I’ve been struggling, feeling very emotional in a “bad” sort of way. You know how when you’re weepy all the time for seemingly no good reason? Those times when you keep crying every time you hear sad music, and all music strikes you as sad, even really upbeat music, or when someone looks at you with a stern face, or uses a harsh tone, or if you read something sad, and everything you read seems really sad, and you keep having to wipe tears from your face and hope you remembered to bring tissues with you, but you never do? Yeah, sort of like that.
*Sigh* It’s been a tough few weeks. I have felt off-balance because I have been expecting myself to be able to do what I’ve seen a number of people do with my daughter, but that I have not been able to do. I returned from our trip to Texas and thought, after only a couple of sessions with my daughter, I’d be able to start asking her open-ended questions, just as I’d seen Soma Mukhopadhyay do. (Despite the fact that Soma advised me NOT to ask any open-ended questions in the beginning.) *Define beginning, I kept thinking. I HAVE begun. Surely now after the second or third day home I am beyond “beginning”! This thinking is akin to seeing a master jeweler create a beautiful ring and expecting that I should be able to create that same ring without having spent years practicing the craft as a bench jeweler, or hearing a Rachmaninoff piano concerto played at Carnegie Hall and then going home and thinking after a couple of piano lessons that I would be able to replicate that piano concerto. The point is, Soma is a master at RPM (rapid prompting method). She’s been doing RPM for close to two decades, first with her son Tito and later with hundreds of Autistic people.
But I so wanted to have the kind of conversations with my daughter that I saw her having with Soma. It was like catching a little glimpse of paradise, but not being able to find the bridge to actually get there. I kept trying to leap. I kept trying to find a short cut. And as I did this, each day, my distress grew. I felt frustrated and then angry and then beaten down. All because I was expecting myself to be able to do something without any practice. So when my suffering reached an all time high, when the occasional weeping, became more than occasional and my son, upon seeing me asked, “why are you always crying?” I realized I had to get help. I did what years of recovery from addiction has taught me – I reached out to another human being. I contacted someone I only know through the internet, but who has been working with her son for a number of years now.
She gave me wonderful tips. She sent me videos to watch. She listened to my distress. She told me it took months of practice and as I read everything she sent me, I kept thinking both how grateful I was to her for being so kind and generous in sharing her experience with me, but also was reminded that I need to practice and I need to start at the beginning. Everything takes practice. My expectations of myself were causing me tremendous pain. They were unrealistic. It isn’t that I can’t do this method with my child, it’s that I can, but I need to practice. And as I realized this, as I thought more about this, I saw the parallels to presuming competence in my child. I have written about what “presume competence” means, but in all the posts I’ve written on the topic there is one piece of this that I have neglected to mention and that is, presuming that we can and will be able to learn with appropriate accommodations and enough practice. I forgot to include myself in presuming competence. I need that presumption too. I need to remember that I can and do learn if I’m given instruction and give myself the opportunity and time to practice.
I had the proper instruction, but I haven’t been practicing long enough to get the results I wanted. So last night I wrote up a lesson plan, just as Soma had instructed during a previous four-day intensive workshop I took last spring. I made sure I followed her format of how to create a lesson plan. I made sure I began with choices and spelling key words. I even tried to embody her lovely, sing-song, calm, kind voice. I laid aside any expectations of what would or should happen. And you know what? It was a great session. I made a couple of mistakes, I had to refer to my notes often. I had to make some adjustments. I forgot a couple of key things, but I jotted down some comments to myself so I can remember to revise accordingly for our next session this afternoon and more importantly, we were both more relaxed than we have been since we returned home.
Practice. I hate the idea of having to practice. I want to go from never having done something, to immediate fluency. But once I begin practicing and let go of that desire and those expectations for immediate fluency, practicing can be incredibly enjoyable.
To Sue: This post is for you. Thank you.
Em practices jumping on her pogo stick. New all time record? 127.
Love to you, Ariane! Be gentle with yourself and remember that each time you sit down with Emma to practice you are communicating the most important things of all to her: patience, respect, belief in her abilities, belief in your abilities, and most of all — love. All that is there no matter what words come out!!
So this is what I read on first reading your comment – “All that ISN’T there no matter what words come out!!” So then I knew that couldn’t be right and had to reread… 😉
Christine is SO right! And remember too that hardest of all is for a parent to try to teach anything to their own child. (I know from experience:) ) So be gentle and calm with yourself first, and then practice calmness with Emma. You will get there, maybe not as fast as you would like, but the tortoise made it but the hare did not.
And remember love makes the world go round.
I love you.
Mom/Granma/the old one
AND I really like turtle neck sweaters,so there’s another thing I have in common with tortoises. Oh wait, no, that’s not right, tortoises don’t wear sweaters… Okay back to the salt mines…
Sending you LOVE Mom. Lots and lots of love. Even if you are old.
dear ariane, across town, lying around with ezra, enjoyed this post – same thing in zen practice – most folks come in & expect after a day – week-retreat-: that there will be calm, enlightenment, consistent compassion – & so blaming oneself or practice seems like the obvious conclusion!!! even after 35 years, i have dry spots (wet spots), dark nights, you can’t make me (even though no one’s trying & there’s encouragement on all sides) – & find that i’m harder on elizabeth than other longtime practitioners who come in grumping about ‘how it was supposed to be, and what “you” promised uus ….) which is why our practice approach sounds so encouraging, but without any promises – just ‘give it a try – andd again, and again) sorryy computer repeats letter – just like we folks repeat patterns – love you for your honesty & willingness to keep on keeping on, fumblingg and bumbling (stephen levine calls it’brailling our way to the truth’) he and ondrea have a great website, most of their stuff for years, & a way for $10 -month to help support them (they spent all their money to go to be with the dying & didn’t have health insurance …) they’re still among our prime mentors (not so many in the zen game except friends like norman fischer & jon kabat zinn) – until friday & much love to you both
Elizabeth! I actually was going to quote you from one of your books about gentleness and kindness, but both your books are at home and I wrote this from work. Can’t wait to see you and Ezra!! Sending you love.
We set our sights on distant goals,
Imagine with a single bound
That far off place is in our reach
And jump, but as we hit the ground
We see how much is still to do.
Now losing heart, we turn around,
Look back, despair: we’re still so close
To where we were. We hear a sound
And realize we’re not alone:
Now gaining heart we turn back round.
With friends to guide us hand in hand
At last the path there may be found.
Reaching out and asking for help is hard, and I’m glad you found the courage to do so, and that you have found a friend to help you, guide you towards your goal. Wishing you much success.
Thanks so much Ben. I love your poem!! Thank you for sending it.
I can really identify with the wanting to be able to go from not being able to do something to doing something perfectly. Because of this I also secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) hate “constructive criticism”. I suspect that I am going to have these same feelings as we go through out journey of RPM. I am going to have to remember that it is not about me, it is about my son. While it might be frustrating and hard on my end, it is likely more frustrating and harder on his end.
I think if I’d not tried to leap ahead and continued working with choices, before trying to get her to move to open ended questions so quickly, we would have been okay. It was that in my eagerness for more and more so quickly that I started to get into trouble. Pulling back has been a good thing… we’ll see.
If you do get into trouble, you know you can reach out. We’re all in this together. None of us have to do this without support. That’s an important piece to this too.
I went through this with my son when we started sign language, then PECS, then using the iPad. I’m an “immediate gratification girl”, and the patience thing is hard for me, but eventually we made progress with our son with all the methods. I have no doubt from reading this blog that you will prevail with what you have learned, and that your daughter in her own way will help you. Best of luck, very exciting to read her (and your!) progress!
Thanks so much for the vote of confidence! It’s something so many of us have had happen, I know. It’s good to know we aren’t alone. That’s been really helpful.
Dear Ariane, just how long did it take to get the hang of Richard? I bet you are still figuring things out, and it will take time with your kids too. You have made amazing leaps and bounds, accomplished great many things that not just helped you but thousands of people I am sure. None of us have the perfect language for our children, trust me. Some times they perform and interact differently with others, it is a reality we must accept as parents. I think it’s because they don’t have to worry about pleasing us or protecting us as they are learning. She found her way to you, you found your way to her, the pink toes proves it, her climbing the rocks proves it, walking on that tight rope proves it. So what you if might miss the mark on lessons, you are light years ahead with your cooking, with the fabulous dresses you buy your daughter, you win with your hugs and how your children snuggle in with you, how you com for them in your arms. When you put that favorite meal in front of them and they eat in noisy delight, you know you got them. You are awesome, just accept it.
Ha!! Get the hang of Richard? Still working on that ONE!! Sending you love Shenny and thanks.
Oh…….I am a control freak in my own way. I truly had to learn with Emma how to completely give up all control. She types now withe a drumstick between us. She named it the ambulator…It is an anchor for her that I only hold the very end of with varying amounts of weight, pressure, depending on her needs. But my role, while needed, I has no control.
This was hard to learn for me. If I pulled, pushed, etc..Emma doesn’t write. I may have to wait, and wait and wait for a rhythm that I may have wanted to speed up.
Frustration was my middle and sometimes first name. I would feel like a horrible mom because again I couldn’t communicate with my daughter. But, we worked it out, at her speed, at her time.
My husband was almost afraid to start typing/writing with Emma because he was afraid of failing. Again, they worked it out.
I think I craved the answers to so many questions I had I overwhelmed us. I forgot we had all the time we needed to talk to each other.
You are awesome and so is your Emma. Hugs to you both
Oh Paige, that reminder of having time… that’s the thing I forgot! Thank you for this.
I feel your pain …
Proud of you ..
Thanks so much Bronwyn. Sending you love…
127! Wow! I was so proud the day I got to 100. I don’t think I ever got to 127! Go Em!
Amazing what a little determination and a lot of practice can do!
Dear sweet Ariane, there is some truth to the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.” and the other one, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. and as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.” You can and will do this and one day, you and Emma will be chatting away with open-ended conversation. With the many that I have come to know who use assistive typing to communicate, they usually type the best with the support of the person(s) they first learned to type with In Kim’s case, that was me so she types so well with my support The next person Kim is most proficient with is her speech therapist who had experience with FC prior to Kim, and they have practiced a lot together. Except for her dad and one of her other brothers, everyone else that Kim types with has to be trained and must practice a lot. Many don’t have the patience to learn. Some give up or make comments like, “She won’t type with me.” so guess what? Kim won’t type with them. I have a friend whose daughter types with the same speech therapist mentioned above and with me, but she won’t type with her mom. I think it is mainly because her mom ( my friend) comments in front of her daughter that she won’t type with her. She has low expectations of her daughter. In your case, I know you understand how smart Emma is so I am sure practice is the key for you two. Make your conversation time together fun, too! Tell Emma “hi”!
P.S. You want to hear something ironic? Kim did not type very well with Soma of all people. Kim was so used to my support that she fought a bit working with Soma. It took a while for Kim to make consistent choices with Soma’s support. It probably would have come in time but we had to stop going to see her because at the time, Kim kept getting ill. However, going to Soma was the motivation Kim needed to work harder towards independent typing (she went from needing wrist support to elbow support to some independent typing), and Kim wants to go back to see Soma again one day.
We’ve all been there set high expectations and felt disappointed when they weren’t met as you said we just need to practice patience.
At the risk of introducing another concept here, please consider that RPM, in the initial stages, is pretty left-brained. It’s hard when you have seen so much of the right-brain of child so far, to suddenly decide to just tap into the left brain. Soma, in her amazing wisdom, does — but when you have known a child for many years, you know that is not all of her — so it’s hard. Have you ever tried ‘writing with the other side of your brain’ (writing with your non-dominant hand), and comparing your output? Not similar. To me, this gives us a clue as to what you are are accessing at the early stages of RPM — it will become more ‘whole-brained’ eventually, but in the learning stages, this is the way it has to be. Well, food for thought!