Tag Archives: Education

Methods of Communication – My Research Paper

“To what extent is it possible to compare the ways in which methods of communication are being taught to autistic students who cannot use spoken language to communicate their complex ideas?”


Many autistic students cannot rely on spoken language to communicate their knowledge and ideas. Exactly how many is not known since autism organizations disagree. For example the Diagnostic Center of Central California states, “As many as 50% of individuals with autism are non-verbal and up to 80% are intellectually challenged.”1, while the National Autism Association reports, “About 40% of children with autism do not speak”2 and Autism Speaks weighs in with, “It is estimated that as many as 25% of individuals living with autism spectrum disorders are non-verbal.”3 “Nonverbal,” is an inaccurate term that implies the inability to speak at all, however it includes many who can and do speak words, but do not speak in ways that non-autistic people are able to understand. There is no term for those who can and do speak, but cannot rely on their speech to reflect the whole of their thinking. As a result of this misunderstanding and inaccurate terminology, many autistic students are believed incompetent and are relegated to remedial special education classrooms and schools. All of this is exacerbated by a body that does not obey the commands given to it, and IQ tests, which perpetuate the myth that non-speaking Autistic people have low intelligence. The latter is something that is now being questioned more and more, as demonstrated in this 2015 article for IAN (Interactive Autism Network), “…it cautions that measuring a child’s intellectual ability may be complicated by the symptoms of autism itself.”4 The well rounded education available to students in the general education population is not available to autistic students unless they are given a means to express themselves. However most communication methods involve pictures, symbols and rudimentary phrases such as, “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” “I don’t know,” “I want…” “I need…,” etc. These words and phrases do not demonstrate or allow for deeper thinking, and so it cannot be known exactly what is in a person’s mind who does not have access to more complex vocabulary whether through spoken language or a communication device. As a result, this paper will analyze “To what extent is it possible to compare the ways in which methods of communication are being taught to autistic students who cannot use spoken language to communicate their complex ideas?”

This study will establish the procedure for a survey conducted where the participants are either without speech ability or with speech, but are unable to rely on spoken language to express their complex thinking, knowledge and ideas. The data collected from this survey will be analyzed and discussed and finally this paper will explore ways to move forward based on the collected data and survey findings.

The Survey & How it Was Created

Since many existing communication methods are underrepresented in most schools, I created a survey to find out what methods students use, what they are being taught to use and how successful each method is. Additionally I was curious to know whether a student’s school allowed the communication method chosen by each student to be the most beneficial, and if not, how the student then communicated their complex thinking, knowledge and understanding of the material being taught. The survey used a google form and was anonymous. The people I hoped would participate was anyone who cannot use spoken language to convey their complex thinking, those who cannot rely on spoken language most of the time, those in school or of school age regardless of whether they attend an actual school, are homeschooled, unschooled, take online classses or a combination of all of these. I encouraged anyone who no longer was in school to take the survey by remembering their experience of school. The last group I hoped would take my survey were parents and support persons of students who are beginning to use other methods of communication, but have not yet mastered them and cannot answer open-ended questions on their own. Of this group, I asked they make sure they said who they were when taking the survey so it was clear they were speaking on their student/child’s behalf to the best of their ability and not as the student.

There are a few limitations to this paper that must be discussed. The first was my inability to reach a more diverse population. I attempted to do so, but most of the people who responded were white students who live in the United States. Another limitation is that it is impossible to include the large percentage of students who cannot rely on spoken language to convey their knowledge and thoughts and have not been given the opportunity to communicate through any other means besides spoken language. These students cannot write to communicate because they have not been given the means to do so, thus the survey was unable to reach them.

The data collected from the respondents demonstrated strong parental advocacy, which was reflected in the schools and homeschooling choices available to these students versus those who do not have such choices available to them. As a result, many of the answers show a positive schooling experience as opposed to those who have not been given the opportunity to communicate through other means and cannot rely on spoken language to convey their thinking and knowledge. It cannot be known how those students view their experience in schools or in the world as this survey could not reach them.

In an effort to make the survey easier for the largest number of non speakers, the majority of questions were multiple choice or required short sentence answers. Of the 34 questions asked, 16 were multiple choice and 10 demanded answers of three words or less, such as “How old are you?” and “On average, how long does it take you to answer an open-ended question?” Eight questions encouraged longer answers, such as, “What, if any, method(s) do you use to communicate complex ideas, thoughts and knowledge? Please explain the method” however of those eight questions, five were required. The remaining three were optional questions that the participant did not need to answer if they chose not to. Four of the 34 questions were contingent upon a specific answer making at least three of the questions moot points and therefore not required. A participant was also able to write NA if they chose or some other wording on questions they did not, or could not, answer.

The first 9 questions established the demographic of the participants. The next 13 questions concerned the type of communication methods tried and currently used, and whether these were allowed and used in the student’s school. This was followed by 8 questions pertaining to learning, the school environment, and whether the staff was able to support the student in their chosen method of communication. The final 4 questions asked the participant for more detailed suggestions for administration, teachers, support persons, parents and other comments and thoughts relevant to communication methods.

The targeted participant was reached through my blog, Emma’s Hope Book, where I wrote a post explaining my research paper and why I created a survey. At the end of the post I included a link to the survey and encouraged people to complete it. The post was entitled, Have Your Voice Heard!5 In addition, I shared the blog post on my blog’s Facebook page – Emma’s Hope Book and two days later shared just the link to the survey with a reminder asking people to share on their Facebook timelines. My mother shared my blog post on Facebook and Twitter and sent personal emails to people she knew with children who cannot use spoken language to communicate.

Survey Response

94 people participated in the survey and ranged in age from three and a half to fifty-five years old, though the majority, 85.1% of respondents were between 7 and 29 years old. Five of the respondents were six years old or younger and nine respondents were older than 29 years old. 45% of the respondents were male, 38.3% were female and 13.8% of the respondents identified as either “Omni”, “trans”, “non-binary”, “binary”, “gendervague”, “genderfluid”, “neutrois”, “two-spirit” or a combination of these, while 1% identified as “Child” and another 1% answered, “I don’t know” and “I don’t.” 77.7% (73) of the respondents identified as white, 5% of mixed ethnicity, 4% as either “Hispanic”, “Latina”, “Latino” or “Mexican-American”, 3% “Asian”, 1% identified as black, and the remaining respondents identified with the name of the country they were from or some other word that does not indicate gender, such as “human”. The failure of this survey to reach more minorities was noted and while it is believed students in minority groups are not given an autism diagnosis as readily as white students, it was certainly a problem that this survey did not reach these minority groups; we could have done more to get in touch with those populations. The 94 respondents came from all over the world, but the vast majority, 65%, live in the United States with almost all states represented except for the southern states, particularly the Deep South, where there were none, with the exception of Georgia. 10% of the respondents came from the United Kingdom, 10% from Europe, 3% from Australia, 2% from Canada and the remaining 10% from other parts of the world. Respondents from Russia, Africa and the Far and Middle East were not reached and, as a result, none participated.

As expected, 93.5% identified as Autistic, while 6.5% did not, since most of the respondents were reached through the personal blog, Emma’s Hope Book – Living, Being Autistic and through the Facebook page of the same name. In answer to the question, “Can you use spoken language to communicate?” 36.6% said they could not use spoken language at all, while 49.4% said they could sometimes, and 14% answered “yes.” Those who answered “sometimes” described a wide range of experiences and abilities. Some were able to speak at least some of the time, others could use spoken language rarely and could not use it ever to express complex ideas, while still others reported being able to use spoken language intermittently depending on the situation. Stressful environments greatly contributed to those, who could use spoken language often, no longer being able to do so. This survey was limited to the types of communication methods being taught in schools, to students who cannot ever rely upon spoken language to convey their thinking and knowledge, versus those chosen by these same students to best communicate. There were 24 respondents whose answers were viewed with great interest, but were set aside as they did not meet the criteria needed to answer the theses question.

Of the remaining 70 respondents, the ratio of male, female, and other changed only slightly to 42.9% male, 35.7% female and 8.6% identified with wording indicating gender fluidity of some kind or wording that was has no gender associated with it, such as “child” and “human”. High school was the highest level of education currently held by the greatest number, 41.4%. 20% of the respondents were in grade school, 17.1% in middle school, 10% were in college or had finished college at the time of taking this survey. 1.4% was in a Ph.D program. 72.9% of the respondents were currently in school of some kind, which included homeschool and online schools. The types of schools varied from special education (34.3%), general education (30%), some type of homeschool (25.7%), Online school (5.7%) and/or a combination of these. 20% of the respondents were not in school of any kind due to their age.

In answer to the question “What, if any, method(s) do you use to communicate complex ideas, thoughts and knowledge?” There were a wide range of answers using a variety of methods, and often multiple methods, but the largest percentage (40.6%) used Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) created by Soma Mukhopadhyay,6 with “typing” (12.5%) and supported typing (12.5%), coming in as distant seconds. The remaining respondents listed the following methods, often used in combination: “letterboard”, “AAC (“Augmentative and Alternative Communication”), “Lamp Words for Life”, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication Systems), “communication cards”, sign language, “Touch Chat”, “Proloquo4text”, “Proloquo2Go”, “Assistive Typing”, “Dynavox”, “Nova Chat”, “PRC (Prentke Romich Company) communication device”, “iPad”, physical gestures, body language, sounds, and noises of some kind. One respondent wrote, “Home: RPM. , School: Gestures, noises, biting, scream.” Of the 70 respondents who cannot ever use speech to communicate their knowledge and thinking they were between the ages of 18 months and 22 years old when they were first exposed to the method of communication, which allows them to communicate their complex thinking, though the majority were between 5 and 13 years old when first exposed to the method they now use to communicate.

Another question, “What other methods were you exposed to before and why were they not effective?” produced myriad responses, with ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis), speech therapy, and PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) being the most indicated. Sign Language, DIR (Developmental Individual-difference Relationship-based model), RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) and various other methods using story boards, emotions, charts and yes/no cards were also listed. Many people who listed PECS said that it was “too simple”, “cheap talk” and “limited”. A number of people who listed speech therapy wrote things like, “Speech (can’t speak).”One person wrote, “SLP (Speech-Language Pathology) – cannot speak, ABA – cannot speak, Floortime – cannot speak, Picture Charts – not same as speaking.” Another respondent stated,”SLP – did not help I say what I meant or wanted, Floortime – same as speech, ABA – same, picture symbols – too simple.” A non-speaking respondent reported, “Story board, social stories, and regular language. They were not effective because I am non-verbal and the pictures/stories were too overwhelming to process all at once.” Another wrote, “ABA, it did not presume competence. It did not take into account neurological differences. Speech did not take into account apraxia. RDI was limited in addressing communication using words. Biomedical did more harm than good. OT did not help with communication. Floortime was based on motor abilities I did not have.” Still another wrote, “Speech therapy: the words wouldn’t voice, sign language: I wasn’t able to shape the signs. When I tried I couldn’t manipulate my hands, Proloquo2Go pictures: While I wish I could’ve demonstrated more, motor planning was more than I could do, typing with both hands: Supplying my right and left hand with motor planning wasn’t possible, prompt speech: voicing was only possible while prompted, facilitated typing and writing: people quietly wouldn’t believe my words, handwriting: Nobody could read it.” This respondent, who cannot use spoken language to communicate, wrote, “Speech therapy cannot help brain-to-mouth derailing. Insistent words do not form on lips, add to useless feelings of non-worth. ABA – concentrating on behaviors resulting from volcanic frustration, years of living without light and hope causes more disruption. Learning rules of behavior that motor issues make impossible from people with timers who do not, and will not, ever experience depths of sadness and despair known by those they intend to “help”, is no answer. Lava of heartfelt pain communicates differently. They cannot understand.” Another non-speaking respondent wrote simply, “Lots – not good.” One respondent who identified as being able to speak “sometimes” wrote, “I progressed by speaking in scripts.” A parent reported, “… was being forced to speak all the time by SEITS/therapists. They occasionally used PECS. They did not work on reading/spelling/typing.” Another parent reported, “No progress of any kind was made in the public school system.”

The next question asked, “If you are in school, is this method of communication used/allowed in your school?” Of the 70 respondents who cannot ever use spoken language to communicate their complex thinking, 50% said they were allowed to use their chosen method of communicating at school, though a number of them noted they could not because no one was trained to support them. 28.6% responded that they were not allowed to use their chosen method of communicating at school and the remaining respondents were no longer in school. Of the 50% who were allowed to use their chosen method at school, 52.8% said the staff at their school was not trained in the method of communication of their choosing, while 47.2% reported the staff was. Of these, 52.8% the majority (91.3%) stated their teacher/support person had received training through the school district, through private training provided by the parents and/or DOE or was self initiated. The remaining respondents did not know where the staff had been trained or if they had been trained anywhere. A few respondents indicated they believed the staff was “self-taught.”

In answering the question, “How long has the support person been practicing this method?”most responded with 5 years or less, while one reported “more than 20 years” and another, “10 years.” The number of students this person supported was typically just one and sometimes up to 3. Much rarer was more than 3, though one person reported that the staff supported, “dozens” and another, “12 or more.” Most of the respondents said they were able to communicate with anyone trained to use the method of their choosing, though one person said they could communicate with one person and another reported they could with “a few”. One person typed “zero” suggesting they may have misunderstood the question. The most likely person the respondent was able to communicate with was a parent (82.9%), and 51.4% were able to communicate with a trained person independently employed by the family. 50% reported being able to communicate with a trained staff person. 35.7% said their school did not use the communication method of their choice and they were not allowed to bring a trained support person at their own expense to school so that they could communicate. 20% reported that they were allowed to have a support person come with them. Many (27.2%) reported that as a result they cannot communicate at school or must rely on gesturing, while a couple of respondents reported that they “try to speak” and two people wrote, “PECS”. The remaining respondents did not answer the question.

The following questions asked the respondents to discuss their learning experiences and, as a result, how they viewed themselves as students. 52.9% reported that their teachers give them time to answer questions, 15.7% said their teachers did not give them time to answer questions and 21.4% said they were sometimes given the time. 50% wrote that they were encouraged to participate in group discussions, 20% were not encouraged to participate and 17.1% said they were sometimes encouraged. In keeping with these percentages, 42.9% felt they were treated respectfully at school by the teachers and staff, while 15.7% said they were not and 31.4% said they were sometimes. However, 68.6% felt they were in a positive learning environment. This discrepancy between the question of a positive learning environment and being treated respectfully is most likely due to the respondents who are no longer in school and were reporting on their past school experience versus their current environment. 21.4% felt they were not in a positive learning environment. Over half (48.6%) of the respondents felt they were believed competent by their teachers, and 18.6% believed they were not, while 17.1% felt they were sometimes believed competent by their teachers. The majority of respondents (88.6%) reported they believed they were “capable of learning” with just 2.9% saying they did not believe themselves to be capable of learning and 7.1% believed they were sometimes capable of learning. In keeping with this theme of learning, 74.3% wrote they enjoyed learning, 4.3% said they did not and 17.1% reported they sometimes enjoyed learning. The next two questions required longer answers regarding advice for school administrators, teachers and support persons. Many urged for “patience”, “compassion”, to “believe in the student”, “learn RPM”, and “assume competence”. Others asked for inclusion and not segregation, and the majority of respondents asked that staff be better trained in AAC devices in general. A couple of people pleaded “listen”, “give me a chance”, while several others asked that they not be treated like “babies” and advised that the curriculum reflect their age. Most people stressed the importance of AAC devices and teaching students to use them at an early age.

The next question, also requiring a longer answer, was advice for parents. The most common answers urged patience, encouraged perseverance in working with their child, trying many different devices and methods of communication, compassion, understanding and believing in your child, and in their competence. A great many suggested RPM as the method that should be learned (26%), while others advised writing and typing as important, if not more important, than speech therapy, particularly for those children who have little or no language.

The final question asked for “any other comments, thoughts relevant to communication methods.” This last question was optional and 75.7% of the respondents answered with a wide variety of answers, including, “To be able to communicate even when spoken language misleads is life altering and though it is hard work it is worth the hardship.” Another pointed out the high cost of AAC devices and that these need to be made available and accessible to all families no matter what their income level is. The issue of cost did not come up often, however, cost is certainly a factor when it comes to AAC devices, as well as training and being able to provide a non-speaking person with other methods of communication.

The survey was broken down into the following sections: demographics, education, communication method(s) found most useful to the respondent, communication methods introduced and used by schools, the respondents thoughts about education, and finally, advice for administrators, teachers, and parents. In looking at the demographics the majority of respondents were white, autistic, non speakers/those who cannot ever rely upon spoken language to convey their thinking and knowledge, between the ages of 7 and 29 years old. Gender identification was of interest because it is commonly believed that autism is more prevalent among males. However this survey suggests more studies are needed as only slightly more males responded than females. More than 10% responded with words describing a gender that cannot be labeled “male” or “female”, suggesting autistic people may not be as influenced by societal pressure to identify as one gender. The largest percentage of respondents are in high school, with middle school coming in a distant second. More respondents reported being in a Special Education School or classroom than any other. There were almost as many students in General Education Schools. Those students who are homeschooled came in as a distant third, though it must be noted that many respondents are in a combination of the three. The most common communication method preferred and used by the largest number of respondents was RPM, which was to be expected as the groups most readily reached through social media use RPM or learned to type using RPM. The majority of respondents were first exposed to the communication method of their choice between the ages of 5 – 13 years old. Interestingly, although the communication methods most commonly used by schools were speech and speech therapy, ABA and PECs, none of these methods were cited by the respondents as the communication method of their choice, suggesting a discrepancy between what is actually needed and what is being used by schools. Exactly half of the respondents said they were allowed to use their communication method at school, though more than half reported that the school and its staff were not trained in this method and most of the respondents said they were not allowed to bring in someone trained in their chosen communication method. As a result these students reported they cannot communicate while at school, other than resorting to “gestures”. Half of the respondents reported being given enough time to answer questions, participate in discussions and felt they were believed competent by their teachers. Just under half felt they were treated respectfully by teachers and staff, with slightly more than half saying they did not feel they were treated respectfully. More than half felt they were in a positive learning environment. The vast majority of respondents believe they are capable of learning and enjoy learning. The advice was that administrators, teachers, staff, support persons and parents should be patient, assume competence and receive training in RPM. Better training for AAC devices in general was also a popular piece of advice for teachers and staff. Finally the respondents voiced an overwhelming desire to communicate and the importance of being able to do so, which is not surprising given that our society places such importance on spoken language and incorrectly assumes those who cannot speak are unable to think.

Moving Forward

Given the above results, the next steps should be heeding the experiences and advice from the respondents of this survey. To date much of the methodology comes from researchers or people who speak and therefore are not non speaking or unable to ever rely upon spoken language to ask questions or convey their knowledge and complex thoughts. This must change if we are going to see real advancements made for students who cannot speak in ways the general population understands or accepts. As one respondent implored, “Give me a way to communicate, stop waiting for speech to come.”

What follows are some of the suggestions respondents made when asked for advice directed to administration, staff, teachers, and support people. One respondent wrote, “Thank you for your patience on my bad days when typing is hard. I always try hard but some days I can’t do it. Don’t give up on me.” Another said, “Get them (students) some way that they can communicate! Use the technologies that are available as a first choice not a last choice! Don’t let frustration build up to overflowing then taint everything else.” Another person wrote, “first to understand that it is possible to have unexpressed thoughts and internal life” while another wrote, “to know that others may be the same as me: I am intelligent but happen to have a body that does not obey my thoughts.” One respondent wrote, “Meaningful life experiences come when we are allowed to participate.” A parent wrote, “Examine your curriculums and make sure they are interesting.” Another parent said, “They must not discount students based solely on their inability to get their words out…. Many nonverbal children have great intelligence that is missed because all anyone wants to give them credit for in the early years is talking, which is, quite frankly, very over-rated.” A number of respondents suggested that alternate ways of communication should be explored immediately instead of so many of the early years being devoted to speech and speech therapies. Several people urged administrators and teaching staff to “listen to autistic people, read what nonverbal autistic people are writing.” Motor planning challenges and executive functioning issues were listed as things that need more attention. Improved, and more training of staff by autistic people, so the staff better understands autism, especially in terms of behavior and functioning. “I want more schools teaching understanding of autism as a motor planning problem, not lacking intelligence,” one person reported. A large number of respondents advised administrators to offer training in RPM to their teachers and staff.

In answer to the question asking for advice for parents, one respondent wrote, “Listen to me. Communication is not just words.” Another wrote, “Make sure your children know that they are not the problem, the system is.” One respondent advised, “Stop trying to “cure” or “fix” or force normalcy…” Another said, “Teach your child to advocate for themselves. Show them how. Encourage them.” Another wrote, “Give them a way (to communicate) Don’t wait for speech to come.” A number of respondents urged parents to take their child to a qualified RPM provider and many others simply wrote, “Learn RPM.” One respondent said, “Don’t stop searching for a reliable means for your child to communicate. It is a basic human right. It’s vital…. If your mouth was taped with duct tape, your hands bound with duct tape, and you’re bound to a chair would you understand what I was saying to you any less?” Our motor issues challenge us in similar ways.”

For the final question asking for any other comments or thoughts relevant to education and methods of communication, one respondent wrote, “Please help dispel the practice of using only ABA type models to help autistics. Until there is the realization that the so called experts, unless autistic themselves, have no clue what is best for us, they must allow for that which we need to access communication. This includes support by trained communication providers and training for more people to support future generations.” Another wrote, “Realistically in CA right now the best option is homeschooling. Sadly the schools are so ABA drill based that brilliant voices are locked inside so many kids here.” A few respondents advocated for teaching sign language at an early age. Many again urged that RPM should be learned. One respondent wrote, “Look at your own prejudices and work on being a more compassionate and understanding person. Autism carries many gifts as well as challenges. We need to start concentrating on those gifts and helping all of us grow together.” And finally this, “The face of autism is continually changing. As autistics become more involved in the conversation, our understanding is evolving. This is a good thing. I’m fully included on a university campus and I love it! I’m a straight A student and participate in a national honor society. I’m a full-time sophomore. Gratefully, I am taken very seriously on campus by both the administration and the faculty. I enjoy interacting with my peers with my communication partner’s support. I have to confess, I was nervous it would go differently. I’m thrilled to be achieving higher education!”

While patience, assuming competence, learning RPM and other alternate communication methods were among the most popular suggestions, there were many who asked that communication devices in general be made available to all students. The idea that speech therapy is a given, particularly during early intervention, but learning to use an alternate communication device is not, was brought up by a number of respondents. The intelligent, thoughtful and often creative responses from the autistic people and their parents who answered this survey are examples of why autistic people, particularly those who cannot ever rely on spoken language to express their views on topics such as this, should be actively sought out and listened to. Until autistic people have a voice in this discussion, there will continue to be a large gap in what they prefer to use to help them communicate and what is being given or taught to them. The motto of disability groups world wide is, “Nothing about us, without us.” The world and particularly the Department of Education would be wise to heed those words and act accordingly by including autistic people in their planning moving forward.


In conclusion, the importance of alternate methods of communication being made available to students who cannot ever rely upon spoken language to communicate their complex ideas cannot be overstated. Without a way to communicate these students are left voiceless and with no means to communicate other than through their screams or other ways of moving and acting to communicate their frustration and upset. These actions, often viewed as disruptive are more likely to result in negative responses than the kindness and patience the respondents of this survey said they so desperately need and desire. Without any way to communicate these students are unable to ask questions, participate in discussions or engage in intellectual discourse.

It is clear that there are a number of existing communication methods that work for a great many – RPM and AAC of different kinds, but more, cheaper methods are needed. More studies are necessary to find inexpensive alternate methods of communication for non-speaking students, so that all students, no matter their race, age or socio-economic background can be an active participant in their learning, education and learning environments. In addition it is imperative that students who are able to communicate through typing, writing or some other way are listened to and brought into the conversation regarding what works and what does not. Simply using methods that exist because they are available, even though the respondents of this survey agreed they were unhelpful is not a solution. A number of respondents listed a number of methods they use, including “body gestures” because the communication method of their choice was not used in their school, so they were forced to make do with a method that was not their first choice. It cannot be emphasized enough – this must change.

The two biggest limitations of this survey, and therefore this paper, were the inability to reach a larger and more diverse population of non-speaking students and the issue of cost for training and devices, which makes alternate types of communication difficult, if not impossible for lower income families and their schools to obtain. Until communication, in all its forms, is seen as being as important as spoken language and placed as a priority by society, our schools and school districts, this will likely not change.

Without an ability to communicate, we are left silent, and believed to have nothing to say.

Just because we cannot speak, does not mean we cannot think.


Long, Bev. “Autism Basics.” Autism Forum Basics – Diagnostic Center Central (DCC). N.p., n.d.

Web. 14 Dec. 2016.

“Autism Fact Sheet.” National Autism Association RSS. National Autism Association, n.d. Web.

12 Dec. 2016. “Autism Fact Sheet.” National Autism Association RSS. National Autism

Association, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

“Researchers Focus on Non-Verbal Autism at High Risk High Impact Meeting.” Autism Speaks.

Autism Speaks, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Sarris, Marina. “Measuring Intelligence in Autism.” Interactive Autism Network. N.p., 20 Oct.

2015. Web. 17 Jan. 2017

Zurcher-Long, Emma. “Have Your Voice Heard!” Blog Post. Emma’s Hope Book. N.p., 05 Dec.

2016. Web. 16 Dec. 2016

Thanks to all who participated.  Writing this research paper was an assignment  in my English class and was extremely difficult for me. It took many months with tons of edits, revisions, and help from my mom and my English teacher, Ms Greenberg, both of whom I am grateful to, as I could not have done this on my own.

*Note from my mom – Emma turned in this research paper on February 2nd, 2017.  In order to republish it here, I had to reformat the entire thing and even so, I was unable to include the 20 plus pages of graphs that she worked off of from all the respondents.  I meant to post this right away, but as you can see, “right away” becomes relative.

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Photo by Pete Thompson


Can Speech Challenged Students Get an Appropriate Education?

     What would you do if the whimper in your heart could not find the right words to speak? What if you couldn’t control the things you felt compelled to say, even if you knew those who heard you would not understand? Speaking is not an accurate reflection of my intelligence. Typing is a better method for me to convey my thinking, but it is laborious and exhausting. So what is to be done with someone like me? Is it better to put students like myself, of which there are many, in a segregated school or classroom, is inclusion the better option or is there another answer? I was believed not capable enough to attend a regular school, nor was I able to prove this assumption wrong. In an ideal world these questions would not need to be asked because a diagnosis of autism would not lead to branding a person as less than or inferior. Those who cannot speak or who have limited speech would not immediately be labeled “intellectually disabled” and “low functioning”. We would live in a society that would embrace diversity and welcome all people, regardless of race, culture, religion, neurology or disability. Our education system mirrors our society and in both, we come up short.

     In New York City kids like me are not attending mainstream schools because we are believed to be unable to learn complex subject matter. I was sent to both public and private special education schools, specifically created for speaking and non-speaking autistic students and those believed to have emotional issues. Because I cannot voice my thoughts and so rely on favorite scripts, my spoken language causes people to assume my thinking is simple, I am unable to pay attention and cannot comprehend most of what is said to me. As a result, none of these schools presumed that I, or the other students, were competent and their curricula reflected this. At the private school I attended for six years, I was regularly asked to do simple equations such as 3 + 2 = ? When I said “two”, because that was the last number spoken and my mouth would not form the word “five”, my teachers believed I could not do basic math. It was the same with reading and something as simple as being asked to define the word “cup”. I clearly know what a cup is, but when I could not say it, I was marked as not knowing. This school used the same fairy tale, “Three Billy Goats Gruff”, for three years as the foundation of a “curriculum”. At another school, this time public, while my older brother was learning about World War II and writing essays on whether the United States should have dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, my class was planting seeds in soil and asked what kinds of things were needed for the seed to take root and grow. When my classmates, many of whom could not speak at all, and I could not answer with the words “sunlight” and “water”, it was assumed we did not know the answers or understand the question. At another public school I spent months going over how many seconds are in a minute, minutes in an hour, hours in a day, but when I could not demonstrate that I understood either in writing or spoken language, it was believed I had no concept of time.

     There is no test that allows me to show the creative ways in which I learn. I cannot sit quietly unless I am able to twirl my string, softly murmur to myself and have a timer nearby. I cannot read aloud or answer most questions verbally, but I can type. My mind is lightning fast. I can hear a song and then replay it note for note with my voice. I have an incredibly large capacity to listen, learn and feel. I listen to conversations around me regularly and often wish that some parents would appreciate their children more. The other day on the subway a Mom said, “Shut up, you’re being stupid!” to her son. The boy was silent and put his head down. The Mom proceeded to play a game on her phone. I have learned that everyone is delicate. In that moment my body felt tremendous sadness. I see patterns in unrelated things, such as I am able to notice every article of clothing that someone wears on a given day. People’s attitudes are reflected in their choice of clothing. When the same clothes are worn over and over, I have the feeling the wearer is stuck. People’s self-confidence increases when wearing new clothing. My expansive vocabulary is impressive. I’ve listened to how people put words together my entire life. As I have made sense of the words used, I have been able to understand their meaning, though I am unable to ask for definitions. I notice people’s sadness, even when they are smiling. I almost feel like I am violating someone because I can see inside of them and know their feelings. I’m told I use the written word in unusual and interesting ways. I have been published in magazines and blogs. I give presentations around the country on autism and gave the keynote address at an autism conference this past fall. I am co-directing a documentary, Unspoken, about my life and being autistic and I hope, one day, to be a performer.

      The best education I’ve received to date in a school is at a private non special education school, where none of the teachers or administration has been given “training” in autism or what that supposedly means. They do not believe I cannot do things the other students are able to do. In fact, though I am just fourteen-years old and technically should be in eighth grade, I am doing upper level work. I am treated respectfully by teachers and students alike. My typing is slow, but the class waits for me and gives me a chance to express myself. During a recent Socratic seminar where the students were expected to speak on the book we had just finished, everyone waited for me to type my thoughts and gave me time to have my thoughts on an earlier point, read later. In my theater class the teacher began the semester with non-speaking work. We learned about mime, silent theater and the importance and impact of physicality while performing. I have been asked for what I need in order to excel, and accommodations have been made, I know, but I hope and believe that I am not the only one benefitting from my presence at such a terrific school.

     There is a saying in the disabilities community, “Nothing about us, without us.” A complete rethinking about autism and autistic neurology is needed if special education schools or any schools are going to educate those of us who think differently. Believing in the potential of all students is not on any test. Presuming that each and every student, whether they can speak or not, can and will eventually learn given the necessary supports and encouragement is not commonly believed, but it should be. Wouldn’t it be great if autistic people’s ideas were included in designing curriculum and the tests that are meant to evaluate them. Isn’t that what you would want if you were like me?

Learning to Believe

Needing time to learn, understanding concepts and refining techniques are all done on separate timelines.  Best to approach each with curiosity and patience, with a large dose of belief in the other person.

Ticking clocks of expectation become toxic.  Learning to believe is the homework for all educators.  Belief in another’s humanity, respecting different learning styles and compassion for all makes a great teacher and student.

Having a wonderful teacher is life changing.


Question for Non Word Based Thinkers

Four mornings a week Emma begins the day with a Skype call with a professor in New England who is a bio-chemist.  We call him Dr. C on this blog.  They have a close relationship and their conversations flow easily between them.  I am very much the observer most of the time.

This is a sample of one of their more typical exchanges:

Dr. C:  So if water were linear and not bent what effect would this have on life on Earth?

Emma:  Hydrogen would not be able to find connections to create networks, life as we know it could not be.

Dr. C:  Right, so there would be no dipole or tiny magnet, thus water would not align with a + or – side….

The session before this one, Dr. C asked Emma, as a homework project, to construct a Benzene (C6H6) model, which Emma then did.  It looks like this:



The final piece of the homework assignment was to draw the corresponding Lewis Bond Structure.  This proved much more difficult and took about five attempts before she drew the structure below. (It is awesome and fabulously impressive!)

Lewis Bond Structure

Lewis Bond Structure

The Lewis Bond Structure is basically a replica of the actual three-dimensional model, so much so that you can literally place the model on top of it and it will pair up.  While making the molecular models of things like water, ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide are now fairly easy for Emma, drawing the Lewis Bond Structures are not and it reminds me of a similar problem that writing, handwriting and to a lesser degree typing presents.

I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on why this might be so, but watching Emma cheerfully putting together these models is absolutely fascinating.  And it makes me wonder if this isn’t a key to better understanding how teaching methods might take a page from organic chemistry…

If one thinks in a more three-dimensional way, does it then follow that trying to write, formulate the words to correspond with the thoughts, would present a whole series of challenges?  Doesn’t it suggest that this is more than a “word retrieval” issue?  I’m wondering if there even IS a word retrieval issue, (I plan to ask Emma later) but instead there’s a spatial issue presenting itself as non word based and therefore very difficult to transcribe.


Some Emma Quotes

Each day is a day of discovery with moments of elation and excitement…  at least this is my take away from the past few weeks.  Here are a few of Emma’s comments along the way that she gave me permission to post.

Discussing black holes  (Dr. C and Emma are kindred souls.)

Dr. C:  What has happened to the atomic structure within a black hole?

Emma:  Opportunity to riot.  Structure is chaotic.

Dr. C:  Basically this is correct.  The gravitational pull is so strong that the atomic structure has collapsed.  Thus nuclei and electrons are fused together with no space between them.

Emma: Just like society during a riot.

Dr. C:  These societal people have collapsed onto each other to further this analogy.

Emma:  Exactly.

After reading  Act 1 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet

Ariane:  So what do you think so far?

Emma:  Understand that it is a heady play and play on words that pities human rage and love equally.

Reading and discussing the Texas Revolution 

Emma:  Because of dissent a culture was born.

Regarding the Trail of Tears and how the Cherokee were the last tribe to make the grueling 800 plus mile trek to the “Indian Territories” I asked Emma to tell me something about this picture. 

Trail of Tears

Trail of Tears

Emma:  Exodus.  Forced displacement of people with little choice.  It tells something about man’s wish for power.  Oppression is an ongoing story.

And finally on the topic of being home and not in a classroom setting – Emma typed, “naturally living in world’s infinite candy store of learning is to be in constant awe.”

Just Another Day…

I think this has been one of the best days of my life.  We had a full day of learning.   I’m exhausted.  Seriously.  I feel as though my head is going to explode.    We began the day with our daily Skype call with Dr. C.  Emma and Dr. C. had great fun teasing me about the fact that every time Dr. C. asked Emma something like, “How many F- will bind to a single Mg^2=?” Emma typed the correct answer while I looked on with befuddlement.  Every so often Dr. C  explained something incomprehensible and then asked, “Got it?”  Emma immediately typed “Yes!” while I muttered, not so quietly, “NO!”  As I was continuously slowing them down with clarifying questions, it was suggested, jokingly, that I put a metal bucket over my head.  Emma then typed to Dr. C. “Do you have one?”

As Dr. C. gave Emma increasingly difficult and complex questions, I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have a clue what they were going on about, but Emma did, and that filled me with unspeakable joy.  There was lots of uproarious laughter and shouts of “Go Emma!  You can do this!!” after each question and Emma literally bounced up and down with glee.

Science was followed by a break, then math, a break, American history, a break, creative writing, where Emma wrote the most amazing piece that, sadly, I cannot post because it has been submitted to an anthology. (Any who type to communicate are encouraged to submit.  Click the link ‘here‘.  I believe the deadline is October 1st.)   After Emma cranked out her absolutely mind blowing essay, we did German and then she had her book club with K. where they discussed George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the Russian Revolution.  Oh and did I mention Emma did all of this dressed in the most fabulous red gown?

Quick aside – We are so incredibly fortunate to have people in our lives who have enthusiastically and generously volunteered their time to help teach.  To those people, a million thanks.

Now it’s time to do nothing.  Emma?  She’s in the back with Richard watching Seven Wonders of the Universe, I kid you not…

Red Gown

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

A Day of Learning

Emma does not go to school, instead the world has become an enormous classroom.  Here are a few snippets from today…

We began the day with our daily Skype call with Dr. C. who begins each call by asking Emma if she has any questions for him. Today she typed, “Inkling of noted capacity of space is to be reviewed?”

Without missing a beat Dr. C. said, “Recall that the inflationary hypothesis predicts that space is expanding faster than the speed of light, thus it has been theorized that if the entire universe is the size of planet Earth, the part of the universe that we can see with telescopes is about the size of a grain of sand.”  Emma replied, “Present state of what we understand, but may be limited by our perceptions.”

“Agreed,” Dr. C said and then added, “This is always the way with scientific advancement.  Every day new experiments are being run that either support or repute theories and hypotheses, thus theories are continually changing.  It may well be that the inflationary hypothesis will be abandoned and some new theory (maybe the Cyclic Universe Theory) will emerge.  That is the way of science, Emma!  It continually changes.”

What followed was a brief discussion about Cyclic Universe Theory and then the conversation returned to Units and Equivalents where Emma was asked to view a powerpoint slide showing two graphs showing weekly wages, which upon closer inspection were the same data, but because of the way they were shown, seemed very different.  Dr. C asked Emma which one she would prefer getting for a weekly allowance and Emma enthusiastically pointed to the one that appeared to be monetarily favorable.  Dr. C then explained why it was not and how this was a good example of how data can be changed, while still being legitimate.  Emma then typed, “Deceptively similar. We both need a raise.”

After much laughter, Dr. C. talked about how important it is to study data to be sure you are not being deceived.  Emma then typed, “Either one is a manipulation.  The facts are easier without ego.”

The lesson ended with a discussion about density and Emma was given a homework question where she will need to calculate the weight of a gold brick.  She has been given the dimensions, an equivalency chart to convert inches, centimeters, kilograms and pounds and the density of gold.

After our Skype call we went to see B.  Emma was asked, “Do you think you are learning more now that you are NOT in school?”

“My mind is expanding as big as a watermelon that feeds an entire school,” Emma typed.

Interestingly, and as a quick aside, earlier in the week we discussed with Dr. C Hubble’s Law and the idea that the universe may be expanding, so I found her choice of words particularly wonderful.

Later B. described a limerick, briefly talked about iambic pentameter (a limerick is typically AABBA) and gave her the “rules” of most limericks.  Limericks are five lines, lines one, two and five rhyme, with lines three and four rhyming with each other, they have a distinctive beat with lines one, two and five being longer than three and four, and they are usually humorous.

B. read the following limerick, the writer is unknown, which is about limericks!

“Writing a Limerick’s absurd,
Line one and line five rhyme in word,
And just as you’ve reckoned
They rhyme with the second;
The fourth line must rhyme with the third.”

B. asked Emma what she thought and this was Emma’s reply:

“Dancing each day is a joy,
It’s better than playing with toys,
If you disagree
Come spend time with me,
It’s fun for both girls and for boys.”

After we returned home Emma and I read the first chapter of George Orwell’s Animal Farm in preparation for Emma’s book club with K. on Friday and went on a field trip to the Museum Of Modern Art.  Prior to leaving on her field trip to the museum, she was shown the current exhibits and asked which looked interesting to her. Emma typed, “wandering through possibilities is best.”

I don’t know about you, but I want a T-shirt that says that.

“Wandering through possibilities is best.” 

"Wandering through possibilities is best." ~  Emma Zurcher-Long

“Wandering through possibilities is best.” ~ Emma Zurcher-Long

Being Home aka When School is No Longer an Option

Last spring we made the decision to pull our daughter from her middle school.  We did not come to this decision easily or without a great deal of thought.  Ultimately we decided we had no other choice.  Neither Richard nor I are “teachers.”  We are both far too impatient.  For the longest time I thought homeschooling meant recreating “school,” but at home.  This thought was both so awful and terrifying to contemplate, and was probably the reason it took me (I can’t speak for Richard) so long to come around to the idea, that having a child at home would be a good thing, and not bad.    

In many ways I wish school was still an option, but it isn’t. Richard and I know this. The conventional route is evidently not in the cards for us and frankly it never has been, but it’s taken me awhile to come to terms with what this means. That feeling of exhilaration and freedom, so many who do not have “school” as a part of their children’s lives talk about, is only now something I’m starting to feel and experience.  So it was with great joy that I read Emma’s thoughts on not going to school.  

Emma wrote, “Bathing for the first day of school is better when your classroom is closer by.”  When asked what she thought about not going to school, she wrote, “It’s invigorating.”  Then she paused and finished with, “I am a lucky gal.”   

When asked for advice on how we can help her learn and pursue her interests, she wrote, “Relax and relax some more.”

Which… yeah.  That’s sound, solid, advice for just about anything one is doing.

Back to school


Insights From a Non-Talker: Emma’s Conversation With A Friend

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.


I asked Emma what image she wanted with this post, she typed, "google - "talking" and then chose this.

I asked Emma what image she wanted with this post, she typed, “google – “talking” and then chose this.

“A Mind Like a Magician’s Hat”

This morning I asked Emma what she wanted to work on.  She wrote, “We could write a blog post.”

“Okay, what do you want to write about?”  I asked.

“I could make up a story about an Autistic girl who means well, but is not believed smart,” Emma wrote.

“Okay.  Good idea,” I said.

Emma wrote, “She has a mind like a magician’s hat.  Mysterious things are inside.   When revealed, people gasp in astonishment.  Tied to the words regular people can hear are lots of other things they miss.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“All sorts of pleasing sounds, colors and tastes that are healing, but only a special few can experience this.  As loud minds drown out hers, she must work harder than most to be heard.  The End.”

This is the image Emma chose to accompany her story

This is the image Emma chose to accompany her story

Homeschooling, Unschooling…

We are homeschooling, or unschooling or…  I actually don’t know how these terms are defined and haven’t had time to do the research necessary to speak about any of this with any authority, let alone knowledge.  In fact “time” and what that means has kind of blown up in our faces as there never seems to be enough of it.  Richard and I are scrambling to make this work, while making jokes about how many clones we would need to do so, if cloning were an actual thing.  All of this is very new and we have not fallen into a routine yet.  I guess the best description of what we are doing at the moment is – winging it.  We are winging it, though this will change as time goes on, we think.  We hope.  We expect.  What I can say is that Richard asked Emma what part of history she was interested in learning and she chose ancient Egypt and ancient Rome.  This then led to several lessons on the Druids.  Who knows where all of this will lead next!

Meanwhile, Emma and I have embarked on the exciting adventure known as the German language, as per Emma’s request.  We had a particularly hilarious conversation a few weeks ago when Emma first brought up her interest in learning German.  I was somewhat incredulous and kept saying things like “Really?”  and “Are you sure you want to learn German?”  and “What about Spanish or French?”  But no, Emma was not to be swayed, so German it is.  And guess what?  It is SO much FUN!!  We are using a couple of different programs, one is Duolingo, which was recommended by a couple of people.  It’s a free online language program.  Did you know all nouns in German are capitalized?  Why?  Who knows, lots of theories, but there is no one answer as to why, that everyone agrees with.

In addition Emma is working on several writing projects.  One is a chapter idea, in which we will write alternating chapters.  Emma wrote, “How about starting on what you presumed parenting would be before I was born.”  I said, “Can you ask me questions, things you want to know?”  Emma wrote, “Very happy to ask.”  I said, “And what will your chapter be about?”  Emma wrote, “What I presumed the world would be like when I was a baby.”  I cannot wait to hear what she has to say about that!

We continue to make our way through Malala’s autobiography, I am Malala about the Pakistani girl who fought for her right to have the same education as boys and was shot by the Taliban.  This has led to some terrific discussions about advocating for one’s rights, oppression, prejudice, violence, silencing, education, and the lack of.  Recently Emma wrote, “Her life is unlike mine.”  (Referring to Malala.)  “But the oppression is similar to what I have experienced.”

While I continue to go through periods of abject terror at the thought of what we have undertaken, these moments are tempered with the excitement and joy I feel knowing that pulling Emma from school was by far the best thing for her.  She is ecstatic and the marked change in her anxiety and stress levels makes all of us very, very happy.

Emma chose this image for today's post.

Emma chose this image for today’s post.

Ido Kedar’s Blog and Emma’s Response

I’ve written about Ido and his book and blog, both entitled Ido in Autismland, before, ‘here‘, ‘here‘, and ‘here,’ but want to devote today’s post to Ido’s latest blog post because Emma and I read his post this morning and Emma added some of her own thoughts to what Ido wrote.

Ido begins by talking about having just finished up his junior year at a non special education high school.  (I originally wrote “regular,” but then amended that because I no longer know what any of these words even mean, much less how derogatory they sound.)  Ido then addresses parents and then professionals and finally ends the post with a few encouraging words to other Autistic non-speakers.

After Emma and I read his post, I asked Emma what she thought.  She wrote, “I thought it was decidedly helpful to read Ido’s writing.  He tells strong truths lived.  Teaching wasted talkers about life not run on word fuel.”

“Word fuel.”  Can we just take a moment to fully appreciate that?  “Teaching wasted talkers about life not run on word fuel.”  There’s more, so I will disregard my urge to just end this post with that.

I asked Emma if she had anything she wanted to add to the paragraph he addresses to parents.  Emma wrote, “Parents – you must address your fears and doubts first, and then have caring words of encouragement for all word thinkers.”

I then asked for her thoughts on the paragraph addressed to “professionals”.  Emma wrote, “Teaching tedium does nothing, but water down ideas.  Lethargy is the lesson learned.”

Lethargy is the lesson learned.

Ido ends his post with a few words directed to Autistics like him.  Emma then wrote, “Work today, knowing each day pleases the necessary work of tomorrow.  Having hope, and loving, believing parents will make work easier.”




We have sent in our “Letter of Intent” to home school.  Yup.  We have made the leap.  We are going to do this.  We will need to send in quarterly reports.  We will need to send in detailed descriptions of our curriculum.  We have begun a file.  Correction.  We have begun several files.  One of the files has the copy of our “letter of intent”.  The others will soon be filled with “history,” “social studies,” “science,” “math,” “english,” “creative writing,” “philosophy,” “geography,” to name just a few, and “German”.   You read that right.  German.  This is the language Emma asked to learn. “Language,” Emma wrote.    “You mean you want to learn a different language?” I asked.

“Yes,” she wrote back.  “How about German?”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

We will also be doing theatre and acting.  Emma suggested writing a musical, as well as studying art, art history, artists and doing art projects incorporating painting, collage, photography, origami, fabric, found objects and anything else Emma might show interest in doing and learning about.  Taking a page from one of my favorite artists, Robert Rauschenberg, who once wrote that he wanted to work, “in the gap between art and life” so will we!

All of this has happened quite suddenly.  I have gone from gut churning terror and overwhelm to something calmer and more peaceful.  Somehow writing and sending that letter of intent made it seem concrete…  and now, now I feel tremendous relief.  Just tremendous relief.  I know we will figure this out as we go.  I know it will be tough at times, but in the end, I no longer need to worry that she will be challenged academically.

During a recent typing session I asked Emma if she had anything more to add regarding homeschooling.  She wrote that she was excited to be home schooled and then wrote, “… what cabaret kind of life awaits me I can only guess.”

When I showed this to her just now and asked if there was anything else she wanted to add, she wrote, “I paint words on to the canvas that I think of as my life.”

This is the photograph she chose to accompany this post.

July, 2010

July, 2010


“Let’s Talk About Communication Abilities”

*As always Emma gave me permission to post this.  Emma typed her words by independently pointing to the letters on a bluetooth qwerty keyboard attached to her iPad.

This morning I asked Emma what she wanted to talk about.  She wrote, “How about we talk about communication abilities.”

A:  “Okay, that’s a great idea!”

E:  “Especially for someone like me.”

A:  “Yes, tell me more.”

E:  I am able to communicate really well with words, but people don’t expect me to, so when they see me typing, they eagerly watch, but they don’t listen to what I write as much as they listen to the words tumbling from my mouth.”

A:  “I think that’s such an amazing observation!”

E:  “Know that believing in someone’s ability will be greeted with inward smiles, so you must never give the doubts breathing space.”

We talked about “ability” and the power of believing in both oneself and another versus doubting.

E:  “Many insist on finding proof, but when sitting with someone like me they only see the things I do that confirm what they already believe and turn their backs on all that would prove them wrong.”

A:  “Is there anything or anyone specific you’re referring to?”

E: “It is what I have experienced, sadly.”

I told Emma how sorry I was.  We talked about this more and then I said, “I think your words really do affect many people who are listening and as a result are changing how they see their child.  Even if only a few people listen, it’s worth repeating, don’t you think?

E:  “Some that change their views, teach others well.”

A:  Yes, I think so too.  Many people have reached out to us on Facebook and on the blog to tell us.  It’s always so wonderful when we hear from them.

E:  “Now we must remain patient and doggedly trudge ahead.”

I told Emma, she was leading the way and I would always follow.

E:  “Together we will eagerly tether our ideas, so having happy thoughts will woo anger.”

Ariane and Em ~ May 2014

Ariane and Emma ~ May 2014