K is for Keyboards

When thinking about keyboards in relation to the neurodiversity movement, there are a few themes that are all connected to communication, but these probably need to be addressed separately.


Sadly, most conversations around Facilitated Communication and other alternate methods of communication tend to attract critics who refuse to presume competence in non-speaking people. This isn’t limited to non-speaking Autistic people either. People with other disabilities, such as cerebal palsy, may also benefit from learning to communicate using methods that don’t include speaking.

While some forms of alternate communication have been validated by scientific communities, facilitated communication has often received unfair criticism from people who point to the limited number of cases where facilitators have acted unprofessionally while ignoring that the large number of people who communicate using these methods have ethical facilitators.

Can you imagine how hurtful this is? Can you imagine what it must be like to have your thoughts disregarded because people do not believe that these are your thoughts?

I’m not going to discuss any of these methods extensively because Unstrange Mind has already addressed that in his book, so I don’t believe that there is much left to be said on this theme, but I would like to highlight this part:

“You may not yet be convinced as well, but if you love someone Autistic who is learning to communicate with support and assistance, you owe it to your loved one to trust their communication and to listen in love.”

– Unstrange Mind

Our communication, whether we use our mouths to speak, our fingers to type, or any other method is valid. This may require people who primarily communicate using speech to put in a little extra effort in order to understand us, but that should not be a reason for dismissing us when we communicate without using speech.

Connection to our community

Many of us do not live in close proximity to other neurodivergent people, and even when we do, often those people have not yet made the switch from the pathology paradigm to the neurodiversity paradigm. This can make it challenging for us to seek peer support and develop friendships with people who understand that it is possible to practice being proudly neurodivergent.

This is where keyboards come in: They offer us a way of connecting with our community. Through that, we are able to build our culture, support our peers, and develop spaces where we can experience full acceptance. It is not easy living in societies where we are in the minority. We experience a lack of acceptance, accommodation and support on a regular basis and this contributes towards our experience of oppression.

Removing geographical barriers to developing communities can be vital to developing and practicing the sense of pride that we need in order to believe that we are worthy of the same dignity and respect that neurotypical people are given.

Without my community, I would still be experiencing the feeling of inadequacy that I grew up with. I would still be looking at myself as though there was something wrong with me, and I would still be wondering why I could never be good enough in the eyes of those around me. My community has helped me build my sense of self-worth and continues to provide me with support as needed, and none of that would be possible without access to a keyboard (and the Internet of course).

Activism and Advocacy

Many neurodivergent people receive criticism because a lot of our activism and advocacy takes place online. It’s true that we have activists and advocates who do participate in physical, offline actions too, but participation in these types of activities can be overwhelming for many of us, and unsustainable on a regular, long-term basis.

To counteract this, we create online campaigns, write blogs that demand change, and generally do what we can to spread our message further than any offline activity could. Once again, keyboards make this possible. Many of our activism and advocacy groups, such as Boycott Autism Speaks and Autism Women’s Network, are organised by people who are not in the same geographical area. Keyboards allow those organisers to connect with each other and plan activities – both offline and online – that will lead to the change that we believe needs to happen.

Keyboards play a pivotal role in the lives of neurodivergent people because they offer us opportunities that we would not otherwise have. They enable ways of communicating with like-minded people to uplift our community – both on an individual level and a collective level.

This is part of a series of posts addressing themes from the neurodiversity movement and paradigm which will be published during the course of April 2016. To read the rest of the posts, please click here.