Thoughts On Thinking

Friday evening I asked Emma whether she wanted to use the laminated letter board or a qwerty, bluetooth keyboard connected to the iPad.  She told me she wanted to write using the keyboard.  Emma has written on the keyboard during her RPM sessions with B., but this is not something I’ve attempted.  I have been reluctant to use the keyboard because Emma has done so well using the laminated letter board with me and I’m always worried about changing something that’s working well.  But when using the letter board I have to transcribe as she writes or hope that I’ll remember what she’s written, whereas with the keyboard it automatically types directly onto a document within the iPad.  Often I can’t remember what she’s written, or think I have remembered correctly, only to find out later I did not.

This was the case Wednesday night when Emma wrote in front of an audience at CoNGO.  I hadn’t stopped to transcribe her words as she wrote them, thinking I’d be able to remember, but once she’d finished the sentence, I couldn’t remember.  Afterward, when we thought we hadn’t recorded our presentation, I tried to remember what I thought she’d said – “Autism is not what parents want to hear, but I hope that will change as more people meet someone like me.”  What she actually wrote, once we found the video recording, I was disconcerted to learn, was – “Autism is not what parents want to hear, but I hope that will change as more people get to know someone like me.”  That is a subtle, yet significant difference.  I’m so sorry Emma for getting your words wrong.

Our goal has always been for Emma to write on a keyboard and eventually be able to write with the keyboard resting on the table, so that no one need hold it.  That she wrote both Friday evening and over the weekend on the keyboard is a huge leap forward and very exciting!!

So.  Friday evening Richard asked Emma for permission to ask her a few questions about thinking.  Now for those of you who know Richard, you will smile as you know this topic is one of his favorites.  He loves nothing more than to read and discuss thinking, consciousness, dreams, reality, and anything remotely related.  These are the topics Richard explores in his writing and the things he is fascinated with.  Richard wrote on Emma’s Hope Book FaceBook page – I “think” of “thinking” as my constantly chattering internal dialog.  I have long suspected that Emma has either NO internal dialog, or very little, and that what she “thinks” of as “thinking” must be very different from what I “think.”

Emma generously agreed to allow her dad to ask her a few questions though she did remind him that she had the timer on.

*I need to interject here that the following conversation is representative of Richard’s “thinking” and Emma’s as she describes it.  No one is suggesting that ALL people, either autistic or non autistic think as either of them do.  It would be a mistake to assume Richard is somehow representative of ALL non autistic people, though many may relate, or that Emma is representative of ALL Autistic people.

Richard:  Mom and I have this internal dialog going on all the time and that’s what we call “thinking”. How does this differ from the way you think?

Emma: I only think in voices when I am working with you (Ariane).

Ariane: Is this also true when you write with others?

Emma: Yes.

Richard: Do you see our internal dialog as an advantage or disadvantage compared to your own way of thinking?

Emma: It is more distracting than the way I think.

Richard: Tell us more about how you think. If it’s not with an internal dialogue, what is it like?

Emma: Know that I am almost always happy and take great pleasure in sounds, color, fabric.  Everything in life is beautiful if you are able to be here.

*Whoa!  “Everything in life is beautiful if you are able to be here.”  

Richard: I’m so used to thinking with an internal dialogue. It’s hard to imagine thinking without talking to myself.

Emma: Have you felt this always?

Richard: When I was a kid I didn’t talk to myself all the time. I was probably a lot happier. As I grew older, my internal dialog became stronger and now it’s there most of the time. I have to meditate or concentrate to temper it.

Emma: It’s too bad that you have difficulty.

Richard and I looked at each other and shook our heads in amazement.  Then Emma began to laugh and we joined her.

*The keyboard we are using is a Kensington Keyboard.

**A brief update on Emma and Ari Ne’eman’s presentation at CoNGO last week that we video taped, thought we hadn’t then found we had.  We have not had time to upload it and we haven’t received approval from Ari yet, so it may take a few more days before we can post all or part of it here.  Bear with us.

Emma types on a qwerty keyboard

Emma types on a qwerty keyboard

32 responses to “Thoughts On Thinking

  1. Terrific! I guess I’m somewhere in between. I don’t think in words, but I’m so used to having to translate to and from words that I often practice saying things to myself so that I can “hear” how they sound before I say them to other people. It’s not always possible to do this, of course, which is why conversation is sometimes difficult for me (I’m “at a loss for words”) and the telephone is often impossible (people speak faster than I can translate).

    But if I’m out walking in the woods with the dog, or riding my horse, I’m generally not thinking in words; I’m just taking in the world in the moment, in all its glorious colors, sights, sounds, and smells.

  2. Awesome work with the keyboard Emma!

  3. My thought about (my) autistic thinking, I express to myself in terms of a yacht on the ocean: a yacht subject to the conditions of that ocean (perhaps what you Emma point to when you speak of being able to “be here”); a yacht that survives and stays its course, only through what I do to make it so (so maybe close to what you speak of as being “happy”). My thinking is tied to that work.
    When I engage with others, I hyper-empathise; so I take in what is going on in the other. What is going on in others as groupings, is a crucial aspect of the ocean’s conditions. So I take in their way of thinking, because that is a crucial aspect of them. I am impressed (key pressed into a bar of soap impressed) by their thinking.
    If you are socially/societally grounded rather than being autistically grounded, the crucial condition to that particular ocean, is what the collective thinks. Internal dialogue rather describes what goes on there.
    After taking in the thinking of non-autistic others, I have to go through a process of getting-back to my core or native autistic thinking. So a process of processing myself clear of that non-autistic thinking, while respecting it as the way of some other people, knowing and keeping these others in their difference from me. So maybe close to what Richard speaks of as the effect of meditating.
    Emma, I love the way you are speaking to Ariane and Richard. They deserve the wonder of your words. Beyond that your words have a stand-alone power and magnificence. I take lessons from what you say, into my own life and work.
    Ariane, I agree absolutely on the importance of: hearing the exact words of a person’s expression; and not paraphrasing that expression if and as we set out to support or stand-with or amplify or advocate-for them.

  4. Emma your words blow me away every time…im so glad i found you and your parents very early in E’s life…you have helped me learn quiet mouth doesnt mean quiet mind and paved the way for one little boy to not go through the things you (and countless others) did 🙂

  5. Methinks Emma thinks more efficiently than I.

  6. what a groundbreaking and informative post! I wish so much to turn off my own internal dialogue ha. I admire her way of being. very zen :).

  7. More fascinating insights. I cannot easily imagine an internal dialog: I require a calm mind to translate my thoughts into words. Other words in my mind interfere with this and echolalia results.

  8. This was great in so many ways. Great that Emma was able to use the keyboard with you, Ariane. Great that she answered Richard’s questions on her way of thinking. Great that you specified that each person may think differently. Neither way is better than the other. I read this article to Kimberly and was talking about how I think in my mind, but I also often have to write down what I am thinking if it is important, or I will forget it. She started smiling and signed “yes, yes” and then typed “Both of us think the same way, but I remember better.” She also said that she likes thinking in her head, that it helps her create. When she is ready, she or I will type up those creations (poems, stories, etc.) so they will be remembered by me and others. Oh, and Ariane, I definitely can relate to forgetting what Kim exactly said on her letter board. When Kim first started typing over 20 years ago, I wrote down everything she said as she said it, because I was so blown away and didn’t want to forget any of it. Over time, I just write down the really important things, but if I don’t write it down as I go along, I, too, am guilty of paraphrasing her words. She sometimes will call me out on it. I love her using the ipad or laptop because like you said her words type up just like she said them, and can be saved in a document if we wish to keep them.

  9. Simply blown away by her amazing insight and beautiful wisdom.

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  11. What you and Emma are doing is very exciting and it gives me inspiration because I know what Emma can do, I believe that my son can learn to do this too one day. And this gives me the encouragement and motivation to read him the books I read him and try to teach him about letters. So, thank you!

  12. I think about this a lot. I know that as I practiced describing things in my head (A suggestion given more for the whole not filtering thoughts issue) my episodes of what was termed selective mutism* (since I was verbal, if not entirely typically so) decreased, particularly around objects. Then in middle school I practiced writing blog entries in my head about my day as it happened, and I became better able to articulate experiences. I kind of atypically learned internal dialogue. So this is interesting to me on a personal level,

    I think about how I have parallel thoughts happening a lot- kind of like a movie with subtitles. When I was younger, I had more parts of my thoughts that were “untranslatable” so I either didn’t bother saying anything, or tried and failed miserably to articulate what was in my head. Those untranslatable moments grow fewer as I get older and get exposed to both new concepts and new words for those concepts.

    *This was a repeatedly suggested thing from guidance Councillors, doctors (if it came up- very rarely as it didn’t concern my mother), and even teachers, but when asked I thought “selective Mutism” meant I had a *choice* about when the words went away and said no, I didn’t think I had selective Mutism. In my head, I emphasized the selective. In reality I did not.

  13. One of my friends spent a couple of weeks convincing me that many people think entirely in words. I didn’t believe him.* I got through an entire linguistics degree thinking that when they said people were thinking this or that word, they meant that merely as a label for the thought. I do have an internal dialogue for planning and reviewing conversations, but even then the words are represented in multiple senses.
    *(I tried to teach myself to think in words when I was little because that’s what they did in books, but then figured it was a book thing, not an actual thing.)

  14. Ariane, Temple Grandin explains that she thinks in pictures. Have you ever asked Emma if she also thinks in pictures? Kim does some at night, but most often thinks in words. The movie, Temple Grandin, does a good job in showing how Temple thinks. It is so interesting how all of perceive our world and think about it different ways. Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?

  15. I don’t think in words, either. I only think in words when I’m translating into them for writing or conversation. And I don’t think in pictures, like Grandin. I went to a Grandin presentation where she talked about the different types of thinkers and I’m what she called a pattern thinker. According to Grandin, it’s also why I am so good with math and music.

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  17. I think like unstrangemind. We have talked about this a lot. Richard asked me how I thought and I had trouble translating it, but Emma also said a lot of things I can relate to. Sometimes it is not clear to me that what I am doing is thinking, but apparently I am, because I can produce thought, even though what I experience doing in the moment is more like being-there or sometimes even noticing.

    • Ibby, do you also “build” language like I do? I have words and I have phrases and they are like blocks for building structures of communication. If I have pre-built structures, I can write or speak quickly and fluently. If I am asked a question for which I have no blocks and no structures, I cannot write or speak the words until I build them first. If I only need a few locks, I can build the structure while the other person waits for five or ten minutes, but. They need more words, it might take me days to build those structures. After, I have those structures to use again if they are needed.

      Because I use words in pre-formed structures, and because I’ve been building language blocks for 47 years, people think language is easy and natural for me. But people become confused when they ask me something, like “how did you like the play?”, that I haven’t built blocks of language for and then, when I am building some blocks so I can answer their question, they become impatient and begin speaking over my language building, and I am inside, making blocks and fitting them together with other blocks, both pre-existing and built on the spot, but they are outside, feeding me language that I have to focus on, hear, get past the CAPD filter, get into the language filter and interpret, break into my internal language and understand.

      That is too much language processing all at once, too fast. And even more gears have to shift if I try to stop building so I can tell them that I need language space for the building and then go back to the building (and sometimes they don’t really understand and say “okay” but keep talking anyway) . . . and I end up going into an embarrassing and stressful meltdown because of the language traffic jam. And they don’t understand and get upset because they had believed that I have a different kind of grasp of language than I actually do.

      Is language anything like that for you, Ibby?

  18. lilytigerheart

    I spend far too much time thinking in words. Sometimes I have trouble getting my brain to shut down at night and will lie there thinking about the day or things that I need to do the next day. I am always talking to myself, it seems. About the only way I can escape the constant barrage of words running rampant through my head is to take a walk in the woods by myself and enjoy the wonders of nature. It is almost like a reset button or power switch for me. I stop thinking in words suddenly and just marvel at the beauty I see around me. Everything else is forgotten for a while.

  19. Just another thought on “internal dialogue” versus “, ““Everything in life is beautiful if you are able to be here.”

    My natural/native impulse is to “be here”. That involves me covering everything with my own self-mediating processing. So actively doing what Gary Mesibov of TEACCH calls “philosophising” (core philosophising); and doing that across what Daniel Tammet calls an “aesthetic” ground (although not so as to produce DT’s dramatic capacities).

    I’m then involved in what has become a massive event at my place of employment. I’m arguing for the approach to the autistic this blog would endorse. Contextual powers-that-be are then seeking to countervail and suppress the perspective I am offering.
    All this has seen me subject to disciplinary process and suspension; actions I was able to discredit. I’m now involved in grievance process about all this. What I am doing has then become involved in what some parents are raising as concerns about their own children.

    To represent myself and fight my corner, I have to communicate with individuals of the powers-that-be; and some of these persons are very heavy-hitters in a Scottish context. I have to then engage with their perspectives of perception and understanding, about how we should be engaging with the autistic.
    At this point I have to engage with their internal dialogue, their informing perspective, their inner process, their dynamics of identity. In doing this I am moved away from the autistic processing which allows me to “be here”; moved away from the core processing which sees everything done as I need it to be done.
    I can still the internal dialogue I thereby pick up on and engage with. I have to so keep it still (contain it in the Karl Rogers sense), to process things to see me effectively self-represent and fight my corner as a self-advocating autistic person.

    What I’m then finding (and this the point of this post) that while I can adeptly handle the engagement with the powers-that-be, I’m bearing cost and suffering damage as an autistically organised individual.
    I can’t get all the way back to my core autistic core-philosophising. I end, when on my own, just strung out in a mapless void, for longer time than is good (I here think of Magellan, when in the 1500s his ships set out to cross an unmapped Pacific). I’m taking self-realisation and self-integration hits.
    I’m beginning to wonder whether this experience of voided-self and ocean-distances of autistic-social matters yet to be resolved, is at the heart of the autistic life-experience, as things stand.

    The reasoning is that I have to do what I’m doing vis a vis my place of employment, across various criteria. Natural impulses are involved. I’m doing what we have evolved to biologically do, albeit from the starting point of an autistic situation.
    Only, and this the crux of concern, and it generic for an autistic grouping: doing the natural thing (of seeking to represent myself and defend my corner; and even if successful, so far, in my case), doing what we humans have evolved to do; leads to being in this mapless void, unless as with Emma that void is populated and vibrated by empathetic understanding (pulsed by other living persons) of what all our autistic Emma’s are encountering as situation and circumstance.

    • Oh Colin, I am so sorry you are going through this. As I read I wondered that what you are describing isn’t at the crux of the main differences between neurologies… the “being here” piece, so central to serenity, leading to a sense of connection and knowing, always requiring our “egos” let go of the reins and therefore our “sense of self” becomes less about “self” and more about connection, even though many non-autistics would suggest otherwise…

      • “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

        I think Albert and you speak to the same truth here. To “be here” rather than being caught up in a web of “optical delusion” and ‘inner dialogue’, we need to be living out the sense of things which you and he speak to, and Emma is being opened to through your parenting of her. The ego-grounded limitations of time and space are always acting, but we can be reflexive about their action and not thereby imprisoned by any given moment of that action.
        We are held and given consciousness by the limiting action, but in looking to the universe that yields up, we reach ever outwards across what Albert calls compassion, celebrating the ground and dynamic of consciousness rather than being contained by what it momentarily projects.
        My sense of being autistic is of never being cut off from the awareness Albert expresses. Donna Williams speaks well to that sense.
        Emma’s compassion would then seem to be the vehicle of self required to be as Albert recommends.
        I wonder what would transpire if Albert were alive today, and he able to work jointly with the likes of Ari and Emma.

  20. Yes, all this can be seen as attaching to difference in neurologies. I’m then still figuring out the status of neurologies: as we can consider neurology as what everything stems from; and we can consider neurology as something which emerges from developmental process. I think we need to keep both in play in approaching the autistic.
    I tend to think in terms of “identity” rather than ego. That bias might stem from the neurology I have; and that neurology might have emerged across my biography. I sense that you can do ego usefully while I would seem to back of so doing across fear. So I’m more hanging around in a zone where I’m hoping to do a deal with a contextual collective.
    Whether ego or identity, both have to be let go of to do “being here”. Connection is a good approach to what is involved in being here. There is then a tension between what enables and mediates being here, and what enables and mediates the social and societal aspects of collective life and occurring. I see you as speaking to this tension in your recent posts.
    What we must then do to serve this generation of autistically developing children, is track and map what the social and societal demands, but then not identify with or yield to these demands; where that allows us to throw a relieving coffer-dam around those children. Behind the relieving coffer-dam we nurture self-advocates; and on the day of adult-independence that coffer-dam can be breached.
    When you speak of the difficulties which see us not modelling what we teach and demand of our children: I see matters of environmental complexity; and I see matters of limited neural plasticity. We have to be patient and work hard to provide ourselves with the environmental conditions which see us change across neural change.
    I work by way of striving to remove self-protective dynamics from my engaging of the children and young-people I support. I want to share their existential position. The position I am now in vis a vis the powers that be, is still only an approach to a sharing of their position; my situation being relieved by resourcing what a circumstance does not allow them to access.
    The situation I then find myself in: provides crucial introspective research possibilities, as to autistic occurring, and as to what possibilities of reaction and response are available to the autistically developing children, the pathways in such reaction and response constituting developmental pathways; and, the microwaving intensity of my situation with the powers that be drives the neural changes I’m seeking across neural plasticity. I need that circumstantially forced intensity to drive the neural development I seek and require.
    What I’m then finding, is that while I can make all go well enough in intense interface with the powers that be, I’m way short when relaxing from that effort. The meta-perspective and neural activity I need to bridge back to my native and natural autistic core and philosophising, just isn’t to hand.
    I then imagine I see this exigency in play in the young people I support. They can take on the powers that be (socially and societally organised and grounded persons embedded in the processes of the powers that be), and thereby resist what these powers intend for them; but we then fail to resource them as they fall back from that effort. They struggle (in developmental terms) to track and map and manage their experiential experience as they so fall back, and its in this locus that their development can become concerning.
    I find that sight of this locus toggles on and of, as I’m more pulled across my identity, by what is social and societal on the one hand, and empathetic connection with the occurring of an autistic constituency on the other. I find myself doing shuttle diplomacy, as I strive to retain consciousness of this locus, and as I strive to articulate perspective on it that can be taken to both sides of the tension around this locus. The exigency I then find being voiding: what makes sense to those on one side of things, evaporates as a meaning when you seek to take it to those on an other side; and vice versa and continuously. Being involved in tension with the powers that be, is then beneficial because it gives me more consciousness airtime, gives me more consciousness time in the crucible of this locus. All that positioning me to secure something of the neural changes I’m after.
    Emma, and all our Emmas, are then in their own distinctive life situations, and on their own distinctive developmental pathways across distinctive environmental conditions. However I then see the possibility of metaperspective, on an autistic/social-societal tension and dynamic nexus, that contributes to understanding of a generic commonality. I take you to be speaking to this generic aspect to things, when you speak of letting go of what in other moments is our primary vehicle of becoming; be it ego or identity. That metaperspective, if it is to be valid and useful, having to be awesomely refined if it is to bring all parties to a sustainable working agreement on which to go forward.
    I think that a crucial part of what you are achieving with Emma’s Hope Book, is: catalysing others to, in ways relevant to them, begin opening themselves to considering what would have to be incorporated into what I’m terming this refined metaperspective (and they might choose to call something else, it relevant to them). All of his then rather Vygotskian scaffolding for the organic developing of Emma and all the Emmas; a scaffolding which they hopefully will not have to too much concern themselves with, as they get on with their lives.

  21. Pingback: Wondering about thinking | Mama Reverie

  22. usethebrainsgodgiveyou

    *Whoa! “Everything in life is beautiful if you are able to be here.”
    This reminds me of Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylors description of descent into her right mind following a stroke on the left side. The left side of her brain literally shut down, and she describes the change in her thought, when she became ecstatic and one with the universe.

    Science, presently, says there is no right brain/ left brain, modules, blah, blah, blah. When I read “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards 17 years ago, I decided Ben was extremely right brained then and I’ve never let it go.

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