Okay, didn’t expect to be doing a post on this, but it turns out that one of the main characters in my Camp NaNoWriMo novel (It Came From the Library, in case anyone forgot ;)) is autistic. In some ways, she’s a combo of one of my best friends and myself.
(In other ways not, but she’s sort of a homage to my best friend. Shh! Don’t tell her! *pauses* Whoops, she reads this. Oh well, she deserves it. She’s been my friend through thick and thin for over 10 years now, and the support she’s provided me has been truly invaluable. Even if we’ve never met in person, she deserves the appellation of “best friend”.)
The thing is, I want the character to be partially non-verbal. When she gets stressed, she can lose her words. But I don’t have this issue (not unless I’m so seriously stressed that I’m on the edge of a meltdown and about to go over, or I’m being forced to make a decision), so I don’t have as much information about it as I’d like. I have read a number of blog entries that mention it (Ballastexistenz, for one, and Unstrange Mind’s, to provide two examples of bloggers who have brought it up), but I’d like more info, if anyone’s willing to provide it. (Note: This is not a demand. I’m just hoping that some of you who have non-verbal periods would be willing to share info and thoughts with me. Questions are below, as well as details about the character.)
The character is female, about 24 or so, and a magecrafter (this is an urban fantasy story), as well as a biology doctoral student (her specialty is predator behaviour and ecology). Her family is thoroughly accepting of her differences (mostly because autism and autistic traits run all throughout her paternal family, and seem linked to their prodigious abilities with magery), so she’s always had their support. She has a twin brother (and I’m not sure where he is or what he’s doing – I just found out about him 15 or so minutes ago!), and either two or three younger siblings (at least one of whom is still in high school and living at home), and at least one older one. (The magecrafter families tend to be large.) As well as a number of cousins, one of whom gets killed in the prologue. (Not her favourite cousin, but the only one living in the same city as her.)
She lives in the US, and has never been formally diagnosed (as the family deals with things internally a lot of the time), and they are lucky enough to be well respected and… not what one might call “wealthy”, but definitely are in the realm of “well off”. I think that she and her twin (as well as at least one other sibling who was a late talker) were home-schooled, though the rest of her siblings went through the school system (including the youngest).
If you’re willing to help, what I need to know is what it’s like when you go non-verbal, as best as you can describe it. I know one person has said that it’s like everything goes white, and they can’t process any language (receptive or expressive). For me, when it happens, I feel like the words are there, but they’re behind a barrier, and I can’t get them out. I sometimes can’t even think them. But I still have receptive language (i.e. I don’t have problems understanding what people are saying to me).
Also, what kind of AAC do you use to help you out? I know there are programs for the iPhone and iPad, like Prolog2Go (not sure if I spelled that right), but I’m sure there are others. Are there any for the Android? What about PCs and Macintoshes?
How do people react? Are there any who are completely understanding / accepting? What kind of negative reactions do you get (if you don’t mind telling me)? What about apparently neutral reactions?
What causes the periods of silence? What kind of stresses? Mine are listed above, but as I said, I only go non-verbal under severe stress. I’ve heard that exhaustion can play a factor (so not a surprise, that!). Sensory overload? Coming near sensory overload? What other things?
Are there any other things you think I should know in order to make the character as authentic as possible? I do hope to publish this when it’s finished and polished, so I want accuracy in how I portray her.
[Edit] And please feel free to request an email exchange, if you’d prefer not to post any answers you want to give me on the blog. [/End Edit]
Thanks to everyone, and especially those who have been able to answer some of my questions!