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

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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