At an Autism Conference last month someone asked my daughter “Have you ever been to Australia?” Em immediately answered “Yes!” Yet when this person held up a laminated card with two boxes, one red with the word NO and the other box green with the word YES and asked the same question, Em promptly pointed to the red box with the word “NO”. When asked what she had for breakfast that morning, she answered, “Vanilla cake!” but when asked the same question and asked to respond by typing she wrote, “I ate cereal, toast and yogurt.”
Many people ask me why we are spending so much time and energy learning to support Emma’s typing. The most common two questions I’m asked regarding this are – why do you need to support her at all when she can use her two index fingers to type independently (I will write a separate post on that question) and why do you encourage her to type when she does and can speak?
Ironically I have yet to find accurate words to describe my daughter’s speech. I’ve said things like, “Her speech is unreliable” or “She can use language, but it often does not reflect what she really means to say” or “When she types we get a more accurate idea of what she intends to say, wants, or is thinking.” But I’m never sure people understand what I mean or if they do understand, whether it helps them when they try to talk to someone like Emma. (I have since met a great many people who have some language, but it is “unreliable” in that they will say things that are not necessarily the answer they mean or the words they meant to say.) Inaccurate speech is not because the person means to evade or is willfully not telling the truth, but is indicative of specific brain function. Lots of speech therapy, concentrating on spoken language, did not help Emma.
By the way verbal scripts serve as a default and come into play often in context to what is going on, but sometimes they are triggered by a detail. The script can appear to have nothing to do with the topic being discussed. For example we had an electrical storm the other night which reminds Emma of the fireworks on both New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. Emma calls both firework displays and electrical storms, “thunder fireworks.” She also calls rain storms and electrical storms, “firework bubbles” or “motorcycle bubbles”. But if you didn’t know any of this and were with her when it began to rain, you probably would not understand the association when she said, “Ohhh, look! It’s motorcycle bubbles!” and then pointed cheerfully out the window.
If I ask, “Em do you want to make vanilla cake?” Em will ecstatically respond, “Yes!” She happens to love nothing more than vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. I know this, no further questions are needed. However, if I ask her, “Em what did you eat for dinner last night?” She might respond with, “Vanilla cake!” or she might respond with what she actually ate. If I ask her why she was crying on the school bus, she might say, “You cannot scream! You cannot scream and bite on the bus. If you bite, no hitting!” or some other equally cryptic answer that does not answer the question of why, though it does give me a good idea of what was said to her and that she became so upset she began to bite herself.
However if I ask her to type her answer, she might type, “A boy was scratching my seat. I asked him to stop, but he kept scratching. He made me mad. The matron said, no kicking. Emma’s sad, Emma bit her arm. I don’t like that boy.” If pressed further, she will type his name and I will be able to tell the bus matron that Emma should not be seated near the boy whose name is X. Problem solved. The point is, when typing, Emma will write things she does not say. But to people who are unfamiliar with someone like this, they find it confusing.
When I showed Emma this photograph just now and asked, “what do you see?” She answered, “Good!” We went horseback riding while visiting my sister last week. And it was. It was “good!”