Book Review: How Can I Talk if My Lips Don’t Move?3 min read

A frus­trating myth that per­sists about autism is the notion that those who cannot ver­balize their thoughts have none.  Simply stating it in this article is enough to make most people cock a skep­tical eye­brow, yet the idea hounds autistic folks, fueling igno­rant assump­tions about func­tioning and intel­lect.

How Can I Talk if My Lips Don’t Move is a fan­tastic anti­dote to that stigma. Written by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, this memoir explores the world through Tito’s unique per­cep­tions. Like all of us, his way of inter­acting with the world is driven by his senses, but his explo­ration of how his senses func­tion illu­mi­nates the nat­ural variety of expe­ri­ence per­fectly.

What he hears, he cannot see — at least not at first. Yet, colors tell him sto­ries. He can taste the sound of a person’s voice long before he learns the map of their face.

There’s a scene towards the begin­ning of the book where he describes hearing him­self screaming. At first, he hears him­self. Then, he hears his mother singing. He lis­tens to his mother’s voice for a while before real­izing with relief that he doesn’t hear him­self screaming any­more. He explains to the reader that this is because he has stopped screaming.

The scene is described with a cer­tain type of detach­ment that isn’t just detach­ment. It’s a state of obser­va­tion. His mom’s voice is just as much a part of his expe­ri­ence as his own. 

He pays atten­tion not only to what his mother does, but to his own behavior as well. What he expe­ri­ences leading up to the fit of screaming is described in careful detail.  

Not only that, but he describes wanting to do things that an adult might rec­og­nize as self-regulation. Mirrors soothe him and during that period of his life they were cen­tral to his world. As he melts down, as his mother tries to help him, he feels pulled toward the mirror and the sto­ries the colors reflected in its sur­face can tell him.

He was three years old and already gov­erning him­self beyond the scope of many adults.

I found this place of obser­va­tion very relat­able. Tito man­ages to bal­ance humility and account­ability with accep­tance of his needs very well. He pays close atten­tion to his needs and his expe­ri­ences, as well as his per­sonal growth over time.

The reader sym­pa­thises and respects him.  They do not pity him.

This rep­re­sen­ta­tion is amazing. Not only does his nar­ra­tive make his sen­sory expe­ri­ences and his autistic traits the star of the show, they do so without apology or guilt. 

At one point, he even men­tions that he is unsure if a trou­bling behavior will resur­face. He promises to write about it without hes­i­ta­tion should it arise. That degree of fair­ness toward the self is a trait worth mod­eling for autis­tics and their sup­port sys­tems alike.

His mod­erate self reflec­tion and his descrip­tions of traits, needs, and expe­ri­ences are sure to be invalu­able to those who are looking for insight into autism, whether for them­selves or to better sup­port their loved ones.

He explores his growth throughout sev­eral periods in his life, describing phases and delays in his devel­op­ment with acute insight.  However, his rela­tion­ships with his mother and the degree of sup­port she shows him is one of the most moving parts of the book. She meets each of his chal­lenges with an accepting, sys­tem­atic approach. 

She is his best ally.  

He describes her as hyper­verbal, which I also found relat­able and endearing. She stays with him throughout the book asking ques­tions, finding answers, and some­times expecting him to tol­erate dis­com­fort by set­ting bound­aries that pro­tect her time and energy. 

And during it all, she is loving and non judge­mental. Even in times of great frus­tra­tion, she meets him with accep­tance. It’s beau­tiful, and she serves as a model to us all when it comes to rising to meet our chil­dren.

This book is 100% worth the read. It goes far to illu­mi­nate autistic expe­ri­ences while chal­lenging mis­con­cep­tions.  

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