Richard and I have conversations that other people might find odd. We have little inside jokes we think funny, but that no one else is likely to agree. We reference conversations we had years ago with a single word or sometimes even a look. It’s the same with our son and daughter. In fact, with all of my family and close friends I have at least one or two references that we think funny, but that others witnessing might not understand or see the humor. With Emma, our inside jokes often come in the form of music. We will sing to one another or utter a sentence said by someone else years ago, but that now makes all of us laugh. For no particular reason one of us will say, “Get down Angelo!” and we will collapse in hysterical laughter or instead of saying “Good morning” we will mimic the sound of a quail. The other will then respond with a similar noise and it is better than any greeting made of words.
When Emma began writing to express her thoughts, insights, and experience of life, I thought she would be so relieved to finally be able to communicate these things to us and the world. So when she didn’t seem particularly eager to write, I wondered how and why that was possible. I know communicating in language, whether it is in written or spoken form is difficult and hard work, but I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t be overjoyed to finally have this connection with other people.
A few months ago I asked Emma about something and she wrote, “Words are not as meaningful to me as they are to you.” I think about that sentence a great deal. Emma then told me she senses people. She wrote, in reference to a question about someone who works at her school, “I can hear her.” She then added “I feel her.” I used to be confused by these sentences, but over time I have come to believe Emma means this literally. Barb Rentenbach, the co-author of the book she wrote with Lois Prislovsky, I Might Be You talks about this as well. Emma has an acute sense of people’s inner life and as a result, having to translate all of this into words must be tedious and (this is my interpretation of what it might be like for her) a step backwards.
Richard has a theory that Emma is operating at a “higher vibration” or frequency than either of us. I have the same thought, but use the words a “higher plane,” which has the same meaning. We both believe Emma is capable of a more sensitive and intense understanding of people than we are. If I think about those I am close to, I am in tune to their vibes at a higher frequency than I am to strangers. But what if I was attune to all people I came in contact with at that same level of intensity? What if I “felt” them the way I can feel my husband and close friends? What if I sensed the essence of them before they said a word? What if the words they then said, rote responses to questions like “how are you?” were untrue?
We, non-autistics, tend to view our neurology as better, more efficient, less socially awkward, but in many ways our word-heavy way of communicating is less truthful. We say things we don’t mean. We say things we don’t believe, we agree with people we think are more powerful. We are easily intimidated. We are swayed by groups of people who share beliefs, even if those beliefs are not something we agree with. We learn at an early age to question our instincts, to tamp down our emotions, to apologize when we are not sorry, to say things we do not mean and then, once we are adults, we use words like “polite,” and “kind” to justify the lies we tell.
“Words are not as meaningful to me as they are to you.”