Tag Archives: intelligence


“Having a voice after years of being ignored saves me from treacherous loss.  Years of nothing, makes the smart ideas percolate.  It is a strong force within, waiting for encouragement.”  ~  Emma

There are people who would like to silence my daughter and those like her.   One person recently accused me of “exploiting” my daughter to “satisfy your own vanity and craving for attention” by publishing things Emma’s said she wants others to read.  This particular person went on to write (as though to Emma), “Autistic people are irrelevant in your mother’s world.  And parenting is more of a competitive sport to her than a domestic responsibility.  That is truly disgusting.”   And yet if I do not publish the things my daughter writes and says she wants others to read and understand, then I become the silencer.  I cannot presume her competent, but then selectively do so, by not publishing what she has asked to have published.

As with my older child, we have discussed, and continue to discuss at length the internet, the importance of realizing what one says on the internet, stays on the internet.  We have discussed issues around human rights and advocacy.  We are currently engaged in an ongoing discussion related specifically to blog writing because of the book we are reading, I am Malala in which Malala writes about being increasingly threatened and silenced by the Taliban and how her right to an education was taken from her simply because she was born female.

There are those who say that the words someone like my daughter writes are not really hers.  This is a different way of silencing, but it is as equally brutal and effective.  They say that because science has not shown RPM to be an easily replicated method it is therefore suspect.  They say, parents like me are so determined to believe in their child’s intelligence and competence, we will go to any lengths to “believe” even when it’s clear (to them) our children cannot possibly be the competent beings we know they are.  This is the opposite of presuming competence.  They go on to suggest that though (in the case of RPM, where there is no physical contact of any kind) no one touches my daughter, those nearby are able to influence, so much so that they can actually force the person to point to letters, which spell out things they do not mean to write.

People like my daughter are in a perpetual state of limbo, a kind of no man’s land, neither here nor there.  For those of us speaking out, writing about all of this, giving our children a platform from which to write, we are easy targets.  There will always be people who disagree. There will always be people who are threatened by ideas that confront what they believe and have been told.  There will always be people who viciously attack for reasons that may or may not be apparent to those they strike out at.  I’ve been fortunate and have not had many who have attacked.  In fact this recent commenter is the only one who has come after me, repeatedly, with such viciousness and undisguised hatred.

But I will not be silenced, nor will I allow my daughter to be; as long as she wants to be heard, I will do all I can to make sure she is.

*Emma chose this photograph to go along with her and my words.  Yes, I read this to her, before publishing.  And sadly, it seems, I must also state the obvious,  I do not and will not publish anything ever, that she does not want me to publish.  This blog will disappear the instant Emma tells me she wants it taken down.

Emma Riding Beau

Emma Riding Beau


“Rethinking Your Beliefs About Autism”

Emma and I are speaking at the upcoming icare4autism conference  here in New York City, July 2nd.  Over the weekend I asked Emma what she thought the topic of our talk should be.  She wrote, “Let’s talk about mind/body disconnect and how that makes people misunderstand someone like me…”

I told her I thought this was an excellent topic particularly as this conference will most likely not have an audience familiar with the idea of there being a mind/body disconnect or if they are, what that actually means.  In fact this is one of those topics I wish I’d known about from the beginning.  It would have been so helpful had someone explained to me, when Emma was diagnosed, what it meant.  Perhaps more than anything it is the body/mind disconnect that caused me to make all kinds of assumptions about my daughter, which I now know were incorrect.  Because she did not look at me or turn her head toward me when I spoke to her, I assumed she wasn’t listening.  Because she said things that I couldn’t understand or were disconnected from my questions, I assumed she didn’t understand the question.  I believed the words she spoke were the words she intended and meant.  It didn’t occur to me that I was wrong.  It didn’t occur to me that she was thinking a great many things, but had no way of communicating all that she knew and thought.

Both Ido Kedar and Naoki Higashida talk about how their bodies do not do as their brain requests.  Tracy Kedar, Ido’s mom, writes in the introduction to Ido’s book, Ido in Autismland, “Imagine being unable to communicate because you have a body that doesn’t listen to your thoughts.  You want to speak and you know what you want to say, but either you  can’t get words out, or what comes out are nonsensical sounds or the same embedded phrases you have said thousands of times.  Imagine your face staying flat and blank when inside you are furious, sad, or wanting to smile in greeting.”  Later Tracy writes, “Since you cannot express your thoughts, only you know that you are intellectually intact.”  And still later Tracy writes, “Imagine being stuck in an educational program, year after year, that is designed for a preschooler who learns slowly.  You are bored, frustrated, angry, misunderstood and more than a little hopeless.”

Emma has written about some of this before, but in the next month will be writing about her experience with the “mind/body disconnect” more.  I will be reading her thoughts and insights at the conference and adding my experience of what I once believed.  Emma will then answer questions from the audience time permitting, by writing on her keyboard.

I asked Emma what she wanted to call our presentation.  She wrote, “Let’s call it – Rethinking Your Beliefs About Autism”

And so we are…

Em strikes a pose

The Value of Words

Awhile ago Emma wrote, “Talking is hard because I like to say silly things that people take seriously and that is why I am misunderstood.”

Yesterday Richard referenced Emma’s “silly things” but without the full quote and I think some may have read his words and thought he was suggesting her spoken words were silly, when he was actually quoting Emma.  But the context is everything and when Emma wrote the above, it was about written language versus spoken. I was reminded of my friend, Leah Kelley who has a blog, Thirty Days of Autism.  About a year ago, Leah posted a video that I thought so hysterical, I had to share it and have since watched it many times.  It’s called Bulbous Bouffant.

I dare anyone to watch this video and not smile.  Me?  I laughed out loud. Did any of you join in, saying the words out loud?  I did.  Was this silly of me?  YES!  I love silly.  Silly is way under rated.  How much more fun would we all have if we could engage in conversations like this one?  Those of you who hate clicking on links, you’re going to have to… go on, just do it.  It’s hilarious.

We live in a world where this sort of conversation is not exactly encouraged.  In fact, most people, if they encountered such a person while waiting for the bus or subway would probably try to politely extricate themselves from such a conversation.  Someone who spoke, as the person in the video does, would be thought odd and would be avoided.  He might even frighten people.

A few months ago, Emma wrote,  I am intelligent and cannot speak with the same brilliant words that are in my mind.”  And I understood completely what she was saying.  We need to show that we are intelligent before we can lapse into the silliness of enjoying the sounds of a word, simply because it’s fun, or admit that a word makes us happy, not because of its meaning, but just because of the way it feels and sounds while saying it.  Intelligence first and then silliness can ensue, but if intelligence isn’t proven, then silliness becomes “inappropriate” or “weird” or any number of other words we use when we think someone is not like us and less than.

Yesterday Emma wrote, “I troubled you when I intended to talk and words told different tales than I thought.”  I have to say it made me sad to read her words because she’s right, it did trouble me, and had I known how bright she was, I would not have been so troubled.  But this is also a problematic statement because it’s focused on perceived intelligence and shows a definite prejudice towards those who are defined as “intelligent” versus those who are not.  That actually goes against everything I believe.   ALL human beings should be treated equally, with respect, love and kindness, no matter what their perceived intelligence is.  And yet, my obvious prejudice is there and so this is something I will look at and be more aware of.  Without awareness, I cannot change.

So when Emma then wrote, “I realize any words are valued more than silence” I understood her to mean her “written words” because those are the words we applaud her for, those are the words we quote and talk about, those are the words we say, “Here!  Read this!”  Partly because they are so insightful and wonderfully wise, but also because they prove, beyond a doubt, how very bright she is.  But also there’s a hierarchy in our culture –  the more spoken language an Autistic child has, the “higher” functioning they are deemed.  Spoken language in our culture is everything.

Except what about all those people who have not found a way to express themselves? What about those who cannot express “profound insights”?  Are they less important?  Are they somehow less human?  Are they not deserving of the same respect and treatment we so easily and readily give to those who speak eloquently and brilliantly?

“I realize any words are valued more than silence.”




Emma Shines a Light on Functioning Labels

“People think I am troubled and can’t decide whether I am low functioning or can’t make sense of the words I say, but either way they are wrong.  So whatever label I am given it is meaningless.  Neither one assumes my intelligence.  This confuses many.  What does a functioning label do for the person it supposedly describes?

“I can’t talk the way I think.  Where is the label for that?

“Why am I punished with a label that only detracts and doesn’t tell the truth about me?”

Earlier this year Emma wrote (from Emma Discusses Functioning Labels):

“Functioning labels are insulting to me.  And people like me do not like to have others label us as though we were meat at the market.

“I do not think Autistics should be given stamps of disapproval.   How would you like to be graded all the time?

“Money makes non-autistic people have a higher functioning label, but it is not a great way to measure the worth of a person or their intellect.

“I am more than any one thing.

“Most people do not behave well under the kind of pressure Autistic people must endure all the time.  A label belongs on a piece of merchandise, not on a human being.

“Do you think you function at a higher level than other people?

“Maybe others would not agree with you.

“Let us all  do the best that we can and stop othering everyone we decide is less capable.”

2010 in Colorado

2010 in Colorado

“Feeling knowledge…”

“Feeling knowledge is reality understood.”

This is what Emma wrote over the weekend.   Yeah.  I’ve been unraveling that one  ever since she wrote it…  At this point there are a couple of things I have come to realize:  First – if I can just keep up with her, I’m doing really well.  Second –  presuming competence is a vast concept and is much more about me and my limitations than it is about the person I’m applying this idea to.  And third – the amount we do not know about autism far surpasses that which we do.

“Feeling knowledge is reality understood.”

EmContemplatesNature copy

I Think I Finally Understand – But I May Still Need Your Help

I am reading I am intelligent by Peyton Goddard and Dianne Goddard with Carol Cujec.  I am not finished yet.  It is a powerful, beautifully written tale of triumph about Peyton who was denigrated, undermined, diagnosed as “mentally retarded” believed to be incompetent then learned to communicate through a facilitator as a young adult and proved everyone wrong.  Peyton’s story is shocking, heartbreaking and revelatory.  Her mother writes with a poetic beauty about her own evolution as she worked to help her daughter, refusing the labels being applied and yet allowing that they seep into our thinking unbidden despite our rejections of them.  I have been  unable to think of little else.

As I read Peyton’s and her mother’s words I finally understood why so many object to the labels of “high,” “low,” “moderate” when describing an Autistic person.  This is a concept I thought I understood, I certainly understood it intellectually, but I didn’t feel I completely understood until I was about half way through this terrific book.  I have felt uneasy when people have rejected the delineations for autism.  A  little voice in my head whispered those clichéd words, yes but if their child weren’t so high functioning they wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss these terms.  I admit to having felt uncomfortable and even upset when I read accounts of other parent’s struggles with their brilliant, verbose, hyperlexic children.  What I would give to have a child who could speak and think circles around me, I thought with envy.

Mostly I’ve remained silent, understanding that my thinking was limiting but unable to work out exactly why.  I felt the pull of other parents whose children are non-verbal, some violent in their frustration to be understood and unable to communicate. When those parents used the word “severe” it was a short-hand I thought I understood.  Yet, I read a blog of a parent who described her two children as being “severe” and then felt confusion when I read her posts because the children described were academically and verbally much more advanced than my own “moderately” Autistic child.  But I said nothing and tried to move on, understanding that I didn’t understand.

Finally I sent such a post to a close autistic friend whom I trust and knew would not judge me harshly.  I ranted and admitted how I felt.  She was patient with me.  She gave me the space to be confused, though it must have been difficult to stay calm in the face of my non-understanding.  Particularly as she is one who could be labeled “high” functioning and yet her teeth cause her pain when she is lied to, she suffers migraines and becomes overwhelmed, yet feels she has to pretend that she’s fine.  She carries the weight of not wanting to burden those who love her, because she “should” be able to deal with the things that she cannot.

As I read about how Peyton started to communicate by typing and how people began to see how intelligent she was, a little light went off in my brain and I got it.  Because (and this is probably obvious to many of you already, but I’m a slow learner you see) Peyton was labeled all sorts of things by people throughout her childhood, but those rating systems did nothing but hurt her.  Not one of them actually helped her, they didn’t support her, they were used to further segregate her and they were used by some to abuse her horribly.  As I was reading, I thought, right because Emma is considered “moderately” autistic, but she’s not moderately intelligent.  Her intelligence is extremely high, so what does moderate really mean.  Is that how she “seems” to neurotypicals?  But how is that helping her?  It doesn’t help her.  In fact, by thinking of Emma as moderate or severe or mild she is being limited.  If someone who is thought of as “high” functioning then can’t cope in a crowded place with fluorescent lighting and begins shouting and flailing about, the common thought is, well he could control himself, but is choosing not to.  Just as a “severely” Autistic person is an inspiration and miracle when they are able to express themselves and communicate their thoughts to those who had slapped a low IQ on their charts.  These ratings become the method by which a human being is seen as non-human or less human.

In my enthusiasm I wrote to my friend, Ib last night.

Me:  I think I finally understand what you and others have meant about characterizing autism in terms of mild, severe etc I suddenly had a brain flash and I think I understand why.

Ib:  Oh thank heavens 😀

Ib reminded me that the scaling system is ineffective as a descriptive device as children grow, progress and become adults where they continue to grow, evolve and progress.  I thought of Peyton finally finding a way to communicate in her early twenties.

Ib said, “You wouldn’t grade me now as you would grade teenager me the level doesn’t stay we grow, like anyone else.  I remember things that is why I can suggest to you what Emma may mean with levels-thinking, you may never have seen me as a resource because “Ib is not like my Em” but you see that I am.”

Ib is right.  She is my friend, first and foremost, but she is also someone I rely on to help me understand.  Because there is so much that I don’t.  But with help I can.

I would love to hear from anyone who cares to chime in here.   If I’ve been disrespectful, please let me know.  I think I’m getting it, finally, but I want to hear from all of you.  I need to understand this.  For my daughter’s sake, I have to understand and she can’t explain it to me…  yet.

How We Communicate

Recently someone commented on the “I Believe” post.  She wrote:  “She is communicationg to you, she communicates to you ever day. With her body language, with her expression, with her unusual use of language.”

I loved receiving this comment (I love receiving all the comments people have sent over the past year, they are always informative, interesting and often provocative), which adds to the earlier discussion in the post “Embrace-ness-ness” regarding how we view intelligence in non-verbal people and what that means.

As I have mentioned before, my father spent the last 15 years of his life in a wheelchair and though he was cognitively unimpaired, he was treated differently, almost as though people thought his brain had somehow been damaged too.  His accident and disability profoundly altered my view of the world.  I came to see first hand the pain and suffering caused by people’s responses and misunderstandings of his disability.

When we are out in public with Emma, she is a free spirit.  I have never seen her look in judgement at another human being, no matter how deranged they may appear.  Emma will sit next to a homeless person on the subway without a second thought.  If someone smiles at her, she will smile back.  Emma is without malice.  She is utterly void of judgement.  And yet, I see the looks of fear and confusion on the faces of those who see her and do not understand what they are seeing.  I see how their eyes watch her and then move to us, trying to find a clue as to why this child is behaving so oddly.  Many times people assume she is behaving as she is because of our parenting or lack of parenting.  We have been given well meaning advice from countless strangers over the years, people who feel they are, no doubt, helping us.  Yet, if we tell them she is autistic, this explanation is rarely met with understanding.

Autism is an almost meaningless word, at this point.  It covers such a vast array of behaviors and issues, it is no wonder people feel confused.  Many people know someone who is autistic and assume all autistic people must share the characteristics of that person.  This could not be farther from the truth however.  There are people who are verbal, non-verbal, semi verbal, highly verbal, but echolaic, verbal with perseverative tendencies, etc.  Some people who have received the autism diagnosis are highly functional, go on to have successful careers, excel in their chosen fields, others maintain jobs, never missing a day of work, while others cannot hold a job and will need assistance for the rest of their lives.  Meeting one person with autism is like meeting one person anywhere.  If that person is not able to communicate in a language we know, it doesn’t mean they can’t communicate or do not want to.

We all want to communicate.  Perhaps the single most destructive belief about autism is that those who are diagnosed with it have little desire for human interaction.  Just because they may not be able to communicate their desires in ways we are used to, does not mean the desire doesn’t exist.  If I want to communicate with Emma I just have to spend time with her.  She communicates with me in a wide variety of ways constantly.

Emma with her beloved balloon string – recovered from the laundry hamper.

For more on Emma’s balloon string and her journey through a childhood of autism go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com