D E V E L O P M E N T A L L Y  S P E A K I N G


A CHALLENGE FOR SPECIAL PARENTS: Daring to Use New "Special" Words

and Expressions

By Shirley Poindexter Dyer

In the world of academe, new words constantly surface as faculty personnel and other professionals attempt to express their expertise and experiences in ways that will facilitate the imparting of knowledge to their students and communicating with their colleagues.  Professional typographers, who must assure accuracy and proper usage, regularly check unfamiliar words in the dictionary, use spell-check on the computer, and/or inquire of the authors about the meanings of such words.  Oftentimes these professionals surrender to typing words that do not officially exist, but are necessary to convey the unique expressions and ideas of their originators.  This process is called "lexicography."

An example of lexicography is the word "prioritize," which I first saw in 1972 (but may have had practical use prior to that).  This word is widely used now, but until recently, you did not see it in dictionaries or on your computer spell-checker (unless you put it there).  There are many such words used among higher education personnel and writers.

How many special parents, family members, friends, persons with special needs (PSNs), therapeutic personnel and other servers of PSNs have done the same thing in order to explain or verbalize an atypical condition or behavior--in­formally or formally.  One that I have used is "squeeze-speech," which described my autistic daughter's efforts to force herself to talk to people.  Before she could speak to someone with ease, it sounded like she actually squeezed the words through closed vocal cords, and there was no other way I could express what she was doing. 

Evidently the term was acceptable to the Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist to whom I took her to have her throat examined because of the odd sound.  To my surprise, he included in a written clinical assessment that my daughter used "Squeespeech." The word I used made it exceedingly clear to him what my concern was, even though his spelling of my expression was different.  Nevertheless, the "official" spelling is now "Squeespeech." Will this doctor apply this terminology to describe the speech pattern of anyone else? Time will tell.  I am happy to say that as of this writing, my daughter has overcome the "squeeziness" in her speech. 

Could we--special parents--have a thousand hidden dialects, with each one of us using words in the vernacular that describe conditions or behaviors unique to our individual situations? How many people, even other family members, would understand if we used these words and expressions openly? Perhaps this "new language" will open another door, one that will bring us closer to identifying, understanding, and describing symptoms to doctors and other service providers as well as each other.  Poets do it; writers do it; singers do it; rappers really do it; and college professors do it.  WE DO IT TOO!  The difference is that others communicate their expressions openly, but somehow there is a stigma associated with ours.  So why can't we share these new words as a way of communicating something for which the world has no formal terminology?

Sometimes one utterance, like one picture, is worth a thousand words.  Take the word "infinite," for example: Infinite is a word that if thought of in terms of numbers, would start at less than zero and would go on for all the zeroes that could be added across the universe, encompassing all of everything imaginable and unimaginable, forever and ever, consuming itself and all time and matter and even then, continue to have zeroes added.  Without the word "infinite," each of us might try to explain the perception of time everlasting in our own way, similar to my explanation in this paragraph, which could get to be very confusing. 

My daughter, whose condition compels her to organize and put everything in logical order, asked me once when she was younger and just attempting communicating with me in a broken sort of way, "What is half?" I was frying bacon and decided to use the bacon to describe "half." I said, "when I cut this bacon strip into two even pieces, I am cutting it in half, and that is what half is." She asked--in her own vernacular-if halves ever stop.  I explained to her that once you have half, you have half, and that's that. 

She left the room and came back around thirty minutes later, asking, "What is half of half of half?" I was dumbfounded at her perception of something I hadn't thought of, but I was still thinking fourths, eighths, sixteenths, etc., until she asked again if halves ever stop.  You know the answer!  Obviously she didn't know the term infinite, but understood the concept much better than I, apparently.  But why go through such a perplexing definition when a genius has conceived the wonderful word, "infinite?" Perhaps it was through lexicography that the word was originally developed.

Several years ago a friend brought to my attention an article in the newspaper on "Facilitated Communication." This concept was getting a lot of attention; parents were being taught this procedure, and classes were being developed for professionals.  It was also displayed widely in the news on television shows and on public broadcasting stations as documentaries.   It was said that it was discovered (I believe by a doctor) in Australia.  I was amazed, because twenty-seven years ago--long before it was named "facilitated communication"--this was one of the ways I discovered that my daughter could write and draw.  She was only four or five years old at that time.  I SIMPLY DIDN'T HAVE A WORD FOR IT!  I would bet that other special parents used that procedure also.

This is a new day, and a new time when everything is becoming more individualized, technicalized, reverbalized, and recreated to our own individual needs and usages.  Even in this brief article, a number of words that my spell-check did not recognize were used: insightfulness; prioritize; PSN; squeespeech; squeeziness; technicalized; and reverbalized.  But, these words were needed to make a point.  Join me and make your points loud and clear.  Please feel powered to share your individualized thoughts, concepts, expressions and new words as you interact with others.  Pick up a dictionary, and remember, the first word was probably:  "UH."  Now we probably have zillions of words.  Just think!  Someone else may find that your words describe exactly what they have been trying to express for years!


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