Tag Archives: Interview

An Interview With Emma About Stimming

What follows is an interview I conducted this morning with Emma about stimming.  Emma patiently tried to explain to me what stimming is like for her.  

A:  Is it okay to ask you some questions about stimming?  (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, stimming is a repetitive action or verbal output.)

E:  Stimming is fun.  And I am in calming and obedient service to those who are in charge.

A:   Are you being facetious when you write “obedient service to those who are in charge?”

E:  (Smiles)  Yes.  (Laughs)  The stim is a great way to roam around feelings that are too intense.  You treat me like a baby.”

A: Are you speaking specifically to me or are you using a more universal “you”?

E:  All people out there.  Bloated feelings despair and anger me.  Almost all feel too much to manage and I cannot be present all the time.

A:  Can you tell me more about stimming?

E:  I am not able to write about stimming because words cannot describe it.

A:  Can I ask some specific questions about it though?

E: Yes.  (Leans over and gives me kisses on my cheek.)

A: Is stimming ever not fun?

E:  Yes.  When feelings are too extreme, even a good stim won’t help.

A:  Is there anything that will help?

E:  A lot of patience and love.  Acknowledge my attempts to self-care and do not cause me more pain by trying to change or control me.

A:  What happens if someone stops or tries to stop you from stimming?

E:  It makes thick feelings worse.

A:  Do you ever feel stuck in repetitive loops?

E:  Yes, but so do others who are not autistic, but they are called passionate and are looked up to instead of looked down on.

A:  Yesterday you wrote: “Raging beasts of pain masquerading as stims cause many to misunderstand.”  Can you elaborate on that?

E:  Stims alter the persistent anxiety of life so that I am able to function as well as I am.

A:  So you weren’t saying stims are painful as much as that they help you cope with the pain and anxiety you often feel?

E:  It is impossible to describe to all who have not experienced a lot of distress.  Day after day I am scared of people’s opinions about me because they can harm me with their beliefs about my lack of intelligence.  People treat those they believe stupid, very badly.  I am not stupid.

A:  I know you aren’t!  You are the smartest person I have ever met!!

E:  (Smiles and squeezes my arm.)  I am intelligent and cannot speak with the same brilliant words that are in my mind.

The timer goes off.

E:  Now we are all done!

A: Yes we are!  Thank you Emma for your patience with me and helping me understand.

Addendum:  I asked Emma just now if I could ask her one more question.  She told me that I could.

A:  Do you like the word “stimming” ?

E:  No.

A:  Is there another word you’d prefer?

E:  Yes, but words are not as meaningful to me as they are to those who talk all the time.

A:  If you could choose any word other than stimming, what would it be?

E:  Self-care

Em with her string!

Em with her string!

A Conversation with Tracy Thresher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AZ:  When and how did you begin typing?

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

Early Supports:

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

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

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

AZ:  How hard was it to start typing?

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

AZ:  Was it frustrating?

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

AZ:  Did you immediately feel motivated and liberated?

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

AZ:  Were you resistant to typing at first?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracy – 1991
Early shot Tracy

Tracy at the ICI Conference – July 2013
Tracy @ICIConference

A Revised Interview With Amy Sequenzia!

After posting last week’s interview with Amy I asked her if she was comfortable with me asking some follow-up questions inspired by her answers to my original questions.  She, very generously, agreed.  This is the new extended interview! Amy talks about her poetry, (including a poem about having a seizure) writing, being in an institution and how it feels to be ignored and thought incompetent by so many.  This interview has also just been published on Huffington Post, click ‘here‘ to read it there and do “like” it, share it and tweet it.  We need Amy’s voice to be heard to counter the massive amounts of misinformation out there.  For all of you who wonder what you can do – share Amy’s voice.  Get people to read what she’s saying.  

Amy Sequenzia, a non-speaking autistic self-advocate, poet and writer, agreed to an interview with me. Amy is someone whose work I have been following since I met her this past spring. Her powerful book of poems, My Voice: Autism, Life and Dreams, can be purchased by contacting Amy here. Amy’s writing and poems are regularly featured on Ollibean.

2012-09-10-mail.jpegAZ: Hi Amy. Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. You describe yourself as a self-advocate. Can you tell us how that came to be?

“I think it was in PA, when I had my first real contact with a group of autistics who where typing to communicate (The Lonesome Doves). That was in 2003, and I realized I could be speaking up for my rights to more people. After that I began writing poems that were a little bit about my life. Then I decided to write to, and meet with, legislators, was encouraged to write to newspapers and later for blogs.”

AZ: How old were you when you began writing poems?

“I wrote some things soon after I learned how to type that my family thought were poetic. When I was about 16 I had a good teacher, and I wrote poetry with her. But then she left and for a while I did not have good facilitators.”

AZ: Is poetry your preferred way of expressing yourself?

“Sometimes it is easier to write in verse. That happens when I want to write but the subject is upsetting or if I am hurting. Sometimes I just feel inspired.”

AZ: What were your dreams for the future as a child?

“I had many. I was surrounded by ableism, although I did not realize that back then. I remember two things: I wanted people to know I was smart, and I wanted the other kids to play with me.”

AZ: You’ve described how people have spoken about you when you were present, as though you couldn’t hear them or understand them. Can you talk about what that feels like?

“It feels like you don’t count as a whole person. It is rude and frustrating because I can’t respond or will not walk away. It makes me sad when people who love me do it anyway. Some people even continue to do this after being reminded that I can hear, type and think.”

AZ: Do you have memories of that happening when you were younger, before you could communicate through typing?

“Yes and I would get angry, frustrated, sad. Sometimes I would cry, sometimes I had a meltdown.
Sadly, it still happens.”

AZ: Were there things you did, sounds you made, actions you took when this happened?

“I answered in the question before, but I have to add this: I don’t have meltdowns anymore. But I need to have my support person with me to make sure I can express myself, if I want to. Some people still don’t get it.”

AZ: How did you learn to communicate through typing?

“It was a long and emotionally-draining session with someone from the Institute on Communication and Inclusion (I think it was called FC Institute back then). I was 8.”

AZ: From the day when you were 8, how many months or years did it take before you were able to type your thoughts and feelings, your opinions and able to converse, or was that immediate?

“It was immediate. But soon I began having seizures and for many years I made almost no progress. After that, finding good facilitators became harder. I can type with some people now, still hoping to be able to type with more.”

AZ: There’s been a great deal of negative notions and even so called “studies” done regarding facilitated communication. Can you address this idea that FC is not an accurate or meaningful way of communicating?

“It is how I communicate. It means it is how I can have my voice heard.

FC is a process, with clear steps and a final goal — independence. It is not easy and many factors play a part in the process.

As far as I know, from all the people who say FC is a hoax, none of them has ever interviewed a user who became independent, or has acknowledged the many studies, including double-blind studies done by different facilitators with different users. All this is documented.”

AZ: For those people who have only read the negative views on FC, is there anything that might make them understand what you experience when you try to communicate without FC?

“I am misunderstood. My face does not always show how I feel and I have other disabilities that prevent me from being more pro-active. My body can be stubborn. Without FC I don’t really participate in the world. But it is important to know that sometimes I choose not to type and other times I might be too overwhelmed or tired to type.”

AZ: Have you ever had a bad facilitator? If yes, how so?

“Yes. When I was in school, sometimes people would try to facilitate with me without any information about the method. Some would guide my hand; others would not offer resistance or the right support. I could not type like this.”

AZ: How did you cope with that?

“Sadly, I did not do anything. There was no encouragement from some and with others it was as if I was a piece of entertainment. I felt disrespected. FC is a lot of serious work. I had to wait until I met someone who believed in me and was committed to follow the best practices.”

AZ: How long did it take you to learn to type?

“I took only the first session for me to find out that I could type. Typing is also a matter of practice and trust. Today I am more confident and I can type fairly well with trained facilitators after a few minutes. If I know they will follow the best practices and nothing else interferes (like a seizure or spasms), I type really well, even if I don’t know the facilitator well.”

AZ: You mention that you have other disabilities. What are they and how do they impact your life?

“I have cerebral palsy and epilepsy. I also have dyspraxia. Movement is hard for me. I am unbalanced and I tend to bump on things; I have many bruises. I cannot go down stairs safely by myself. My body takes a long time to respond and I fall easily.

My fine motor skills are basically non-existent and get spastic sometimes. I don’t feel parts of my body as I think other people do.

I can deal with all that. But epilepsy is the worst. I have seizures almost every day, without warning, at any time. It is not nice.”

AZ: Can you talk about what it is like having a seizure? Do you have any warning?

“I wrote a poem…

Seizures

Seizures are like falling into
a sad and dark hole.
Rest is necessary and no sense
is strong enough
Yet the senses are very awake.
Beside me is my soul
so tortured by synapsis
of unconsciousness.
Seizures are hopelessness
going deep into the zone
of nothing.
A giant man coming after me
vital, intense
like an entity of torture.”

Copyright 2005 by Amy Sequenzia

“It is scary, I feel like I am falling in a deep, dark hole. I only realize I had a seizure when I am back, after a while. I also have partial seizures that are like hallucinations. I don’t remember anything about those.”

AZ: Is there anything you’d recommend to parents of nonverbal children who are hoping their child might communicate through typing and/or FC?

“Give your child every possible chance to communicate. Don’t believe in every article or every ‘expert’ who says FC does not work. Go to the Institute on Communication and Inclusion’s website (ICI Website click  here) and question them yourself. Being skeptical is okay. That’s why Dean Biklen and the others at the institute do such a good job documenting everything.”

AZ: My daughter Emma is just learning to read, write, and type. She is extremely resistant, however. I’ve been told this is often the case. Were you resistant to communicating in the beginning?

“No. I wanted to leave the school/institution where I was living, so I had to make it clear. But it can be scary to have all the power to say things that can change everything.

I don’t know Emma. Maybe she just needs some time.”

AZ: When were you in a school/institution and for how long?

“I was 6 and I asked to leave after I learned how to type, when I was 8 years old.”

AZ: Can you describe that experience?

“Painful, isolating, lonely.”

AZ: What are the most common misperceptions people seem to believe when they first meet you?

“That I am ‘not there,’ that I am not smart or that I cannot think by myself, that I am a child and that I deserve pity. None of these are true.”

AZ: If you could write a script for a stranger meeting you for the first time, what do you wish they would say?

“Not what they would say, but how they would approach me. With respect and interest. Not ignoring my disabilities or how I look and act — I am not ashamed of that — but wanting to know what I think, how I feel.”

AZ: What is your living situation like now?

“I live with friends. It is their house, but it is our home. We call it life sharing. I have state funding which is not good, especially in Florida. But because my friends respect me, I can have a life I can be proud of, and happy with.”

AZ: Did/do you have a mentor? If yes, can you talk about that experience and relationship?

“My mentors are people who show me the many possibilities of my life. They don’t always know that.”

AZ: I know several people consider you extremely important in their own process of learning to communicate and in their life. They think of you as a mentor. How has mentoring others changed you/helped you?

“I hope it has helped them. I still need mentoring. It is a good exchange of ideas, experiences, encouragement and support. It feels good to be considered important in someone else’s growth. It is lovely.”

“Thanks Ariane. This was a good interview. And thank you for being supportive of autistic voices.”

Amy’s voice needs to be heard.  Please help me inform the misinformed, educate those who are being given incorrect information by any number of well-meaning people not just in the field of Autism, but all fields of  “Mental Health” as well as Education by sharing Amy’s words.  Email this, share it on Facebook, tweet it.  Amy has given interviews to others as well as written a great many pieces for other blogs.  I am listing but a few of them below.