. I think it kills kids’ energy and I can’t imagine it helps the teacher much. The aggressive and unplanned use of “use your words” and similar phrases really should “die,” as goldenheartedrose put it. BUT, when these things are put into practice in more systematic and generous ways, it can be really great!
I say all this but come to the conclusion goldenheartedrose and anonymous-maximus come to. I really don’t think that we can trust teachers and behavior modification people (especially those trained in ABA) to apply “use your words,” and other similar things, appropriately. And that is disappointing. I had great experiences using it, but I know that many other kids are basically abused with it. So, ultimately, I think that killing off “use your words” is the answer.