The following is a conversation Emma, Richard and I had with a friend of ours who works at a school. (DF = dear friend) I have paraphrased DF’s part of the conversation because a) I cannot type as quickly as she speaks and b) she was thinking out loud at certain points, so I just wrote the gist of what she was saying. All of Emma’s words are what she typed. Both DF and Emma gave permission to have their words posted here. As Emma wrote – “People need to understand.”
DF: I’ve been thinking about your presentation (click ‘here‘ to watch Emma’s presentation) and the body/mind disconnect that you talked about during your presentation last week. I was thinking about being respectful and making faces back at you and I know you’re smart, but I was afraid that if you can’t control your body and don’t mean to make faces, is it disrespectful to make faces back?
Emma: Making faces is fun communication in my chosen language.
DF: Is it also the same for the words you sometimes use? So, if you’re saying a word like “peacock”, is it respectful to repeat it back and play with words that way?
Emma: Playing in all ways is my favored way of interacting with people even when they don’t speak silly.
DF: Sometimes I feel bad because I want to ask you questions because I want to know you better, but I don’t want to ask because I know how hard work it is for you to answer.
Emma: Talkers always want words, as though everyone stated exactly what they meant.
Richard & Ariane: (we both asked similar questions, but in different ways, this is a combined version of what we asked) Emma, I’m curious… when you say “peacock” sometimes you are singing in an operatic voice, but other times you are saying the word over and over while also saying “peek-a-boo” so I’m wondering are you mimicking the bird or are you playing around with the words, “peek-a-boo”?
Instead of pointing to the “y” or “n” for yes or no, Emma pointed to the letter, “w”. This led to a quick back and forth between us, talkers, about how Emma rarely just answers yes or no when given the opportunity to, but instead writes much more. I even then joked to Emma, “Em, that was a yes or no question. You can just hit “y” for yes or “n” for no!”
Emma: Word play is joyful and I think obvious joy is had with both associations. Decision to sing while thinking about birds with peek-a-boo tail feathers brings happy feelings.
Ariane: Oh my gosh, Emma! That’s so amazing. The tail feathers look like hundreds of eyes and they are only fanned out at particular times! So this wasn’t a yes or no question after all!
We then discussed peacocks, their beautiful plumage and how we often thought we were asking a yes or no question, only to realize how wrong this assumption is.
DF: Okay, so here’s a problem that many teachers have at school. A lot of times kids your age or older have fascinations with things that talkers think are inappropriate. Things like a teenager who likes Teletubbies or wants to carry around a stuffed animal or wants to talk about Thomas the Tank Engine. We want to be respectful and treat that kid like a mature teenager, but we don’t feel comfortable talking about Teletubbies or Thomas the Tank Engine.
Emma: This is their fear of indulging a mind that they suspect is simple, but someone who is known to be brilliant would be thought eccentric.
DF: Should I defend their right to explore their interest in school?
Emma: Yes, expressions are not threatening and harm none.
*Quick aside – using interests as the gateway to other academics is how many homeschool/unschool .
Richard: In the past, while watching you type, you’ve made faces at me and I’ve made faces back and was told not to do that. But I’ve seen you making faces and you still are able to type, should we feel free to make faces with you while you’re typing?
Emma: This is a difficult answer because I prefer to make faces, but I know how much you want to talk.
R: What I meant was, do you enjoy having someone make faces back while you’re typing or would you prefer they did not?
E: I would love to just make faces and not type.
*Another quick aside – so this is the ongoing struggle of all parents it seems to me. It’s those grey areas when we ask our children to do something, even when they may not always want to. For us, we put boundaries around typing sessions, so there is a clear beginning, middle and end. As with most parents, we hope our decision is the right one.
Ariane: Talk to me about when you say to guests, “good-bye”. Often you say it shortly after they’ve arrived, sometimes immediately after they’ve finished dinner. You can clear the room in seconds because they think you want them to leave. But do you want them to leave?
Emma: Saying good-bye to some is because I think they need to go, but other times I am sad and say it because I don’t want them to leave.
*Emma then made a sad face and pretended to cry.
Richard: That’s a good face to make when you’re sad that they must go!
DF, Richard and I circled back to DF’s question about students who have interests in things that the non-autistic educators deem not age appropriate.
Emma: It’s hypocritical though, because I was often given very young books, more suited for a toddler.