hi so im writing a non verbal autistic character, and im planning to have her special interest be learning different sign languages. im just wondering if this would be realistic, and would love any insight and tips you can give me
Learning sign languages can definitely be a special interest. It’s certainly one of mine. I became fluent in Czech Sign Language in less than a year because I was so motivated and focused. I went to two different teachers, both of them deaf and native signers, and there was no speaking during the lessons at all, so there’s no reason a nonverbal person couldn’t learn just as quickly as long as they were able to control their hands and face.
I have learned bits and pieces of International and American sign languages as well, but they didn’t draw me in the same way. Czech sign language is based on spoken Czech, which has far fewer words than English, and therefore there is a specific sign for almost every word in the language, including names. In ASL, half the words end up being finger-spelled, which I absolutely HATE. It requires a different skill to parse American finger spelling, especially at the high speeds native signers use. Czech finger spelling is rarely needed, usually goes relatively slowly, and the letters use both hands so that they actually look like letters and are easy to parse. Also, letters aside, Czech can be signed entirely one-handed (as long as everyone involved in the conversation is fluent enough to understand without the supporting hand - the chest or a leg can be used in its place), whereas ASL seems to require both hands and more of the body to be used in most cases. ISL is not even a proper language, just a system for people who don’t use the same sign language to communicate essentials, and it’s extremely basic and unable to communicate anything subtle.
I once found myself in a situation where a German deaf woman came to visit and I was out with a group of deaf friends for a drink, and I was unable to communicate with her without someone interpreting because she used ISL, but I just can’t bring myself to learn it. I find it aesthetically unpleasing and annoying.
There are also many dialects of each sign language. Depending on where someone lives or grew up or went to school, they will sign a bit differently. Even in the Czech Republic, a very small country, people sign very differently from region to region. I live in Prague and have trouble understanding a deaf person from Brno, for example. They have different signs for colors, months, and many other words. And there are three schools for “hearing impaired” students in Prague - and at each of them, there are many slang signs that only students of that school know and use. And each generation adds more!
One of my teachers was about 40, and the other about 30, and they taught me very different things. I would use something the younger one taught me with the older one and he would rant about how his language was deteriorating; I would use something the older one taught me with the younger one and he would laugh at how old-fashioned I looked. Sign languages evolve even more quickly than spoken ones, so generational gaps are important to recognize.
So there are a lot of factors for you to consider with your character. Every sign language has its own grammar, style, and quirks, and she may like some and not others. She may simply learn as many as she can, but have preferences. She may even invent her own for fun, and maybe try to teach it to others. I recommend learning at least the basics of a few sign languages before trying to write about them, or at least talk to some deaf people who use different languages, as they are really very, very different.
Another important factor that most non-signing people aren’t aware of is that most sign languages do not just use your hands. Some use more of your body, and most include the face. Facial expressions and mouthed words form a part of the meaning of each sign. For example, in Czech Sign Language, the eyebrows indicate whether something is a statement or a question, and the signs for “don’t know” and “plastic” are the same - the only difference is the accompanying mouth movement. This happens with many, many signs. So if your nonverbal character has trouble moving her lips or forming words, she might struggle with this aspect. It is possible for native signers to understand sign languages without these mouth movements, but it is more difficult and fewer people will understand her.
There are some nonverbal people who can’t sign for various reasons. They might lack the control of their body to do it effectively, or they might be unable to process language at all (I can’t sign when I go nonverbal due to stress or overload). But some people can and do use sign language, so it is realistic for your character.
Finally, thanks for your ask which touches on one of my special interests and brightened my morning! :D
Also yes I spell Queenie different (Qunnie) get over it.
Song: This Love
You, Jacob, and Newt were sitting at the table with Qunnie and Tina, eating dinner.
“So Y/N we know why Newt and Jacob are here, what about you?” You hear Qunnie ask. You glance up to see she was trying to read your mind, so broke eye contact, hoping she would get the hint to stop.
“Newt is a good friend of mine and I didn’t want him going to New York alone. I use to live hear as a kid so I thought it would also be nice if he had someone who knew the area,” You say. You glance over at Newt, who was staring at Tina and having a small chat with her.
“If you excuse me I’m going to lay down, I’m not very hungry,” you say, getting up from the table. You walk into the small room Tina and Qunnie offered to you, Newt, and Jacob for tonight. You sat in the corner, with the door closed, twiddling with your wand.
“Why can’t I be pretty like her?” You mumble to yourself. “She has flawless face, a flawless face, works for the Ministry. Of course Newt would like her. I’m just the invisible third wheel friend.” Tears were now streaming down your face. You then hear a knock on the door. Panicking, you grab Newt’s suitcase and open it. You quickly climb inside then close it. Luckily you were the only one who knew Newt;s suitcase could do that, besides Newt obviously.
You start walking around, finding the bowtruckles. They were the only creatures who liked you.
“Hey guys,” You whisper softly to them. One them walked over and started to crawl on your hand. “Well at least you like me and not some other perfect, barbie looking, flawless girl.” A tear fell from your eye again followed by more. You sat down, burrowing your face into your knees. You glance up to see the bowtruckle standing on your knee, causing you to smile.
“You just always want attention huh?” You say softly.
“That would probably be my fault, they think I favor Pickett,” You hear a voice say. You stand up to see Newt standing in front of you.
“Pickett’s a lucky guy then,” You say. You carefully placed the bowtruckle back with his friends.
“Y/N,” Newt mumbles. You glance up at him, making eye contact. “Why did you leave the table? And why did you come here?”
“I love it here, it reminds me of-” You stop yourself. “I told you I wasn’t hungry.”
“Y/N,” Newt whispers. He tucks your hair behind your hair then placed his hand on your cheek. “I know you are upset talk to me.”
“I see the way you look at her!” You begin. “With her flawless hair, flawless face, barbie like body.”
“What’s a barbie?” You hear Newt asks.
“Never mind that,” You say. “Just tell me already. You like her, how could you not?” Tears were now streaming down your face, again.
“Is that what you think?” Newt asks you. You nod your head yes. He then takes his hand and wipes off the tears off of your face. “Y/N I love you okay? I have since day one! Why else do you think I invited you to come with me?”
“I’m not her though,” You mumble. “I’m not pretty like her.”
“You are right, you aren’t her,” Newt begins. “She’s pretty but you are beautiful Y/n and I love you.”
“I love you too Newt,” You whisper. He leans in and kisses your cheek. Newt then leans in to kiss your lips but ends up stopping thanks to Pickett. You couldn’t help but to laugh.
“Looks like someone is jealous,” You say. You and Newt both laugh which then ends when he kisses you again.