Talking By Writing

*Emma gave me permission to write about the following…*

Every Tuesday afternoon I go to Emma’s school where Emma and I do a sample lesson, or Emma answers questions from staff or sometimes someone wants to share what they worked on with her and what her answer was.  As Emma “talks” by pointing with a pencil to the letters on a laminated letter board she twirls her string, and often, while she is “talking” by writing, she is also talking, as she describes it, “with my mouth” at the same time.  When I mentioned this to her at our last training session she smiled and wrote, “It is hard for non autistic people to multitask as well as I can.”  Which was one of those frequent – oh-my-gosh-Emma-you-are-so-fabulous – moments, because, really, not only does she have a wickedly wonderful sense of humor, but whoa(!) how right she is!

Later Emma wrote in answer to the question, “Is it problematic for you to switch from the letter board to a qwerty board, she wrote, “No.  It’s not a problem.  Is it hard for you?”  I was so taken aback by her response, because, honestly I had not ever considered that it isn’t a problem for me, so why did I assume it would be for her?  And yet, I have.   This was yet another reminder to me of how I presume competence as best I can with all that I know and yet, am humbled by constant little nudges urging me to go farther.  How beautiful is that?  Seriously?!

When I began witnessing people who use spoken language like my daughter does or who do not speak at all, but write, often poetically, often beautifully, I was astonished.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It’s been close to two years now since that first time I witnessed in real life someone communicating this way.  At first I was so incredulous, all I could do was watch and try to take in what I was witnessing.  After many encounters, repeated by so many people, men, women, teenagers, boys and girls as young as seven or eight I went from shocked amazement to a more calm feeling of  excitement, but even now, having spent nearly every day watching my daughter write this way, I often still feel like I’m in a dream.   It is as though I have been allowed into another dimension, and it is more beautiful than anything I ever believed possible.

"Talking" with the letter board

“Talking” to Soma using the letter board


25 responses to “Talking By Writing

  1. As the type of Aut who usually says “one-at-once!” when there’s too much going on, I didn’t know I could multi-task. Then, Emma started writing these hilarious zingers. Who knew I could read and do a full-flap happydance at the same time? Keep ’em coming, Em! Love, Ib

  2. And I can picture it. *Makes me grin like the Cheshire cat, but not so creepily.*
    So every time Emma sees your name on the blog or if I’m on FB, she’ll say, “There’s Ibby from Ibbia!”

  3. Hi dear friend, I do same and I even now will make the two go together. I call this speak with my hand. I miss you. Did you see last blog? I am very busy now. Will write to my friends soon. I am so happy for my little Emma.

  4. I have trouble switching between ABC and QWERTY layouts when I’m typing, so… there’s that?

    • Ah… this is such a good point, because regardless of neurology this can and does present problems for some people. I think my question (and now I’m trying to remember whether I asked this or whether someone else did and then I repeated the question) was redundant in that she has easily switched back and forth without hesitation in real life. So it was clear (to me) that this wasn’t a problem.
      Also we were in a training and I wanted to see if my “noticing” was in fact correct, then when it was, I thought, Oh. Okay, yeah, why am I even asking this question?
      Is this even making sense?

    • Don’t worry Sav…so she multitasks better than me and switches keyboard styles better than you. But she’s feisty and doesn’t take herself seriously so I don’t think she’ll get all supreme and mean about it. Love, Ib

  5. I sometimes wonder about the difference between presuming (competence or incompetence) and curiosity, or asking questions. Like, I think it’s a reasonable question to ask, if it’s difficult to switch between ABC and QWERTY layouts. That could be useful information. I think maybe the difference is in the motivation to ask the question, not the question itself?

    • Okay, so this is another good point. Right. What constitutes a question asked out of genuine curiosity and what is a question that represents presuming incompetence? So maybe I’m being too literal and a little bit hard on myself? Not sure, actually. I know I feel tremendous guilt for the years and years when I did NOT presume anything like competence…. so there’s that piece that is playing a role in this as well…

    • What I got out of this was Em’s hilarious sense of humor. She’s a tween idol meets a Sedaris, to me. I’m not that worried about the motivation of the questioner (who probably laughed, just guessing, because it’s funny!) and I don’t think Em is either. She gets a kick out of stirring it and cracking people up. She’s a kid with a wit! My response to her is triangle snap, not defense-mechanism, but ymmv, of course. Love, Ib

      • Emma was laughing. We all laughed. She was on a roll and wrote a whole bunch of very funny things, such as when someone asked her about something she said out loud while she was writing, she wrote, “my mouth is misbehaving” then kept writing about a more serious subject.

  6. Ariane, I love that you are spending one session a week at the school to collaborate and demonstrate to the school what Emma is capable of. Brilliant! I need to do this with my son. He is only six but we are slowly working toward more independent typing. I still hold his elbow to support his typing. This summer I will work on this and then see if the first grade teacher will meet with Diego and I a few times a month. I’ve learned that it is better to show people what Diego can do rather than tell people what Diego can do. When I tell, people from the school often don’t believe me. Thank you for sharing your journey to give other parents like me great ideas.

  7. I enjoy every new posts. Emma is a role model for us. I hope she knows she has touched many lives! 🙂 I’d like to ask a question, about my son. He’s 6. He’s just starting to use words with meaning, but it’s difficult and he does it sparingly. He mostly talks about things he’s thinking or playing. He uses pecs sparingly also. More lately to get us to put up the hammock, or get his chips. Specific requests. But I hope one day to hear the thoughts he is thinking. Like Emma. What’s the best way to start with soma. A book? I’m not sure I can travel to Texas. At least not yet… Can I do it on my own? I’d love your thoughts.

  8. I love how she turns it back – I wish my son would do that because self-examination of a process I take so for granted would allow me to better understand him. What a great question, Emma!

  9. I think perhaps I would agree that your question wasn’t necessarily presuming incompetence, rather really wanting to know. For example, I think I would find the transition from a keyboard to a stencil board hard! I also wanted to ask, which is the post when you realized Emma could write for the first time? I looked for it but I don’t think I found it. I’d love to read it must’ve been such an amazing moment.

  10. Emma is so awesome 🙂

  11. All the love and all the joy. Indeed, how far we have all come in such a short time. And thanks to those who have taught us to presume competence — Autistics of all ages, our own kids and those we are privileged to call friends, who are patient with us when we stumble, and bring infinite loving energy to creative communication. Thankful for Emma, for you, Ariane, and for all the others who join in representing and supporting the Autistic community, a growing groundswell. ❤

  12. Wish knew others in real life who typed to communicate like I do. Or even more helpful, wish people around me would meet others and realize am not such a freak. To everyone around self, it is just strange and abnormal.

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