There’s a series of conferences at the Grand Palais at the moment on artificial intelligence, and I went to one last week, it was interesting (if a bit alarming, because the researcher said breezy reassuring things like “don’t worry, there’s really no risk of an AI taking over the world haha” which made me feel as if I was in the opening scene of a dystopian movie, a flashback to show how naïve humans used to be before cutting to 20 years in the future with the protagonist living in a grimy slave camp run by machines).

I felt gratified when the guy giving the conference told us that all the (French) AI researchers he knows dislike transhumanism. He says their job is to improve machines, not improve humans, because “improving humans” is a concept he finds creepy. But the really wholesome part is when he told us about his Living Joconde project, a Mona Lisa equipped with cameras and sensors, who not only follows people with her eyes and “breathes”, but also displays different emotions according to people’s behaviour around her.


It could have been creepy tbh but it really wasn’t; he said that before starting he & his colleague read as much historical documentation as they could about the Mona Lisa (the actual woman who posed for the painting, I mean) so they could try to give the ‘living painting’ emotions that reflect her real personality, as best they could. It was so wholesome. He said “The thing about the Mona Lisa is, everyone knows her but no one knows who she is.” I would so love if paintings of historical people in museums could look back at us, in a way that gives us a hint of what they were really like as a person. This is the kind of AI research I like, it’s not “useful”, rather pointless really, but very well-meaning and human.

If it’s fun it’s not pointless.

Ahhh! Sorry for not understanding but why do you add the image descriptions on your posts…? 💕


No worries! When I first saw image descriptions, I was confused too! 

Image descriptions are an accessibility tool that can help people with a variety of disabilities. 

Blind people and people with low vision often use screen readers to access the internet. According to the American Foundation for the Blind:

Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display.

The problem is, these programs can only help a person access written text. They aren’t able to describe images. This means that a lot of the internet is inaccessible to people with vision problems. 

(Think about how many images there are on Tumblr alone. How often does a post rely on someone being able to read or understand an image? Every post of a screenshot from Twitter or of a text convo or anything else is inaccessible)

Image descriptions are a way to make the internet more accessible. 

Image descriptions allows blind and visually impaired people to know what is being talked about in a post. 

Further, image descriptions can be helpful to people with other disabilities as well. 

For instance, a lot of Autistic people have difficulty with visual processing. Though it’s not talked about as much as auditory processing difficulties, visual processing difficulties are a similar concept. 

Visual processing problems are not a problem with vision* (the eyes) but rather with the part of the brain that processes visual information. This can mean taking longer to process visual information than is typical or having difficulty understanding what’s going on in busy images or all sorts of other difficulties processing visual information. 

Visual processing problems can make it difficult or impossible to understand what is going on in an image, particularly busy images or images with a lot of similar colors or very bright colors. Gifs can be particularly difficult to process due to the movement.

Image descriptions can help a person with visual processing difficulties to comprehend an image. 

I’ve had times when being able to read an image description made it so that, when I looked back at the image, I was able to process it better. Often, image descriptions will make note of things I hadn’t noticed in busy images. 

Image descriptions can also be used to help guide the viewer to notice particular things. For instance, in the gifs I posted, I wasn’t able to list every single detail of the background. Not only would it be overwhelming for someone to try to read, but it would also have made it difficult to remember the point of the image. Instead, I described details that I thought helped capture the feel of the picture. Even for people who can see and process the images ok, these captions may guide them to notice details they would have missed otherwise. 

Image descriptions are a highly useful, and under-utilized, tool for making the internet more accessible to everyone. 

Right now, there are too many disabled people who unable to access the internet fully due to accessibility issues. We’ve talked about the ways that blind or visually impaired people may be limited when accessing the internet, as well as people with visual processing difficulties, but these are only a slice of the accessibility pie. d/Deaf and HoH people often struggle with a lack of reliable captioning on videos** which also affects people with auditory processing difficulties (and, most of the time, auto-captions don’t cut it. auto-captions are often riddled with errors ranging from amusing to impossible understand what’s going on). Far too many podcasts lack transcripts, which, again, limits access for people with any form of difficulty with hearing or auditory processing. 

This post could go on and on if I were to go through every accessibility issue that prevents disabled people from fully accessing the internet. 

And, it’s important to remember when thinking about things like accessibility that the internet is not simply a means of entertainment. The internet has become a vital tool in this day and age. Society exists at least as much online as it does in meatspace. Our world has quickly evolved to one in which the internet is an integral aspect of daily life. 

To be cut off from the internet, to be denied equal access from this tool, is to be cut off from full participation in society.  

Barriers that stop people from accessing the internet are barriers to employment, barriers to housing, barriers to socialization, barriers to culture, barriers to accessing medicine, and so, so much more. 

Internet accessibility is important, and the more we can all do to make the internet more accessible for the, the closer we are able to get to a future in which all people can participate fully in society. 

If you have the time, energy, and ability to do so and want to do something to help others:

Please consider adding image descriptions to posts you create or reblog!

(If someone sends me an ask to remind me, I’ll make a post with some tips on writing image descriptions as I know it can seem overwhelming at first)

This small investment of your time helps to make the internet a more accessible place. Further, just as you came to me to find out why I add image descriptions, others who see your posts will be curious and will learn more. As posts with image descriptions spread more and more, more people become aware of this. Hopefully, one day, image descriptions will be the norm rather than the exception. 

Thank you for coming to me with this question! I hope you have a lovely day!


*as a note, you can have both vision problems and visual processing difficulties. For instance, my vision is pretty terrible (like 20/400 without my contacts) and I have visual processing difficulties as well

**and, SERIOUSLY, the captions of a video are NOT a place to leave “witty” remarks or commentary! First, you’re probably not as funny/witty as you think. Second, but most importantly, these are an accessibility tool. Imagine if anyone watching a YouTube video could add voice clips on top of the video whenever they felt like it and it would block out the audio of the video, making it impossible to understand. That’s what you’re doing when you add remarks to the captions. You’re not being funny; you’re just an asshole

(also, not only is ok to reblog this, but I encourage you to. Please help more people learn about accessibility and image descriptions)


violence against people who are in psychiatric institutions is not lesser or somehow more deserved if the people who are in institutions “deserve” to be there or “belong” there

aka people who hear voices and and communicate with angels and demons and God and ufos and who don’t feed or clothe themselves don’t deserve ANY form of abuse even the tiniest, slightest, faintest fraction more than someone who was “really sane” and ended up in an institution “by mistake”

furthermore, the ability to institutionalize and abuse “innocent” people wouldn’t exist if the ability to institutionalize and abuse “actually crazy” people didn’t exist

but my bottom line is being “crazy” does not make you worthy or deserving of abuse in any way

When you wanna claim something as your Hyperfixation or your Special Interest…




But you don’t know if you’re autistic/ADHD and don’t wanna be offensive if you’re not 


For all y’all still exploring this, or are self diagnosed or community diagnosed… y’all aren’t being offensive. Keep on being you. It doesn’t matter if you ever get a clinical diagnosis or not. If you relate to the autistic and ADHD communities, and you find comfort in the advice and coping techniques we have to share, then chances are that you belong.

and word policing doesn’t help acceptance, it hurts it. Any of y’all what feels a thing feels the thing and can use the same words as nother peoples what feels the thing.
Words is for communicating – if you restricts who can use them then they lose their value.
Making up new words for the same thing based on tiny differences if F-ing stupid – we already gots too many words!

erm – end rant?

Babysitting a nonspeaking four year old



Question from an anonymous reader:

I regularly babysit a 3 (almost 4) year old who has Autism. He does not speak, and he doesn’t yet have a reliable alternative form of communication like signing or AAC, though he probably will soon.

 I have a lot of friends and two cousins who have Autism, but they all speak or sign. I find it difficult sometimes to understand what the kiddo in question is thinking, or wants, and I wondered if you or any of your followers have any first hand tips or advice on how I could better understand him? 

I know everyone is different, and I’m learning to read things like his body language, but I wondered if you/any of your followers who don’t speak or spoke later than most remember anything that helped them get across what they meant when they were younger, or things adults did that were especially helpful. He doesn’t have the coordination to sign or draw what he wants yet, being so little. I want to help him feel less frustrated and to be as good a babysitter as I can be.

Realsocialskills answered:

For the sake of readability, I’m going to call your cousin Anthony in this post. 

The first thing I’d say is: Listening to Anthony matters whether or not you succeed in understanding him. You may not be able to figure out what he is thinking, he may not yet be able to tell you — but you *can* treat him as a person who has thoughts and feelings worth listening to. That matters in and of itself, and it also makes successful communication much more likely.

Learning to communicate is really hard, even for typically developing kids. (Which is a reason why two year olds have so many tantrums, and why older kids usually grow out of that.) In early childhood education, a lot of what kids learn is that it’s possible to communicate in ways that others can understand — and that words are usually a better option than freaking out. One of the main ways early childhood educators teach kids these skills is by listening to them, and by supporting them in understanding the feelings they’re having. 

Kids with communication disabilities have more trouble learning to communicate in ways that others can understand — and they also often have more trouble learning that communication is even possible. Disabled kids need *more* exposure to adults who want to listen to them, and *more* support in understanding their feelings — but they often get less of both. Their feelings are often ignored, and their communication is often treated as nonexistent. 

All too often, kids with disabilities learn young that no one wants to listen to them. They often try their best to communicate, only to have their attempts interpreted as random meaningless noise or deviant misbehavior. When nobody listens, it becomes really hard to keep trying. One of the best things you can do for Anthony right now is help him not to give up.

It’s important to keep in mind that Anthony is a person with a perspective of his own. Our culture socializes us to see people with disabilities as having needs, but not thoughts or feelings. That implicit bias goes really deep for almost everyone, including AAC experts and long-time disability rights activists. Be careful to treat Anthony as a person with thoughts, feelings, and questions. This is a profoundly countercultural attitude. You can’t assume that it will happen by itself; you have to do it on purpose. (I did a presentation on this for medical providers a while ago which may be of interest.  )

Some specific things you can try:

Say explicitly that you’re trying to understand, eg:

  • “I don’t understand you yet, but I’m listening”.
  • “I’m not sure what you mean, but I do care”.
  • It doesn’t go without saying — and sometimes saying it makes a big difference!
  • Look for actions that might be intended as communication:
  • Does he point at things? Lead you to things? Flap differently under some circumstances?

Make a guess about what you think he might mean, and act on it.

  • It can be worth using words to describe what you’re doing, eg:
  • “I think you want the book because you’re looking at the book. I am getting the book”.
  • “I think the light is bothering you because you’re covering your eyes. I am turning off the light.”
  • He can’t read your mind, so it might not be obvious to him that you’re acting on what you think he’s doing — so tell him!

Name feelings you think he might be having, eg: 

  • “Susan took your truck. You are mad.”
  • “You like the marbles. You are happy.”
  • “Jumping is so fun!”
  • “You don’t like that texture.”
  • (Nb: Telling *adults* what they are feeling in these terms is usually *not* a good idea, but it’s a pretty common method used to help little kids learn about feelings — *if* you know with reasonable certainty what their feelings are.)

Ask questions, and offer choices, eg:

  • “Do you want the red shirt or the blue shirt?”
  • “Should we read the princess book or the truck book?”
  • “Should we go to the swings or the sandbox?”
  • Even if he can’t respond, being asked matters — it shows him that you care what he thinks, and that there’s a reason to try to communicate.

It can help to make the options more concrete, eg:

  • He might be more able to tell you which shirt he wants if you’re holding both of them. 
  • Or if you’re holding one in one hand and one in the other.
  • Or if you put them down in front of him.

If he responds to your question in a way that you think might be communication, respond to it as communication: 

  • Eg:  “You pointed to the dragon book, so we’ll read the dragon book”.
  • Or it may make more sense to just start reading it. Sometimes that works better than inserting too many words. 
  • Eg: “Ok, we’ll go to the park”.

You can also try yes-or-no questions:

  • “Do you want to go to the park? Yes or no?”
  • “Do you want to read the dragon book? Yes or no?”
  • “Is the dragon scary? Yes or no?”
  • “Is the king silly? Yes or no?”
  • Again, even if he can’t respond in a way you understand, trying matters.

You also might be able to teach him to point to things:

  • Pointing doesn’t require motor skills on the same level that writing and drawing do.
  • Again, in the two book example, you can ask him to point to the one he wants.
  • You can also show him pointing by doing it yourself, eg:
  • Take two books, and say “I choose the dragon book”, point to it, then read it.
  • Take two books and ask him “Which book do you choose?”
  • (Etc: It can take some time and trial and error to figure out how to teach this in a way that sticks, but it’s often worth trying.)

If he has a way to communicate “yes”, and “no” or choose between options, you can also check your guesses more directly:

  • “I think you said park. Am I right?”
  • “Did you say park, or something else?”
  • “Are you trying to tell me something, or are you playing?”

Remember that words can be communication even when they’re unusual: A lot of autistic people use idiosyncratic language to refer to things, or repeat phrases they heard somewhere else – in a way that they may or may not mean literally. Here’s a method for noticing when repetition is communication , and some thoughts on listening to folks whose speech is unusual.

Give him time to process and respond:

  • The standard teaching advice is: When you ask a question, wait at least seven seconds before you say anything else.
  • This feels a little unnatural — it can feel like a *very* awkward pause, and it can be tempting to jump in and say more stuff to clarify.
  • But if you say more stuff to someone who is thinking and formulating their answer, it tends to just give them *more* stuff to process. 
  • So give him time to respond — and be aware that autistic people often need longer to process and respond.

If you have an iPad you’re willing to let him play with, iPad use can really help some kids with motor skills and learning communicative cause-and-effect.

  • Most kids learn pretty quickly how to scroll through select the app they want, and that skill often transfers.
  • Most kids that age like Endless ABC, a really fun pre-literacy words-and-spelling app.
  • (That app also builds an association between interacting with a touch screen and making meaningful sounds)
  • You can also try the Toca Boca apps — a lot of kids like those, and some, like Toca Hair Salon, don’t require particularly strong motor skills.
  • Often, the best way is to play with the app together — eg, you show them how to drag the letters around, then offer them a turn.
  • Or help them out when they get stuck, without taking over.
  • Or say things like “which color should we pick? How about purple?” and see how they react.

Don’t expect AAC to fix everything:

  • Everything in this post still applies once he gets a device or a system.
  • An AAC device is just a tool. It’s one mode of communication, which might be useful for him under some circumstances.
  • Having an AAC device will not make him instantaneously able to communicate using words in the way that typically-developing kids his age do.
  • While some people learn to use an AAC device fluently very quickly, that is rare. 
  • Most people who use AAC because of a childhood speech delay take a long time to learn it.
  • And in any case, giving someone a tool doesn’t cure their disability. 
  • An AAC user with a communication disability still has a communication disability, and disabilities that interfere with speech sometimes also interfere with language. 
  • Even people *without* language disabilities tend to take a while to learn, for all the same reasons that typically-developing kids take a while to learn how to use words to express themselves. Communication takes practice.
  • (And also, all existing AAC technology has significant limitations and difficulties. It’s easier for typically developing kids to learn to speak than it would be to learn to use AAC, and having a speech disability doesn’t magically make AAC use easy.)
  • AAC implementations can also end up treating AAC use as an end in itself and forget that the point is to support communication. 
  • For most AAC users, AAC is one communication mode among many they use, and it’s not always the best one in every situation — eg: pointing to a banana can be a *much* more efficient way to communicate than scrolling through a device and finding the “I” “want” and “banana” buttons.
  • If Anthony gets an AAC system, he will still need you to put effort into listening to him, and he will still need you to take all of his communication seriously.

Remember that disability isn’t bad behavior, and don’t be mean:

  • Don’t ignore his communication in order to force him to talk or use a system.
  • The best way to encourage communication is to listen!
  • He’s not struggling to communicate because he’s lazy; he’s struggling to communicate because he has a disability.
  • He’s doing something really hard, and he’s in a hard situation, and that needs to be respected and supported.
  • You don’t need to introduce artificial difficulty; he is already experiencing more than his share of the real kind.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What is helpful for effective communication with a nonspeaking four year old?

 Tl;dr If you’re babysitting a kid who has trouble with communication, the most important thing you can do is listen to them. Scroll up for some specific options. 

@clatterbane‘s tags:
#communication#still not sure about telling kids what they must be feeling#maybe especially if they’re having trouble communicating this on their own#phrasing it as a possibility might help avoid some problems? idk 

I agree. Don’t tell me what I am feeling. Give me options. “You want the truck?” Even if I nod, do not assume I mean yes. Find something else about the situation you can ask, such as “Is the truck in your way?” or “Is the truck bothering you?”. Quite often those of us who are completely nonverbal will nod in response to almost anything that sounds like a question, so you will have to work at figuring it out – do NOT take the first affirmative response.
And don’t patronize us at any age – do not tell us what/how we feel or want. Do not. Phrase it as a possibility or a question. Ask, even if you have to do it in multiple ways to get to the truth.