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Living in a post-verbal world

Blogger and campaigner for disability rights, Christopher Burns tells us about post-verbal and what it means.

“What is post-verbal? Well, it’s a term I wasn’t  aware of until I took part in Plymouth Music Zone’s Beyond Words Project, which was carried out in partnership with Plymouth University.  I have always been post verbal, regardless if I was conscious of it or not and despite trying everything to become a full member of the speaking world, I don’t see myself suddenly not being post-verbal. I describe myself now as a post-verbal campaigner.

Post-verbal is used to describe people who speak differently and may struggle communicating in the spoken language.

This includes people with learning disabilities, or those with Autism, dementia or people who have experienced strokes.

But post-verbal people do not have blank faces. They are expressive and can laugh and love in the same way as other human beings.

The most difficult aspect of being post verbal is isolation. There is currently lack of knowledge about post verbal and, more crucially, about the needs of people who are post-verbal.

Imagine if your life depended on you speaking a verbal language and suddenly your ability to speak was taken away from you without warning. Or if you had never been able to speak in the same way as other people do all of the time?

The impact can be felt when you see a doctor in trying to describe your symptoms or trying to impress when going to a job interview. Relationships would be become a stuff of dreams very quickly.”

The Beyond Words Project was a collaborative project between Plymouth Institute of Education and Plymouth Music Zone. It was one of only eight funded nationally in 2015 by an Arts Council England Research Grant.

The first recommendation from the Beyond Word report asked that policy makers should recognise post-verbal people as a neglected and vulnerable group that requires specific care and attention.

“Currently the system tends to compound isolation instead of protecting people from it”, Christopher added, “and it doesn’t recognise the damage that isolation can bring to people who may struggle to speak.

Post verbal people do have abilities such as driving a car as I have been doing for over twenty years, and in arts and culture. Music and singing can help.

Other recommendations in the report include supporting organisations to understand and work successfully with post verbal people.

But work is a constant life long struggle as employers look at your speech rather than at you.

The most successful partnerships I have had has not been with employers but mainly when doing unpaid work.

The main reason is they have gotten to know me and I have gotten to know them. Society is not good with looking beyond what they visually see front of them unfortunately.

The way we support people currently does not reflect these kind of experiences (to my daily frustration) . It often leaves them in a wasteland with no one to talk to.”

To find out more about the Beyond Words Project and to read the report in full, visit: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/the-beyond-words-project