Emma gave me permission to blog about some of our day yesterday. I asked her, “Is there anything you typed that you do not want me to write about?” She typed, “No.” So… here goes…
We are in Texas to work with Soma Mukhopadhyay. I’ve written about Soma many times before, ‘here‘, ‘here‘, ‘here‘ and ‘here‘. By the way, Tito, Soma’s son (who is non-speaking and autistic) is the author of several books. I highly recommend all of them.
Soma began the session using a stencil board and having Em point to the letter she wanted with a pencil, then took the pencil, wrote the letter down, handed the pencil back, and on they went. By the afternoon session Em was pointing to the first letter and then the next and the next, spelling out whole words and even several words before Soma wrote all the letters down. As the sessions are all being videotaped, the stencil board is by far the best thing to use, as it is clear when you are watching the tape, which letters Em is pointing to, where as a laminated letter board, or a keyboard would be more difficult to see as clearly. Soma does not touch the person she is working with. There is no physical contact of any kind, unless initiated by the other person.
Some people have accused Soma of manipulating the stencil board. I have watched Soma work with my daughter many times, as well as with other students and beyond the natural slight movement that occurs when holding an object with one hand, I have witnessed no manipulation of any kind. With Emma she used a full alphabet stencil board, so even if one wanted to somehow make her point to a particular letter this would be impossible without physically touching her.
They began discussing the weather and Em wrote that she likes it when it is windy. Soma asked her to tell her anything at all about windy weather and Em wrote, “flying leaves”. They then discussed temperature, how heat rises, the sun, and finally Soma asked her for the name of any state. Emma wrote, “Colorado”. Soma asked her why she chose Colorado and I smiled knowingly, believing that I knew the answer and expecting her to write something about how this is where her Granma lives and where we go to visit several times a year. But Emma had something else in mind. She went for the letter “b” and then wrote “Boulder”.
Okay, I thought. Boulder, that’s kind of weird. Richard’s best friend lives in Boulder, maybe she’s thinking about Steve. Meanwhile Soma asked, “What happened there?” And Emma wrote, “flood”. And I sat there stunned. You see, we are not a family that ever turns on the television unless it’s for a pre-recorded show or to watch a dvd. We do not listen to the radio. We no longer have the NYTimes delivered to our house as both Richard and I receive it online and read the news from our iPads. Neither Richard nor I spoke (that we can remember) about the devastation that occurred because of the flooding in Boulder recently. And yet, there is absolutely no doubt that others have and did discuss the floods in Emma’s presence, though it’s doubtful anyone spoke to her about them and yet here she was, writing about the floods.
The afternoon session began with Emma choosing “story” from a choice between “story” and “number”. Soma proceeded to tell a fable about a crane and a fox who were friends. The fox invited the crane over for dinner and prepared meat for the crane which was almost impossible for the crane to pick up with his beak and the fox watched with great delight as the meat fell from his beak over and over. Soma talked about how the fox was having fun, but mean fun and throughout all of this asked Emma clarifying questions about various words, all of which Emma knew without hesitation. But the fox underestimated his friend the crane, Soma continued. She then asked Emma what she thought about the word underestimated and Emma wrote, “less expectation”. The story continued with the crane being polite and asking the fox to come over the next day for dinner at the crane’s house where upon the crane served the fox soup in a jar that the fox could not drink, except to lick the sides. Soma then asked Emma for the moral of the story and Emma wrote, “do unto others”.
Soma used Emma’s interest (anxiety?) about the time and how long the session was going to last, to discuss time and the calendar year and then asked Em “how would you like to be treated by others?” Emma wrote, “I want to disappear when people talk about me.” Soma asked a clarifying question about situations that she was specifically referring to and asked if Emma felt that way when people said nice things. Emma said, “no”.
Later, using a laminated “yes” or “no” card that Rosemary Crossley uses and gave us, I asked Em more about this. It came out that people are “mean” to her on the school bus. I asked her if people were mean to her at school and she wrote, “No.”
Today we go back for Emma’s next two sessions with Soma. As they say in the 12-step rooms – more will be revealed. I cannot write about how I feel, other than to say, Soma is doing amazing work. She has been doing this work for close to two decades, everyday for hours at a time. I am learning a great deal, but will I be able to replicate what she is doing? No. I won’t. Not yet, anyway and I don’t expect to, but I can get better with practice and I can apply what I see Soma doing with other things I’ve learned that Emma has responded to. But more than anything else, I can continue to stretch my limited mind and limited thinking, (my neurological deficits) and practice, continue to practice expanding my knee jerk “truths” until one day perhaps I will no longer feel incredulous at what I continue to witness, not only with Soma, but with a great many people, all of whom have devoted their lives to finding ways for people like my daughter to communicate.
“I want to disappear when people talk about me.”
*I have read this to Emma to make sure what I’ve written is okay to publish. She has given me her permission.
Soma and Emma