Category Archives: supported typing

A Conversation with Tracy Thresher

One of the things I love about having a blog are the conversations I get to have with people I would not feel courageous enough to approach and/or get to know.  Tracy Thresher is one of those people.  Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette are the stars of Wretches and Jabberers, the documentary by Oscar Award winning and two-time Academy award-nominated filmmaker Gerardine Wurtzburg.  Wretches and Jabberers follows two non-speaking Autistic men, (Tracy and Larry) as they travel the world, reaching out to other non-speaking Autistic people in an attempt to change public perceptions surrounding intelligence and autism.

“Leading man, Tracy” as he often jokingly refers to himself, is a terrific public speaker.  I have seen him speak through typing many times now and each and every time I am riveted.  It isn’t just the poetic way Tracy puts words together, it is his humanity, his humor, generosity, and ultimately, his tremendous compassion for this world and the people who inhabit it, that makes people sit up and listen to every word he taps out one painstaking letter at a time.

The following is a dialogue Tracy and I have been having for about seven months now.  It has taken so long because of our schedules, but also because I could not stop asking more questions.  Every time Tracy answered one question, I would have about ten more.  Tracy was not only patient with me, but his kindness infiltrates his every response.  As this conversation could go on and on, as far as I’m concerned, I thought I better post what we’ve been discussing thus far.

AZ:  Tracy, how would you describe the documentary, Wretches and Jabberers that stars you and Larry Bissonnette?

TT:  Our film catapulted me to realize my dream of traveling the world to educate, learn and change old attitudes of discrimination toward people of varying abilities. The Larry and Tracy duo illustrates how intelligence is often worked out in a much different way. Our journey takes us to places of enlightenment and our humanity, humor and intelligence comes shining through our typing. Our mission to spread the reality of our amazing intelligence through our typing is our way of promoting the Presumption of Competence dispelling myths. Our story is one that is a road trip for two friends who are in Larry’s words “more like you than not”.

AZ:  “More like you than not” is such a wonderful description.  So much of the literature surrounding autism is about the “deficits” of Autistic neurology compared to non Autistic neurology. Can you talk about the assets and the similarities?

TT:  In my way of thinking, my experience initially was uncontrollable anger for the life I had trying to break through the misunderstanding in school. Kids can be brutally honest, reflecting the language that was the accepted norm in my childhood. Labeling kids is crippling. MR (mental retardation) on a diagnostic chart equates to NOT a candidate for the honor roll. Now I am able to communicate the reality of autism. I met Monk Hogen during the filming of “Wretches and Jabberers”, shining his wisdom on my autism. My true desire and purpose in life is breaking the walls of injustice down and my autism is the gift God gave me. I now focus on how I am connecting with all kinds of people through my work on the road. The high I feel in my own community is so wonderful, knowing that people want to know me. The man I am today is because my autism is the gift I was given to be a leader to anyone who has ever felt less than human based on their appearance. Martin Luther King knew that hurt and he took it to the mountain of peace. My mind is more like a Mensa candidate than I can type. My life is a testimony to the lesson of humanity. Like Larry typed “More like you than not” is the guiding principle to inclusion.

The anger on stage during my presentation in Japan was related to the lost opportunities in my education. I kept shouting out my automatics like “Look at me now! The kid you told one another to keep in isolation now is mentoring students which is healing salve to old wounds of injustice.” The other anger in Sri Lanka is more about the heat in the way it took my overly heated mix of perspiration soaking my clothing to extreme discomfort. Also, the popular foods in their culture are not in my comfort zone. Finland washed my anger, turning my heart to love of the climate. The cuisine helped too. Primarily, beautiful lands of countryside put my spirit at ease. Henna melted years of lost hope by crumbling away the feelings of isolating my heart to love.

People in the world often fear the paradox that autism usually presents. Larry and I mostly felt gracious vibes in our travels but the camera crew likely alters reality. To reflect on the cultural attitudes, the typing of my international friends is the true compass pointing to injustice.

AZ:  For children who may be trying to cope with similar frustrations and anger, what do you suggest to them and their parents, teachers and therapists?

TT:  This is my mission to show kids and their supports that putting communication to the top of their list of priorities is vitally cleansing to the mind. Releasing deep thoughts is the key to alleviating anxiety. Frustration leads the body to unproductive anger. Being able to show intelligent thought is the path to happier futures and true quality of life, leading to purpose. That is what I sought and found with typing.

AZ:  Was there anything others might have done to help when you were overwhelmed with anger?

TT:  Harvey and I have trust in our partnership. I need his firm yet kind support to stay on course with managing my autism. Harvey and I work well together. Typing is my outlet and open communication is the key.  Long term shared goals helps to keep me on track. Harvey’s commitment to my communication is the big time dosing of calm energy that I need. The commitment to presuming competence is the major breeze of refreshing air to cooling anger.

AZ:  You communicate by typing, but need someone to support your typing.  Why is it necessary to have someone physically supporting you? 

TT:  Impulse to type out my most irritating automatics like going to radio stations or wcax news gets looping in my mind. Having good facilitators is helping me to slow my typing to think and connect to my inner thoughts. I also need high goal of working on fading physical support to be more independent and type with lessening support. Building trust is critical to fading.

AZ: What issues and resources do you feel are most important for a parent to be aware of when encouraging their child to self-advocate?

TT:  I look up to pioneers in the FC world like Annie McDonald for her courage in the looking with the harshest disbelief on her typing. Rosie Crossley I also find gave me hope with her tell-it-like-she- sees-it firm approach. On a daily basis, the man of firm guidance is Harvey Lavoy. Harvey is my guru of staying focused. I would say he is my mentor of communication.

AZ:  When and how did you begin typing?

TT:  I was one lucky man to meet Alan Kurtz in 1990. Alan was motivated to unlock my wisdom. He treated me to intelligent conversation. Alan picked up on my eyes grazing on morsels of typing in magazines and the local paper.  I was one of the first people in my Green Mountains of Vermont to be treated to this life changing mode of communication. I was 23. Alan unlocked years of pent up chaotic thoughts. My intelligence was masked by autistic looping of hurtful labeling.

Early Supports:

I had my job coach Donna. Donna was kind and gentle. I liked her. Her support for typing limited me to Kinney’s work. It takes time to build foundations of trust and to build connections. Alan presumed my competence. The feeling of being spoken to in an intelligent manner was exhilarating. My inner thoughts hid in my mind looking for light like trees needing to flourish. My true communication jumping out on thin strips of paper was like first steps, shaky building of freeing my mind.

AZ:  Did you know you could write, but had nothing you could write on or with?

TT:  I could put letters together in my mind to make them join to form words. It was my life to play with vocabulary in lonely times. I did not think too much about how I could put my thoughts out on paper. The labeling I heard made for pesky lapping up of my hope for sharing my thoughts.

AZ:  How hard was it to start typing?

TT:  The torch of my fiery need to have a communication partner passed from Alan to Harvey Lavoy. Looking into my dark deep chaos was like unlocking madness. I held many hard grudges toward a label of retardation. The looping replay was non-stop with no way to talk or vent to Mom or a friend. Using miserable behavior is release of the locking in of intelligence. I had lots of my pre-scripted looping thoughts coming through my typing; things like radio and my local news station WCAX. My inner thoughts got masked in too much of holding on to my autism. I did not know the term proprioception then. Lack of knowledge of my own body ticked me off. My movement looked like no control in the beginning. Harvey had many arm wrestling contests with me. Ha-ha.

AZ:  Was it frustrating?

TT:  Oh big time ticked off was my typing in my starting out with Harvey. I had my liking of typing with my days with Alan. Mighty communication got put to the derailed track when Alan moved to Maine. Harvey took my brutal frustration in stride. I was brewing with lots of anger. I worried I would lose my life line of typing.

AZ:  Did you immediately feel motivated and liberated?

TT:  I did feel the tangled web of thoughts trying to be set free. My body was like a tight coil pulling so anxiously; did not easily break free to allow for liberation. Harvey motivated me by talking to me about self-advocacy. I began to hope life would be mine to choose. Emerging from despair is hard work. The power of typing took my mind to freeing the grip of autism but it took lots of grueling typing sessions.

AZ:  Were you resistant to typing at first?

TT:  My body took over my logical mind many times. I often ran from the typing space out to the parking space trying to regulate. It did not help to be gulping Mountain Dew. My impulsive habits with food led me to not think with clarity. I needed much support from Harvey to stay in my typing space.

AZ:  If yes, did anything help with the resistance?

TT:  Placing high expectations on me truly is my need. Harvey looked me in the eye to insist that I decide my purpose in life. To be in control I needed to make big changes in my life. I had terrible grating on Mom’s nerves yelling to be rid of. Holistic life of Buddhism is my goal but I easily revert to junk food at times. Harvey leads me to mindfulness by pointing out hard truths to help me make thoughtful choices.

AZ:  What did it feel like to be able to communicate in a way that people seemed to finally understand?  Was it at all scary?

TT:  Typing lifted my label of retard. Scary, it was not. More like “Take that!”  I had begun my journey to change perceptions. It was like the locking in of my voice was over. I was giddy with hope.

AZ:  Lots of people who watched Wretches and Jabberers have asked about your living situation.  Do you mind answering the question so many continue to ask – What is your living situation right now?

TT:  My Mom and Dad live near my week day home provider. I have my Wednesday family dinners. My mom is very involved in my life. I made the choice to leave my parents’ home to embark on my journey toward having a life of my own. It has been arduous at times but I have learned hard lessons toward life of my own making. Right now I live in one place Monday through Friday. I spend weekends with my family or with my weekend provider. I am working with my team on finding a place of my own.

In addition Tracy sent me a word document which he said I could share with all of you:

Many people have tried to help with my residential situation. I would like to clarify my search is plagued with difficulties of lack of knowledge in the way I would like to be supported. My family is my greatest place of stability but my idea of independence is having my own home to hang my hat, to set up in the way I choose. Mom has been there my entire life to help me on my path to being the independent thinker I want to be.

It is my time to search for the place I want to live that is both independent oriented but gives me the right thinking type of support I need. By that I mean it is necessary for me to have physical cues to get my body moving not bossy final answers made by others. My dream is to be in my own place where I make choices of the groceries I wish to buy; the decorative theme is of my choosing; the communication is open; the weekends’ activities fill my desire for exercise.

The most important thing is the commitment to learning how to support my typing. I have to let it be known that my family would never turn me from their home; this is my desire in my search for being in control of my life that I want to make for myself. I know my fans mean well to help in my residential search. For me it is more than a hook to hang my hat on; it is being in peace in my way of living where I make the house rules in cooperation with my like minded roommate.

For more on this blog about Tracy and Larry click ‘here‘, ‘here‘, ‘here‘ and ‘here‘.

Tracy – 1991
Early shot Tracy

Tracy at the ICI Conference – July 2013
Tracy @ICIConference

Emma’s Story

Emma told me I could post her story on here this morning.  This is a story she wrote yesterday with Rosie (Rosemary Crossley).  Rosie developed a technique more than thirty years ago to help people with a variety of issues, specifically those that make speaking difficult or impossible .  Em held onto a tube with one hand while Rosie held the other end as Emma typed.  Rosie began yesterday’s session by asking Emma to write a story that began with either, “once upon a time” or “one day.”  I was standing near Emma, with Richard, Joe and Em’s teacher, Katie, all watching as she typed the following.

“One day there was a boy called george. He had been in afight can’t tell you how he got into the fight but he was bruised all over.  He fought a lot and his teacher was very angry.  The next day he was all purple and his mother said you can’t go to school looking like that.  The very clever boy covered himself in flower and his teacher thought he was sick and sent him home.  The end.” 

Not sure I can actually continue writing here…  but I’m going to try… *Breathe*

I have read this story more than a dozen times already.  I know I’m totally biased, but I’m just going to say it – what an incredible story!  There are so many layers to it.  This story that Emma wrote with great concentration, with little pause is the first story she’s ever written.  She was focused and when asked about the word “flower” she verbally said “powder” in explanation.  Rosie explained that flower/flour are words that sound alike but are different in meaning.  Rosie explained that the powder kind is spelled “flour.”

But there’s more…  A little later Rosie brought out a math app called Math Magic where Emma proceeded to zip through addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  None of this is particularly noteworthy, except that Emma has never been formerly taught division.  She was choosing the correct answers from a field of four.  A sample equation is:  “56 ÷ 8” and the multiple choices available were: 2, 9, 7, 6.  Emma chose the correct answers independently.    Allow me to say that again.  Division.  Emma chose the answers independently.

It was at this point that I felt so many things all at once it was almost impossible to speak.  But more than anything I kept thinking about how we continue to underestimate our daughter.  I had no idea she could do division.  Not only can she do division, she can do it quickly.  There’s another app Rosie recommended – Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. which Emma also did as we watched.  Not only did she listen to the short lesson, but then read all the questions silently, read the multiple choice answers and chose the correct answers.  It seems verbal speech is tricky, particularly when she is expected to answer questions verbally.  When asked to read silently and then identify the correct written statement by pointing to it, Emma did beautifully… about Ellis Island, no less!  The only interaction Rosie provided with both the math and Brain Bop was to use a laminated card that she silently moved across the words as Emma read and she did not allow Emma to point to any answer until she’d finished reading all the choices.

I cannot imagine how awful it must be to be so capable and yet treated as though you were not.  I imagine it must feel like being “bruised all over.” I imagine it must feel like you “fought a lot”.  My wish for my daughter is that she may continue to do all that she is doing, while we provide her with every opportunity to flourish and continue to show the world how very “clever” she is.  The only limitations are the ones we provide.

I am incredibly grateful to all who believe in her, all who have helped and who continue to help us so that we can be better parents to our daughter.  The list continues to grow…

Rosemary Crossley

Rosemary Crossley

Non-Speaking People Who Type

This is a topic I would prefer not to discuss, but a few things happened recently that make it difficult not to write about this.  So… here goes…

Facilitated communication has had a bumpy history.  It began in the ’70’s and has been lurching along ever since.  There have been studies done, both proving it’s validity and others proving it as an invalid method of aiding those who do not speak to communicate.  This post is not about whether FC is valid.  Those who do not believe in FC’s ability to help those who cannot speak will not be swayed by anything I write here.  For those who are interested in reading more about FC and its history you can do so by reading this and this and the many links embedded in these posts.

What I will write about however, is all those FC users who have gone on to type independently.  And here is where things get really interesting.  Those same people who are convinced FC is all a mirage, a kind of non-speaking, Autistic version of an elaborate magic show, remain convinced the non-speaking person who now types independently is not really doing so.  Those people continue to insist it is a “hoax” despite witnessing, some even after seeing in real life, a non-speaking person type on their own.

Just to be clear, I am not writing about hand over hand or a hand on a forearm assistance.  I am writing about the many people who began typing with a facilitator, but who now type independently.  By independently I am referring to those who may still need a trusted person standing nearby.   Some type with another person’s hand placed on the middle of their back, others may need a hand gently placed on their shoulder.  Yet these same people who speak out forcefully, often aggressively to any who dare write about someone who is non-speaking and writing of their experiences, say even a hand on the back proves these non-speakers cannot and do not type their own words.  They insist that they are merely puppets doing the bidding of the person who is physically nearby.

What fascinates me about this is that these same people who insist it’s all a “hoax” (this is the word they usually use) would rather believe a person can move a seated, non-speaking person’s hand to hit specific keys on a keyboard by virtue of their physical presence, rather than entertain the notion that this non-speaking person, may in fact, be typing their own words.  One such person commenting on a blog post about something unrelated to FC, but that had a link to Barb Rentenbach’s book, I Might Be You, wrote, ” I don’t consider typing with an arm on the shoulder independent typing. You can clearly see the facilitator nudging her towards the letters.”  Not to quibble, but seriously?  So this is like some sort of typed ventriloquism?  Touch someone’s back and direct them to write thoughts that are not their own?

I urge any of you who believe this is possible to try doing it… place your hand on another’s shoulder or the middle of their back and see if you are able to control what that person then types.  And while you’re at it, try standing next to the person and psychically urge them to write something.  It seems incredible, but there are those who not only believe this to be the case, but they then demand “proof” that this person is typing independently, despite the fact that they’ve just been given the very “proof” they asked for.  Evidently “proof” is subjective.

What bothers me about all of this is that those who are typing to communicate are doing so because they have no other means.  This is not a “choice” that’s being made.  The people who continue to insist they are a “hoax”, that it’s all a “mirage”, that they are being “controlled” are taking away the only way they can communicate.  They are silencing them.  They counter this assertion by saying that on the contrary, they are actually “advocating” for those who do not speak and are protecting those who are at the mercy of a facilitator who is putting words into another’s mouth.  Yet, even when confronted with a non-speaking person’s typed words, typed without anyone’s hand on their arm, they continue to insist the very presence of this other person is all it takes.  The transference of perceived power to cover up their dehumanization of another is convoluted.

If you google “Carly Fleischmann” the third entry that comes up is “Carly Fleischmann fake”.  Sadly Carly is not alone when it comes to such beliefs.  There is a long and horrible history of non-speaking people being discounted and effectively silenced by those who believe they cannot possibly be intelligent, insightful beings.  There are those who will dismiss people like Carly as an anomaly, a “prodigy” and thereby ignore the years of effort it has taken her to get to where she now is, or they conclude she is a “fake”.  There is nothing new about the silencing of human beings deemed inferior.  (Read Inventing the Feeble Mind by James W. Trent, Jr.)  The ingrained prejudices and dehumanization of Autistic people continues.

I want to end with one last thought, which is this – if you found yourself unable to speak, but could type to communicate, yet when you did so, people doubted the validity of your words, accused you of not actually writing what you’d so painstakingly typed, what would you do?  How would you respond?  How would you fight back?  Could you fight back?  Restraints come in many forms, but all are effective.

As Barb Rentenbach writes, “I might be you.”  For those who doubt that sentence is her own, you better hope those words are wrong.

Barb types with Lois’s hand on her back as Emma twirls her string – April 2013

Barb types

Why Wretches And Jabberers Is Essential Viewing

Wretches and Jabberers.  I have written before about this documentary, but I’ve never fully explained why this movie had such a profound impact on me, on my thinking and subsequently on my family.  I will attempt to do that now.

I watched Wretches and Jabberers at the urging of my friend, Ibby last summer.  If a person’s life can be seen as a series of lights, indicating special influencers, Wretches and Jabberers was a beacon.   I knew nothing about supported typing, in fact, I’d never heard of it, so I watched in fascination as both Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher (who are mostly non-speakers and Autistic) typed with their support persons, Pascal Cheng and Harvey Lavoy.  And I wondered whether my daughter might find communicating easier if she typed, instead of being expected to speak.

Larry is a painter, lives with his sister and was institutionalized as a teenager.  He shouts out things like “Bad boy!”  Tracy hits himself in the head when frustrated and has nowhere he can call “home”.  The documentary follows Larry and Tracy as they travel the world meeting other non speaking Autistics.  Again and again the viewer is shown a mostly non speaking Autistic person who has been deemed intellectually incapable by society, only to witness their intelligence and humor break through the silence by typing on a voice activated keyboard or iPad.  And again I thought about my daughter.

It is impossible to watch the film and believe these two men are isolated cases.  One cannot view this documentary and not question one’s preconceived beliefs about intelligence. The film defies the accepted and common non Autistic assumptions about Autism and what it means to be Autistic.  And for me, anyway, it made me question everything I thought I “knew” about my daughter.  All the things I had begun to question, whispering doubts about my thinking that I was no longer able to ignore because of the blogs I was reading written by Autistic people, were now amplified.

I have been interviewing Tracy Thresher for a piece I’m working on that I intend to submit to Huffingtion Post.  In answer to my question about what it meant to him making the film he wrote, “Our film catapulted me to realize my dream of traveling the world to educate, learn and change old attitudes of discrimination toward people of varying abilities. The Larry and Tracy duo illustrates how intelligence is often worked out in a much different way.”

Later in my interview he wrote, “…my mission to show kids and their supports that putting communication to the top of their list of priorities is vitally cleansing to the mind. Releasing deep thoughts is the key to alleviating anxiety. Frustration leads the body to unproductive anger. Being able to show intelligent thought is the path to happier futures and true quality of life, leading to purpose. That is what I sought and found with typing.”

Once again I thought about my daughter and her difficulty with oral language and the frustration that causes her.

Wretches and Jabberers was like an enormous, day glo green, neon sign saying “follow me” on it.  Powerful, funny, poignant, Wretches and Jabberers is essential viewing for all human beings, not just those interested in Autism and parents of Autistic children.  It rattles our unexamined biases, our beliefs, our perceptions and everything we are being “told” about autism, our children and what is and isn’t possible.  And if you are like me, you will think about your child and the world differently as a result of watching it.

One of my all time favorite photographs of Larry Bissonnette taking Emma’s photograph in Tampa, Florida ~ April 2013  (Amy Sequenzia is in the background)

Larry takes Em's photograph

The Complexity of Life and Change

*Emma gave me her permission to write about this.

Yesterday Em was having a tough time.  She has been talking about an indoor playground that closed some six years ago, expressing her upset that it’s now a store and asking that we build a new indoor playground exactly like it.  We have discussed the idea that places go out of business and that we can’t bring them back, we’ve talked about what is required to build an indoor playground, but that it will not be exactly like the one that closed.  We’ve discussed the concept of same and different.  We’ve gone over the preliminary steps needed to be taken in creating any sort of space.  Joe even thought she might like to build a model playground, complete with running water and electricity, but none of this has helped.  She remains very upset.  So much so that I began to feel certain her upset was not actually about this specific playground, but that this playground has come to symbolize loss.

“I want playground.  I want to build it.   Will take out the store and build a different playground has slides and a bouncy castle.”

I explained again that we couldn’t do that.  Em then repeated how she wanted to build a playground and then said, “Bertie kitty can’t eat pancakes.  Bertie kitty, the animal vet doctor, says no.  Might get sick.  Bertie kitty died.”

I nodded my head and said, “Bertie was old, Em.  He didn’t die from eating pancakes.  He died because he was very old.”

“I want to take it out!” Em pulled at the palate expander in her mouth and began to cry.

“I know you do, Em.  But we can’t take it out yet.  The orthodontist will take it out eventually.”

“Soon.  I want to take it out now.  I want to build it.  I want to build new playground.”

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the literalness of Emma’s words.  To get swept up in each upset individually, as it shows itself, veering from the closing of a playground, to the death of my cat, to the desire to have her palate expander removed.  If I take each of these concerns separately and at face value, I can quickly become lost in each one.  This is something I continually struggle with, not just with my daughter, but in life.  I take things pretty literally and often try to compartmentalize each thing so as not to get overwhelmed.  So in instances when Emma seems to be racing from one upsetting thought to the next, it isn’t my first thought to look for the common thread.  But I am fairly certain I’m correct about my interpretation of what’s going on here.  I think Emma is working through a number of difficult concepts that in her mind are all related.  The playground closing and being replaced by a store that holds no interest for her, the death of my elderly cat Bertie, whom she loved, and the palate expander that she dislikes and wishes would be removed.  I could be wrong, of course, but it seems to me they are all connected.  They all fall under the heading of permanence and impermanence, or death.

As Emma learns to communicate better through both typing and verbally, we become better at listening and understanding her, her anxieties are becoming more obvious to us.  As her communication skills increase, so does her obsessive compulsiveness, or so it seems to us.  It’s entirely possible that Em has always had this degree of anxiety, obsessiveness, coupled with compulsivity, but we are only now becoming aware of just how difficult it is and how often it overwhelms her.  Leaping from one upsetting scenario to the next is something I do too, particularly when I am tired.  With Emma it’s all about things that are impossible to have, things that are gone and won’t come back or, as is the case with the palate expander, about change, literally physical change as she looses the last of her baby teeth and her permanent teeth appear.

As we continue to support Emma with her typing, we have noticed she is becoming more verbal.  As she becomes more verbal she is expressing her anxieties, her concerns, as well as her desire to be heard.  The more we listen, the more she has to say.  Yesterday as we worked on her typing, I asked, “Em tell me two things you like doing and one thing that’s hard.”

Em typed, with my hand barely touching her forearm, “I like to bounce on the trampoline.  I like to bounce on the bouncy castle.  It is hard for me to work with mommy.  You could help them work with mommy.”

“Thank you for telling me that, Em.  Who should help me so it’s easier for you to work with me?”

“Pascal.”

Emma and Pascal take each other’s photographs  – April, 2013

*Pascal

“I Might Be You” – The Audio Version – Voice by Ariane Zurcher :)

Next week I will be in a recording studio taping the audio version of the wonderful book, I might be you by Barb Rentenbach and Lois Prislovsky.  *Doing a happy dance.  Barb asked me to be her voice a few months ago and without hesitation I agreed!  EEEEE!  Not only will I spend time with both Barb and Lois, but Barb will direct me to make sure I don’t mangle her beautiful words or trample on her often bawdy sense of humor.  It’s all in the delivery; I will do my best to make her proud.  Did I mention, Barb is funny?  She has a wonderful, edgy, R-rated sense of humor.  She avoids nothing and no topic is off-limits.  And while I’m not exactly a prude, I may get a little rosy-cheeked as I attempt to do her words justice, especially that chapter discussing masturbation, sex, or the lack of, and those hunky personal trainers who motivate her…  Taking a deep breath.  For those of you unfamiliar with the book, I wrote about it ‘here‘.  For those of you interested in purchasing a hard cover copy, and why wouldn’t you be (?) you can do so ‘here‘.  (I gain nothing from your purchase, other than the pleasure in knowing you will enjoy reading her book.)

I first met Barb and Lois at the AutCom Conference in the fall of 2012.  Their presentation was crowded, but I managed to secure myself a seat at one of the round tables.  I remember watching Barb type on a key board and being wonderfully surprised by both her self-deprecating sense of humor and how quickly she was able to type.  I admit, I couldn’t keep up as the letters whipped by while Lois read what she was typing.  Barb told of how it took her ten years to write the book because there were so many who simply did not believe she was actually writing the things that were being typed.  The assumption was that Lois or whoever was facilitating her was doing the writing.  But Barb being Barb, did not allow their doubts to stop her.  Now Barb is typing independently, her book has been published and the audio version is about to be recorded!  Woot!  Woot!

Do I need to say how excited I am?

Have I mentioned how honored I am to be Barb’s voice?

Stay tuned next week for ~ Adventures in the Recording Studio with Barb!

Impatience and Expectations

I’m impatient.  I know this about myself.  Impatience serves me to do a great many things.  It propels me to take action rather than not.  It makes me push harder, try harder.  My impatience, which usually begins with tremendous optimism can descend rapidly into disappointment and discouragement.  Fortunately I am also fiercely determined and dogged in my reluctance to give up which helps mitigate some of my impatience or maybe it just makes me confused. 😕

However, there are a great many things that are not helped by impatience, things like learning a language, learning to type or learning almost any new skill.  These are things that take time, practice and patience.  So I have to recognize this and continue despite my impatience.  This comes up over and over as I work with my daughter.  But in working with her, I’ve also come to recognize something else and that is my expectations.  Huge expectations, coupled with impatience can do harm.  I see that.  I’ve been very aware of how it affects me, but how does it affect Em?

I am learning how to support Em in her communication.  For example we will read a story together, such as a book Emma chose recently entitled, Who Pooped in the Park?  The story details a family outing where the two kids are upset when they don’t see a great many wild animals on their hike, but learn to identify what animals live in the area by the markings they leave.  During our session together I asked Em, “What were some of the animals the family identified?  One animal starts with the letter b.”  Emma then typed, “There was a bear and ciyoty and a deer.”   Other than misspelling coyote, this was a terrific answer and correct.  We went on to discuss another name for animal poop, which is scat and that all living things produce “waste” of some kind.  After our session was over, Richard asked, “So how did it go?”

“It was fine,” I answered.

“It sounded great!” Richard said with enthusiasm.

“Yeah, I guess,” I replied.  And then I had a tiny flicker of realization.  I was feeling disappointed in our session.  I was hoping for some brilliant, philosophical insight.  I was hoping that we would have a conversation that blew my mind and when I realized that, I also realized that my desire, my expectations, my impatience had caused me to not fully take in how terrific our session had been.  It also made me see how my response may have felt to Emma.  Here she was working hard, doing something that does not come easily and doing it really, really well, yet I had not responded with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm I would have hoped for had our roles been reversed.

During our next session we talked about her birthday, which she is very excited about, and the party and various events we’ve planned for her.  I tried hard to be aware of my response to what she was typing.  I became increasingly aware of my expectations as they arose and did my best to silently acknowledge them before responding with genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for Em’s work.  As a result our session was more fun for both of us.  Later when I spoke to a friend about all of this he pointed out that most communication is not wildly brilliant, philosophical or even necessarily enlightening.  And of course, he’s right.  The majority of our communication with one another is about pretty basic stuff.  Learning how to communicate basic things is relevant and important.  But my impatience and expectations make me forget that.

I have learned over the years that if I want to change a behavior I need to have awareness that I’m doing whatever it is, I then need to have some degree of acceptance that I’m doing it before I can begin to make little changes to it.  Those little changes repeated and added up can, over time, create bigger changes.  Admitting aloud I am doing whatever it is can be very helpful as well.  Without taking these steps however, I have no hope of changing the way I do something.

There’s a great deal of talk about autism and how our children and autistic adults need to work on a whole range of things, but there isn’t a great deal of conversation in the general population about our own neurological deficiencies.  It seems to me that if we are going to continue to have this ongoing discussion of deficits, it’s only fair that we begin to detail our own as well.  Now that’s a conversation I look forward to having.  And while we’re at it, let’s include the positive aspects of Autistic neurology as well, because a little balance is a good thing!

Sled