Emma’s Story

Emma told me I could post her story on here this morning.  This is a story she wrote yesterday with Rosie (Rosemary Crossley).  Rosie developed a technique more than thirty years ago to help people with a variety of issues, specifically those that make speaking difficult or impossible .  Em held onto a tube with one hand while Rosie held the other end as Emma typed.  Rosie began yesterday’s session by asking Emma to write a story that began with either, “once upon a time” or “one day.”  I was standing near Emma, with Richard, Joe and Em’s teacher, Katie, all watching as she typed the following.

“One day there was a boy called george. He had been in afight can’t tell you how he got into the fight but he was bruised all over.  He fought a lot and his teacher was very angry.  The next day he was all purple and his mother said you can’t go to school looking like that.  The very clever boy covered himself in flower and his teacher thought he was sick and sent him home.  The end.” 

Not sure I can actually continue writing here…  but I’m going to try… *Breathe*

I have read this story more than a dozen times already.  I know I’m totally biased, but I’m just going to say it – what an incredible story!  There are so many layers to it.  This story that Emma wrote with great concentration, with little pause is the first story she’s ever written.  She was focused and when asked about the word “flower” she verbally said “powder” in explanation.  Rosie explained that flower/flour are words that sound alike but are different in meaning.  Rosie explained that the powder kind is spelled “flour.”

But there’s more…  A little later Rosie brought out a math app called Math Magic where Emma proceeded to zip through addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  None of this is particularly noteworthy, except that Emma has never been formerly taught division.  She was choosing the correct answers from a field of four.  A sample equation is:  “56 ÷ 8” and the multiple choices available were: 2, 9, 7, 6.  Emma chose the correct answers independently.    Allow me to say that again.  Division.  Emma chose the answers independently.

It was at this point that I felt so many things all at once it was almost impossible to speak.  But more than anything I kept thinking about how we continue to underestimate our daughter.  I had no idea she could do division.  Not only can she do division, she can do it quickly.  There’s another app Rosie recommended – Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. which Emma also did as we watched.  Not only did she listen to the short lesson, but then read all the questions silently, read the multiple choice answers and chose the correct answers.  It seems verbal speech is tricky, particularly when she is expected to answer questions verbally.  When asked to read silently and then identify the correct written statement by pointing to it, Emma did beautifully… about Ellis Island, no less!  The only interaction Rosie provided with both the math and Brain Bop was to use a laminated card that she silently moved across the words as Emma read and she did not allow Emma to point to any answer until she’d finished reading all the choices.

I cannot imagine how awful it must be to be so capable and yet treated as though you were not.  I imagine it must feel like being “bruised all over.” I imagine it must feel like you “fought a lot”.  My wish for my daughter is that she may continue to do all that she is doing, while we provide her with every opportunity to flourish and continue to show the world how very “clever” she is.  The only limitations are the ones we provide.

I am incredibly grateful to all who believe in her, all who have helped and who continue to help us so that we can be better parents to our daughter.  The list continues to grow…

Rosemary Crossley

Rosemary Crossley

51 responses to “Emma’s Story

  1. I told you the first time we met, Emma is brilliant!! SHE IS!

  2. SenNur Fahrali

    Flood gates are open, Emma will keep pouring now. Go Emma go.

  3. To me, this is remarkable because she gets to show you what she already knows, and what is learning. The remarkableness to me is not that she can do the writing and the math, but that she now has some systems (not just one system, it seems, which makes sense for most people) to let you know. I guess it is remarkable to be able to do division without having been taught it but I am around so many… My son just pointed out to me that he did division without being taught. He also did modular math without being taught, which totally amazed his math tutor. BUT, my son can talk. So, remarkable… I thought it was cute when I told my son about Emma and he nodded knowingly and pointed to himself. I don’t know what this all means but what I am trying to say is that there can be a stereotype about what counts as remarkable. I am having a hard time saying what I mean here because there are two very loud children in the room with me, one of whom also has the volume up on his computer.

    • I think I understand what you’re saying Paula. That it isn’t “remarkable” that she is doing all that we are discovering (after all this is what she’s been and is capable of long before our “discovery”) as much as that she/we are finally finding things that are providing a bridge so that we might know and understand all she is capable of. Is that what you are saying?

  4. It’s hard to add anything to what you already said, since you said it so well. Yes, we have underestimated Emma repeatedly. Yes, I feel horrible about it too. But after yesterday’s demonstration, something inside me shifted and I feel a lot more gratitude than grief or shame. I suppose it’s possible (maybe even likely), that I will underestimate Emma again in some way, but I don’t think I’m capable of doing it to the extent that I have in the past. Now I KNOW how wrong I’ve been and that genie isn’t going back in the bottle. Best of all, it made me see our relationship in a different way. I’m so looking forward to going with her to the Museum of Natural History with her on Sunday. I can approach it and experience our time together in a whole new way, informed by the knowledge of her awareness. Yesssssss!

    • I think when I began crying yesterday it was the feeling of how many people are being underestimated, the sheer magnitude of that was overwhelming coupled with the knowledge that as much as I try, as much as I think I am “presuming competence” I’m not completely able to fathom all that she is capable of.

      • I think what Paula was trying to say and what I think is that Em is now in the hands of teachers who are not looking for failures. She feels safe and can follow through on what she is being taught and show it. She can also show without fear now what else she knows because she will not be ridiculed. She was given opportunities so succeed without judgement and she performed at her own pace with stellar colors. My youngest son was similar in some ways. I made sure we did it in small chunks so he could feel successful in taking tests, as he became more confident he actually did much better. I still remember the day he came home one day asking if he is stupid because he couldn’t write like his friends or read without being nervous. After many questions, I came to understand that he was so nervous takings tests, everything was dancing in front of his eyes and he couldn’t catch the words, put them in order and understand (his description). A teacher told him apparently he must have been stupid if he didn’t understand the questions. That sub never worked in that school, I made sure of it. We worked at his pace, building one success over another and he became more confident. Luckily he had good teachers after that who really worked with him. We kept positive attitudes. Eventually we realized he was a genius who was having anxiety and needed to put things in better context.
        You dear Ariane opened up a great world for Emma. It’s wonderful you found your daughter’s tribe and learned from them and gave her space and the opportunities to feel safe enough to come out of her cocoon, look she is a beautiful butterfly already and is soaring. I can see Em becoming a teacher down the road and helping others. She is amazingly patient. She waited for the right teachers and her family to come to the table and now she is reaching to you. I told you last year remember, keep trying she will come to you? Well she is here and I am so happy for all of you.

  5. We, the parents of children with disabilities, tend to underestimate his/her innate abilities, because, when that label/diagnosis is attached, we do not set any expectations for them…we just do a wait and see “how they progress on their own” status. As they move along their journey, we are constantly surprised with their accomplishments, because we do not have these expectations for them as we do on our “normal” children.
    All of us own this guilt of not trusting in their intelligence until the point of them SHOWING US how intelligent they truly are and how deep their thoughts go!
    We ride the road of the ups and downs with our children, but what a blessing they are!
    Go Emma…

  6. This is what happens when we are assumed to be competent. We let it all out. The important thing is let Emma show how much she knows, the way she can at this moment. She will then find her own path toward her best communication method.
    She is brilliant and she is showing. Not all non-speaking, or the ones with difficulties in expressive language are going to be as brilliant but this shows how much we absorb in silence or without a way to be express what we mean or to be understood.

  7. I love hearing about Emma and your family. Makes me a smile. 🙂 Thank you!

  8. wow! Ariane, this makes me soooo happy for Emma and your family. It must feel incredible to her to show you so many more parts of who she is. Simply. Beautiful.

    • Thanks so much. I was thinking last night that to us it all seems so incredible, but to Em, it must be kind of strange. Here she’s been capable of this and (I’m sure so much more) and has lived with the fact that she has been consistently underestimated her entire life, only now we’re jumping up and down and cheering. That has to be a little weird for her and I don’t know, but I have to wonder whether a part of her isn’t thinking – it’s about time, guys, it’s about time…

  9. It’s a pretty complex little story! It has multiple steps, multiple perspectives and their actions (the teacher, mother, and kid) and it also has a decent cadence. I wonder if she’d be interested in having it illustrated into a little book? It might if she’s interested motivate her to write more. I know that I wrote more- and in the process developed my writing skills from well below grade level to above grade level- with a motivation, though most of that was via my obsession with Harry Potter.

  10. What a great experience for you and for Emma, to have you realise there is so much to discover about her and to share so much more with her. And what a wonderful thing for you to share and remind us all about. Thank you for this, it has made me think.
    I agree there’s the possibility of “it’s about time” for Emma (speaking from my own experience), but perhaps you’ll have to ask her about that one day 🙂 Probably most of us have failed to “see” someone clearly at some point. But recognition when it comes is a wonderful healer.

    The sad thing about our world is that for most people (and animals as well), unless they are “out there”, they do not have competence presumed, Quiet people are usually overridden by louder and/or more impulsive people, regardless of competence, whether disabled or not. Anyone who considers themselves to have a higher status or to be more powerful often does it to others who appear less so. You see this in business, government and at institutions regularly where anyone who cannot or does not “join the hype” in the ‘right’ way is often destined for the under-valued pile.
    It’s possible you have been treated the same way at some point?

    There will be many exciting discoveries for you all, I’m sure. It reminds me of when you meet a new friend, and keep finding out things that fascinate and impress you. We seem to readily accept competence then, as we seem to be searching for it.
    We people are strange creatures, but as long as we keep learning we are doing our best.

  11. Nice story. Where could she have learned division without being taught? That’s just amazing to me.

    • Nisha – interestingly enough this is not so uncommon. I have read countless stories about non-speaking people who were institutionalized or given no formal instruction, but who learned to read. Sadly we as a society have overlooked an entire population of people, deeming them “lost causes.” Hoping that will begin to change.

    • I taught myself division at 3 (math was an interest for me growing up). If you’re a curious person with a mathy bent, once you figure out addition/subtraction, multiplication is a logical step, and then it’s pretty easy to figure out you can go backwards from multiplication. I’m guessing she probably just needed to see what the symbology of division was to provide her the symbols for something she already understood. It takes curiosity and a natural tendency toward problem-solving type of thinking.

      From there, algebra isn’t too hard to independently derive if you’re given the right problems to think about.

      • I would love to hear the story about how everyone responded when they figured out you (at the age of 3) were doing division!

        I think my daughter may also be reading far faster than I do…

        • I had no verbal delays and I was already very much a little professor, so I told my dad, “Daddy, did you know that if you take two and then another two, you have four, but three twos are six? And then two goes into eight four times!”

          And Dad responded, “Really? How many times does four go into twelve?”


          … and Dad kept me entertained by asking me math questions for a while, then asked me if I’d heard of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and I said no, so he told me what they were.

          A bunch of people have told me that I couldn’t possibly have figured out artithmetic at 3 and blah blah, but my parents have me on video doing arithmetic at 3, and my school teachers know I figured out algebra at 6.

          Dad didn’t think it was unusual because he was similar growing up, while my mother didn’t really think it was a big deal because she’s always been more interested in me being a stereotypical girl than in me being good at math, science, and other ungirly stuff. If I’d been belting out show tunes or some other girly thing like that, she would’ve been excited. Mom’s far from supportive of my work, interests, and ambitions. As a kid, it was always, “Why can’t you be more like your sister? She’s a social butterfly.” Now that I’m an adult, it’s, “Yes, the new paper is nice, dear, but when are you going to settle down, get married, and give me grandkids? Your sister already has kids!”

          • Oh no, that’s horrible! I love this story of three year old you talking to your dad about all you’d figured out math-wise! It’s wonderful. I hate that your mom can’t see and appreciate the fabulous daughter that she has.
            I’m sending you virtual hugs (if you want them) and encouragement. We ALL need encouragement!

            • Thanks.

              If Emma likes math, you might do what my father did with me: just encourage her to figure out math for herself by asking stuff that leads her to independently deriving stuff. Encouraging thinking about something she finds fun – plus, you understand stuff better if you figure it out on your own.

    • It is not at all surprising to me that Em can do division because when you see her sing, she’s got perfect rhythm and precise relative pitch. When you think about what division is, and what’s going on in rhythm and relative pitch, you can see the relation. We do not have to be taught how to know conceptual information in math as much as we think we do; the things we are needing to be taught are the received algorithms for showing one another that we can understand things.

  12. *standing and cheering*

  13. You know I think even as parents who embrace the idea of presuming competence, I’m wondering sometimes if its not a mistake in some ways…bear with me here lol…as I’ve read more stories about autistics as children, and seen my son do things that we immediately weren’t sure whether they were intentional or coincidence because “he’s only 3 1/2” I’ve began to think that presuming competence isn’t enough. I have been only presuming he has the competence of his peers, so when he does something beyond their level I’m immediately confused and sometimes disbelieving of it…I am having to rethink this idea and practice and start assuming everything he does is intentional however much it blows my mind to. Sure sometimes it’s probably coincidence, but I would rather give him the benefit of the doubt than to later learn I had held him back. Based on this new presumption we are now wondering if he can read based on several “coincidences” noticed by myself and his SLP when using his AAC (who I must say we are blessed beyond measure to have, she loves and believes in his intelligence almost as much as I do). Our kids are so absolutely amazing! We just have to catch up 🙂

  14. Knowing Emma as I think I might, she may not be thinking “It’s about time” as much as something along the lines of: “Whee and jubilation, for I have now discovered another method of thrilling my silly yet delightful audiences to rapture.”

  15. Wonderful posting. I’ve always loved stories, they reveal so much about the author, what she thinks, what she feels, what she hopes to bring out from her inner thoughts to those who read/listen to her stories. And I love the responses. Everyone had something to add. Presuming competence just isn’t enough, and genius is something most of us are not capable of, so, go Emma, go and be patient while we stumbling try to catch up with you!


  16. “Presuming competence just isn’t enough, and genius is something most of us are not capable of” this is something Richard and I were just talking about. Exactly. Yes. Exactly!

  17. Great story, Em, thanks for sharing it with us!

  18. wonderful to read this story, thank you, Emma, Rosie and Ariane!

  19. Emma is awesome! And you are a great mom. She’s very smart and creative and that story does have a lot of layers. Love the blog, I’m going to keep on reading. Tell Emma I say hi!
    -Leah from Rosie’s training room! 🙂

    • Leah! Aw… so glad you saw this. I will definitely tell Em you said hello! You are a terrific facilitator!! We need to clone you and have a few dozen of you here in New York City!!

  20. We need to believe in our kids. I’m reminded of this all the time. In fact my daughter just surprised me and did something I didn’t believe she could do. My bad! Thanks for another reminder.

  21. Pingback: The Pitfalls of Reading Out Loud | Emma's Hope Book

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