Over the weekend we played a story telling game. The round robin story telling was an idea Emma came up with during an RPM session she had a few weeks ago and it seemed like a great idea for a rainy Sunday morning. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get everyone’s permission to print our story here.) Suffice it to say, it involved rain, a family made up of two parents, a girl, a boy, and a tornado carrying a herd of walrus.
Emma began the story with one sentence, then each person added a sentence and we continued going around in a circle. Emma spelled out her sentences by pointing to letters on her laminated letter board, my husband and son said their sentences out loud while I transcribed what they said, but when it was my turn, I found it very difficult to think of what to add out loud, and so I wrote my sentence down first and then read it to the group.
After each person’s contribution there was much laughter and ad-libbing. At one point Richard, who, it must be said, couldn’t help himself, constructed perhaps the longest, and wonderfully, creative run-on sentence every spoken. He did look a bit sheepish afterwards, but the story moved along until it was Emma’s turn again, where upon she said, “All done. No. You have to work!” Her comment reminded me that for Emma this “game” that was intended as fun, was “work” for her. As no one else was viewing it as work we stopped after the fourth go around, at which point Emma raced off.
I think a great deal about how hard it is for Emma to communicate, whether that is through spoken language or writing; they are both hard. This surprises many people who assume, as did I, at least in the beginning, that someone who cannot rely on spoken language to communicate, would be more than a little relieved to finally find a way to express themselves by writing instead. However Emma has told me on several occasions that while she is relieved that people finally can understand her when she writes, it is also very, very difficult for her.
Emma recently described writing as, “It’s too hard work,” but it’s easier for the rest of us, particularly as it tends to be more accurate of her thinking than her spoken language. Not long ago Emma wrote, “I can’t talk the way I think.” But it would be a mistake to then assume writing is easy or that she eagerly does it. And I was reminded of all of this when it was my turn to come up with a sentence for the story. I couldn’t come up with a sentence through spoken language, but had to write it down first. What if everyone had insisted that I say my sentence out loud, what if someone had said that it was against the rules to write the sentence down first?
I can tell you it would have been much more difficult for me, though it still would have been fun. But what if I experienced the world in other ways and not with words? What if my experience of people and things was not through pictures, words or anything that can even be described with words? Wouldn’t both written and spoken language through the use of words be equally difficult for me? What if my experience of the world was completely different and having to translate this experience into words was actually impossible? What if so much was lost in the translation that it no longer represented my experience? What then?