Typing to Communicate & Busy Work

Typically in school life there is a certain amount of busy work that one is expected to do, forms that need to be filled out (repeatedly), words that you are expected to say whether you mean them or not, because it is what we as a society do.  “It’s just the way it is,” we are told.

However, let’s say you cannot speak and must type to communicate.  And let’s say you are in school where upon arrival you are expected to sit down, state write your name, what day of the week it is and the date.  You are also expected to say write at least one sentence about the weather and another sentence to describe how you’re feeling.   Now let’s also pretend that typing is really difficult for you and it takes you some time to do so in the best of circumstances.

For example, writing five sentences may take you ten minutes or more.  You are in a classroom with other students, most of whom speak and cheerfully say their name, the day of the week, the date, what is going on weather-wise and how they feel in under 30 seconds.  Go ahead, time yourself and see how long it takes you to give that information.   I just did -sixteen seconds and I didn’t have to think about any of the information I was giving for more than 5 seconds.  I did pause for three seconds to figure out how I would describe my current mood, and probably could have used a more descriptive word than “okay” but for the purpose of this exercise, just went with “okay” and shrugged.  🙂

But what if you can’t do this.  You cannot find the words readily and when you do, you blurt out someone else’s name or maybe you get the day of the week wrong and some of the other kids chuckle under their breath, but your hearing is excellent and so, of course, you hear them.  Maybe you see that the weather is beautiful and so you say cheerfully, “Pool!” and there’s more laughter or worse confusion and silence.  The only way you can prove that you know any of this is by typing, by pointing to one key at a time with the index finger of your dominant hand, and fortunately you’ve been given the help you need to be able to do this, maybe you’re one of those lucky few that even has someone who is with you who holds the keyboard for you and gives you encouragement.

As you look for the key or the first letter you become distracted and by mistake you hit the wrong key.  You meant to press the S for September, but you hit the d, right next to it instead.  Hitting the d completely derails you, but you know there’s a month that starts with the letter d so you spell out December.  Maybe everything breaks down from there, or maybe you’re able to tough it out and with some patience and help you are able to get back on track, you type the date and the day of the week.  You must constantly check in and remind yourself to keep on task.  You must concentrate and not become distracted.  You know you must write about the weather, something you don’t particularly care about as you know you won’t be able to go outside to enjoy it anyway, so why does the weather matter?

Still you persevere.  You say that it’s sunny outside and finally you’re in the home stretch.  You have to write a sentence about how you feel.  That’s easy.  You know you must write that you’re happy because last time when you wrote that you were feeling frustrated there were questions, questions you couldn’t answer and so you write, “I am happy.”  By the time you are ready to hand in your paper you look up and find the classroom is empty.  Everyone has gone to do “movement” or morning yoga or they’ve split into smaller groups and are reading.  Those five sentences that were asked of you, those sentences that you labored over and now have finished, no one seems particularly interested in reading.

The above scenario is imaginary, but I can still remember the busy work we had to do in school that was very similar to what I’ve described.  It was easy for me.  I answered the questions without thinking twice and I answered them in under 20 seconds.  But my daughter cannot.

If you are going to ask someone who cannot use spoken language to communicate easily, or they cannot speak at all, but can type, even though it may take them five or ten minutes to type a sentence, you better be sure what you’re asking them to write is worth their time and energy.

Typing To Communicate

Typing To Communicate

28 responses to “Typing to Communicate & Busy Work

  1. Good thoughts. I was just talking to my son’s school about this. Cut out the busy work and focus on what matters. And also, that he does not need to prove (repeatedly) that he knows the material. We don’t ask other kids to do that, do we?

  2. Emma….is worlds above the mundane. I loved the artwork you chose for the background of her words yesterday, “”Wandering through possibilities is best.”….I think Emma has a future ahead that will
    far exceed our imaginations

  3. Dearest Ariane, came across your blog just now and feel so touched. My beautiful daughter blond girl Emma (7 years) was diagnosed with Autism at 2 years of age in 2009. It’s been a rough ride but she is doing very well.
    I cried all the way to work today wondering how I will accept all the realities of what lies ahead for her.
    Thank you! Your Emma indeed gave me hope in her blog book tonight.

  4. Yup, yup and yup. Better make sure it’s worth the time and energy. Cheering!

  5. Reblogged this on bunnyhopscotch and commented:
    A powerful post about the effort it takes some of us to respond to innocuous interactions. Most people, whether Aspie-types or NTs, have little understanding about how arduous a task it cane be just to reply to a simple question, for those facing different challenges and using different modes of communication. I am fully verbal, often verbose, but I suffer a lot from painful autoimmune flare ups, and the mouth ulcers can be so excruciating that eating is a monumental confrontation in itself. It costs a lot for me to respond to social fluff like, “How are you?” – pain is the currency. I think the world would be far less full of extraneous irrelevant fluffy chat if more people understood. Thank you for yet another wonderful post, Ariane and Emma!

  6. My daughter has a processing disorder which makes her take 10x longer than *normal* kids.. and which was only partly acknowledged.. so just putting her homework into her planner would set her behind for the entire morning, PLUS she generally wouldn’t get the home work entered properly. VERY frustrating, I would help in class and could watch/listen to how things were conducted and often things were only said ONCE and no emphasis was placed on important things. She really wanted to try school again, crossing my fingers that it all goes well this time…

  7. This is so very true, I hope that educators take this to heart!! Thank you.

    • Thanks for commenting Mona!
      So many people who teach are bound by all kinds of restrictions and ideas that they must then carry out, whether they want to or not, whether they agree with them or not.
      So much of what goes on, not just in schools, but everywhere, must be rethought…

  8. Amen, Ariane! Another frustrating thing for my daughter is when someone asks her a question, but they don’t wait around for her to type out her answer. Granted it takes time, but why do you ask her a question if you don’t have the patience to listen to the answer. What may take seconds for we talkers to answer does take longer for those who type to communicate, but what they have to say is just as important and may be more profound. Plus your walking off is rude. (Ariane, you know when I say”you”, I am not talking about you because you get it!)

  9. My Sohie is in school and she has a lovely teacher. She is four and can’t type yet but is using an AAC app. I know it’s not the point of this post, but you can program phrases (about weather etc) or hit feelings with one hit, or day of the week, etc. In Sophie’s case it makes her feel part of the group and allows her to participate in class (she’s in a small diagnostic class). You think Emma would like to use an app for days she’s too tired or overwhelmed to type but still wants to make her needs/wants known?

    • This was really a hypothetical post. Emma types relatively quickly these days and is increasing her speed all the time. But I know many who use those apps and it’s certainly something we have available should she decide she wants to use them.

  10. Wow, thank you especially for that last paragraph. As my communication becomes increasingly unreliable, I’m realizing how much of what we verbalize in a day is useless chatter. People seem to do it so effortlessly and without any thought about how high the cost might be for some.

    It’s very disconcerting to watch as the gap between my communication and my internal world widens. Last night after dinner I was down to monosyllables and gestures, yet the thoughts in my head were galloping along at their own usual happy pace. I’m sure anyone who was observing me would have assumed I was grumpy or sad or spaced out, but in fact I was simply exhausted and completely out of communication spoons for the day. This morning I said to my husband, “if the time comes when I stop speaking, remember that I’m in here and I understand what’s going on.”

    Annnndddd I’m rambling. Sorry, you really hit a nerve with this post I guess.

    • I never gave it much thought until a friend of mine told me how much it cost her (and she speaks conversationally much of the time, but still finds spoken language exhausting more often than not.) It wasn’t until she spoke to me about how difficult it was that I thought to relate it to my daughter. You’d think I’d have come to this on my own, given my daughter’s non-fluent spoken language, but sadly I did not…

      Sending you virtual hugs, Musings… I hope it is not a steady decline, but instead more of a hiccup.

  11. Thank you for this post, which states the problems that can occur not just in school, but in life. This is what many people do not understand, what can be easy for them, may be extremely difficult for others, but they judge on how it is for them.

    In many cases this is not an apparent problem for them, as they do not see a problem exists. All persons should be treated as an individual and not put into boxes or labeled just for ease of administration or to fit the system.

  12. Amen! Mindfulness is very important and often forgotten.

  13. Pingback: Are we all the same? | 61chrissterry

  14. I love this. KA is working so hard on typing but she often loses track. I find myself trying to guess what she means and helping her type what I think she is trying to say. That feels so wrong that I’ve started just letting her type whatever she will then I try to decipher it. Yes and No buttons usually let me know if I’ve got it right. Other times, she just doesn’t want to type and just hits keys to shut me up. Lol The trick is knowing the difference. 🙂

  15. Oh, Ariane, I can’t nod my head vigorously enough.

    My son CAN speak. And he can write, though there is a touch (small touch) of dysgraphia in there. But last year, his 7th-grade English teacher had them doing “journaling” every morning: She would put a prompt on the board, and they would have five minutes to write out the prompt, then respond to it with five sentences of writing.

    At one point, my son’s average grade for this exercise (AVERAGE, mind you) was 15%. That’s not a typo.

    He was having trouble writing out the prompt. He was having trouble figuring out what to say. He was having trouble taking what he’d figured out and putting it down on paper. And he was DEFINITELY having trouble doing this while knowing that the minutes were ticking down.

    This being the FIRST THING they did in class, by the time it was over, he was toast. He wasn’t focusing on the rest of what was being taught, and that led to even worse grades than he normally gets in English.

    Finally, the teacher made me aware of the problem. She and I talked a bit over email and then in person, and came up with a series of accommodations for him, including NOT having to write out the prompt first (which was taking up so much time he wasn’t getting to write ANY sentences), not requiring five sentences from him if he could say something coherent/what he wanted to say in fewer, and allowing him to type them on the computer if needed. (He didn’t do this last; it requires too much ‘going against the grain,’ and he goes mute in situations like that.) We managed to get his grade up quite a bit that way. But still. So much stress over something so not useful to him in his education.

    AND, mind you, this was a special ed class. Imagine how bad this would have been in a regular classroom.

    So, your scenario above? Not nearly as ‘made up’ as you might have thought.

    All of which is to say that I’m going to copy that last line of yours above and bring it with me to my kid’s IEP meeting in November. It’s pure gold. And true even for those who can speak and don’t have to type, but for whom communication is difficult and energy-costly. Thanks for this.

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