The Purple Tree

The Purple Tree and Other Poems is a collection of poems by Sydney Edmond who is non-speaking and autistic.  She learned how to write using a letter board when she was ten-years old, two years later she gave her first public presentation  and has presented at a number of other conferences since then.  Now ten years later, Sydney continues to write, present and is the subject of a documentary called, “My name is Sydney

“Lazy, achy lady
lived by the sea.
Lazy, achy lady,
move away, please.

You are always blabbing,
talking long and loud.
You are closing in on
my lovely little cloud.” ~ From the poem, Some Early Poems

One of the most exciting things happening now is the emergence of a growing number of non-speaking Autistic people who are writing.  Thankfully self-publishing and blogs are making their work accessible to the public.  As more non-speaking Autistic people write and publish their work, it will become increasingly difficult for the public to deny that the assumptions we have long-held about Autistic people are incorrect.  Eventually we will have to re-evaluate how we are viewing those who are Autistic and what that actually means.  Our notions of “intellectual disability”, our ideas about what someone is or is not capable of are being challenged and will continue to be until what we think we know now, what is considered common knowledge will be seen as antiquated and our limited assumptions an example of just how ignorant we once were.

“I lack the lovely peace of mind,
lack my always smile.
Who listens to a lonely girl,
Listens to a child?”  ~ From Dear Friend

The first presentation Sydney gave was in 2005, just two years after she began communicating on a letter board.  This poem, Love, Love, Love! was part of her presentation at the West Coast Symposium on Facilitated Communication.

“But Soma came along
and changed my life.
She actually lifted poor little me
out of darkness
and into light,
and lovable, lovable, lovely happiness.

Soma taught Mom
how to communicate with me,
and Mom and I have been talking
ever since.
Now I can choose my own clothes,
make my own decisions,
and make lovely friends out of people.”

For those of us with children who do not speak or whose language is unreliable, or does not necessarily reflect what is meant or intended, we are entering a time of tremendous hope.  There is a great deal of work still to be done, but in publicizing the work of those who are like our children, who are communicating by typing and pointing to letters on letter boards, we will shift how people view not only our children, but all our children and people.  By questioning commonly held beliefs about any one group of people we affect change for all mankind.


28 responses to “The Purple Tree

  1. Well said.

  2. “By questioning commonly held beliefs about any one group of people we affect change for all mankind.”

    This is the magic and power of opening our eyes and seeing the world anew.

  3. Sydney is the loveliest of young ladies and a blessing to all who know her! Mom’s no slouch either 🙂 Sydney is living proof of the necessity of giving our friends with severe communication deficits the tools to ‘speak’ by different means. Presume intelligence, let the soul air itself in the sunlight of communication!

  4. Lovely poems from a lovely lady. In one of her poems reprinted here she thanks a woman named Soma for opening up her world by teaching her to communicate though the written word. Ariane and I are also deeply appreciative of Soma for helping our daughter Emma show us the incredible depth of her intelligence, awareness, comprehension and capabilities, that frankly, and quite sadly, we’ve been nearly completely unaware of, until recently.

    Any parent that loves and cares for their children wants to assume the very best about them in terms of their abilities, and while we didn’t think she was INcapable of certain things, we felt like she hadn’t “gotten there yet.” Little did we know that she was already “there,” and she simply could not communicate her thoughts effectively. Her speech is unreliable, derailed by her particular neurological connections and OCD impulses to say and repeat words and phrases. But now, as she spells out her thoughts, we are in a nearly continuous state of OMG.

    She has never been taught multiplication and division, yet she can multiply and divide three digit problems in her head. She knows facts about science, history, and other topics that we can’t recall ever speaking about her with. She spells long, complex sentences with long complex words with near-perfect accuracy. But because her speech and actions present as those of a very young girl, she has been so often treated as one, by friends and relatives, by teachers and educators, and by her us, her awestruck, embarrassed and regretful parents. In her last school she was made to read Billy Goat Gruff over and over again for THREE YEARS, because the school insisted she was “learning valuable lessons about interpersonal relationships.”

    Can you imagine how insanely bored and frustrated she has been to be trapped in a school environment that underestimated her to that extent? Can you imagine how bored and frustrated she STILL is in her new school that just doesn’t “get it” when we show Emma’s teachers the videotapes of her working with Soma and writing things like, “I wonder what god thinks about autism?”

    Okay, so we’re all late to the game. But thanks especially to my wife Ariane’s tireless commitment to figure these things out, we are playing catch-up at a great pace. More importantly, we have finally got it through our thick noggins that our daughter is extremely intelligent (maybe more intelligent than us), that she understands everything we say in front of her, that she absorbs knowledge like a sponge and remembers everything.

    It’s a brave new world. And such a joyous, wondrous world for all of us. Yay Emma!

    • “Can you imagine how insanely bored and frustrated she has been to be trapped in a school environment that underestimated her to that extent?” As you know, I think about this constantly. I can’t imagine and I also hate to imagine what it does to her spirit and sense of self.

      So glad we have been shone the light by Rosie, Pascal, Harvey and Soma!

  5. ooh, I hadn’t heard of that book. I must get it now! Thank you for this lovely blog post about it.

  6. Sydney is an amazing soul!

  7. I love that line ‘and make lovely friends out of people’ .

  8. Love it .

  9. Dear Ariane, I agree we are entering a time of tremendous hope. Thank you for your tireless efforts to encourage and educate. I am off to get more information on this “new to me” writer. I will share her work with my dear clients who now all know they are not alone and many of us are listening. It is a pleasure hearing you. Sincerely, Lois

  10. Cannot wait to get a copy of this book!

  11. If I may? Copies of Sydney’s book, The Purple Tree can be purchased on her website: where you can also read an article about how she learned to express herself and more of her writing. Thank you all for your interest in AAC!!!

  12. Dear Ariane,
    Thank you so much for walking the walk with those of us who cannot speak. People like you give me hope for the future.
    Love, Sydney

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