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What Goes on in My Mind When I Communicate

Posted May 19, 2021 - 10:29am

By Lance McLemore, PRC-Saltillo Blogger

I have no idea if this topic will be of any interest to anyone, but I’ve been asked about it before. Some people have asked me what goes on in my head when I communicate. I think I’ll try to explain it as well as I can.

First, I want to preface my post with a few things to keep in mind. I am speaking about my own experience. You should not assume that other AAC users have the same experience. And I can only describe it as a layman; I’m not a speech-language pathologist or a neurologist. Don’t expect much technical jargon.

I know many people reading this don’t know me, so let me give a few details which might be relevant. I’m a 35-year-old man on the autism spectrum. I have apraxia.  I use an Accent 1000 with LAMP Words for Life.

LAMP Words for Life has between 4,000 and 5,000 words. When I first got it, I recall that I spelled quite a lot. My previous system was word based, so I had to spell a lot and use word prediction. Transitioning to LAMP was a bit of a shock. I had to completely change the way I communicated. Over time as I became more fluent with the vocabulary, I noticed that I would spell less and less. If you look out in nature, everything follows the path of least resistance. When it rains, the water settles at the lowest point on the land. Water flows from the mountain down into the valley. If you watch an accomplished pianist, you will notice that they don’t have any extraneous movements. Everything has a purpose, and there is nothing wasted. At this point, I would estimate that I spell 5% of the time or less.

It seems like I have two lexicons inside my head; one is a subset of the other. I have the set of all words that I know, and I have the subset of the vocabulary on my AAC device. When I’m talking to someone, my brain automatically zooms in on the smaller subset. I try to talk within those words, because the brain is lazy. It wants to do everything the easiest way possible, and spelling is slower and harder than talking within the words I have. For example, if you asked me to describe an elephant, I would use words like “big” or “large”, because those words are in the vocabulary. I wouldn’t want to spell out “enormous” or “gigantic.” As I said before, my brain defaults to the shortest easiest path.

My brain’s inclination towards efficiency doesn’t end there. When I use a communication device, people think of my use of it in terms of writing. However, I don’t believe that’s the correct way to see it. When I use my device, I’m combining sounds, not writing words. For example, I will often use homophones. I will use “would” instead of spelling out “wood.” Since I’m combining sounds and not writing anything, all that matters is that it sounds right. I might also combine words to make a longer word. For example, instead of spelling out “misunderstanding,” I would say “miss” “understanding.”

What’s interesting to note is that nobody taught me any of these shortcuts. It was a natural evolution in my communication. My lazy brain just wanted to take the easiest way. I know of other AAC users who do similar things. And as a brief aside, I don’t think AAC users should be discouraged from doing these things by well intentioned uptight grammarians.

When I start constructing a sentence, I can see the pages and icons flash in my mind right before I start the sequence. When I’m communicating with my Accent, I’m thinking symbolically. When I’m about to talk about a color, I see the rainbow icon in my mind. When I’m going to talk about eating, the apple icon pops up in my mind. I’m very much a visual thinker anyway, so it seems natural that I would think this way with a symbolic system.

I don’t remember ever asking someone what goes on inside their head when they’re talking. The things I have described about my own communication might be quite common among everyone, but I don’t believe so. Perhaps it will pique someone’s interest.


Communicators In Action  -    aac, communication, language, lamp, wfl, accent, vocabulary