Tag Archives: Rapid Prompting Method

Saying One Thing, Meaning Another

First – here is the video of Emma’s and my presentation at the ICare4Autism Conference on July 2nd in New York City – “My Body Does Not Obey My Mind”.

Emma ended our presentation by singing one of her favorite songs, You’ll never see me again.  We uploaded this separately and changed it from “public” to  “unlisted” as someone has already given her singing performance a “thumbs down”.  As with anything that is “public” on the internet, one can expect to get those who are so troubled and filled with self-loathing they cannot control their wish to hurt others.

We may make a new video that includes both the presentation and her singing. At which point we will remove this video of just her singing performance so that only those who watch the full presentation will be able to watch her singing at the end, but have not done so yet.  In the meantime here it is, though this link may only work until we’ve made the new video.

As Richard edited the video of our presentation I became uncomfortably aware of how, in my desire to amplify Emma’s voice, I tried to keep her from applauding and kept trying to read her words over the applause.  This presentation was the first full length presentation we’ve done together, so there were a couple of things I will be sure not to repeat next time.  In addition to my issues, the font size needed to be about 30 times larger for such a big room and the activated voice needed to be miked and next time you can be sure I will be applauding Emma right along with the audience, waiting until the applause died down before attempting to read her words.

This morning I was reminded of how Emma, when asked, “How old are you?”  will, without hesitation and in a matter-of-fact voice, say, “Nine.”  If I give her the keyboard she will then type, “I am 12.”  When I asked her to talk about what it was like to say something, knowing it wasn’t “correct.”  She wrote, “Hearing myself say words that cause confused reactions, solidifying doubt, makes people befuddled and causes me anxiety.”

I asked Emma if she was willing to say more.  She wrote, “The words are not friendly when they march purposefully from my mouth, ignoring my brain’s direct orders, like obstinate and unruly toddlers defying all.  Words pouring forth like water after a dam break, do not pay attention to me.  I am so used to it I no longer fight.  I dread the smiling talkers who insist on spoken language as proof of being and serious thought.  Humor and a reminder to not take themselves so seriously is my loving suggestion for all.”

I asked Emma why she chose this image for today's blog post.  She wrote, "I was so happy riding the horse and this post makes me happy too!"

I asked Emma why she chose this image for today’s blog post. She wrote, “I was so happy riding the horse and this post makes me happy too!”


Emma’s Presentation at The ICare4Autism Conference

Emma came up with the title of yesterday’s presentation – My Body Does Not Obey My Mind.  In preparation for our talk, Emma wrote, “how about discussing gleeful shouts and irreverent clapping as expressions of joy, but that many will see as indications of simple mindedness?”  I told her I thought this was a great idea.

During our presentation Emma found a number of people in the audience who happily engaged in making faces with her. One of her favorite faces is one she refers to as “fish lips”.   She proceeded to demonstrate “fish lips” and then, after successfully encouraging others to participate, she typed, “Doing fish lips to the audience is an expression of funny playfulness, but can be misinterpreted as simple mindedness.  Silliness is acceptable in those who are believed smart, but for those like me, it indicates stupidity.”  It was a powerful demonstration of yet another way in which someone like Emma is often misunderstood.

Before leaving to give our presentation yesterday,  Emma and I had the following conversation:

Ariane:  What other examples can you give that would demonstrate the body/mind disconnect, besides what you think and then what you might say out loud in contrast?
Emma:  Things like not being able to sit still and needing to jump up.   There are many examples like that.   In my mind I am graceful and move like a dancer and speak with passion and the articulation of an acting coach.
Ariane:  Aw… that’s really beautifully expressed, Emma.  Really, really powerful.
I need to be careful not to take control of our presentation, because you must take the lead.
Emma:  You will be very good.  Don’t worry, I will be charming and will have your back.
Ariane:  Oh, Emma, thank you for the encouragement, that means a lot to me.
Are you going to ask me questions if you think there’s something I’m missing or not talking about?
Emma:  Yes, thoughts of fear worry you, but I know what I want to say.

This morning, we again discussed our presentation, which began with me asking Emma how she thought it went:

Emma:  Spoken words cannot compete with typed power house wording of dramatic charm.
Ariane:  You were charming!  And, as always, so insightful!  I’m so proud of you.
Emma:  Teaching by real life demonstration, pleases all.
Ariane:  I agree!  What was the experience like for you, sitting in front of such a large audience?
Emma:  Happiness, overwhelming joy to be able to show off my inner eloquent and funny self.
Ariane:  You were eloquent and very funny!  I think you touched a great many people yesterday.  I think many will rethink what they have believed about autism and those they care for, who are autistic, because of you.
Emma:  Brave honesty opens minds and hearts.  I hope people will question what they have been told.
Ariane:  I do too.
Emma:  Horrible ideas about people cause many to do terrible things, and treat someone like me with repetitive demands for compliance.
Ariane:  Perhaps meeting you, will make them pause and reconsider their approach.
Emma:  Showing humor and compassion for them is my belief and way of prodding them to venture down different roads.
Ariane:  You are such a wonderful example of loving kindness put into action!
Emma:  Worry and fear are fueled by furious words spoken harshly, humor soothes, shining sunny rays spreading hope.
Ariane:  It’s a much needed hope.  I’m so proud of you.
Emma:  Knowing pride brightens, giving gifts of hope dulls years of lingering sadness for schooling gone awry.
Richard videotaped our presentation and we are hoping to have at least a few clips of it available on our YouTube channel this afternoon.  Emma ended our presentation by getting up on the stage with the microphone and belting out a rousing rendition of September’s You’ll Never See Me Again.  We have that on tape as well!  Stay tuned…
Emma chose this photograph, taken last week while in Cape Cod, until we can pull some photos from the videotape of the conference.

Emma chose this photograph, taken last week while in Cape Cod, until we can pull some photos from the videotape of the conference.

Today’s Post Brought to You By Emma

Written by Emma Zurcher-Long

“Today I will tell a short story about a girl who wanted to speak to the wind.  She listened with ears attuned to wind’s song, and desired to speak with its power and beauty.  But the wind was not used to listening, and the sounds she made were ignored.  People heard her and told her to be less noisy.  The wind was loud, yet no one attempted to quiet it.  The girl understood the wind’s voice and eventually it heard her.  Neither one spoke with words.

“The End”

Emma Chose this image from a google search "Girl in the wind"

Emma chose this image from a google search “Girl in the wind”

“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.

A Traffic Jam and an Analogy

Yesterday we had to rent a car (we New Yorkers often do not own cars, one of the many wonderful benefits of living in such a vibrant city!) to go see Soma, who was about an hour outside of the city.  (For more about Soma, you can click on her name above, which will take you to her website for the Halo Center.  You can also read more that I’ve written by typing either Soma and/or RPM into the search box on this blog.)  We thought we’d given ourselves plenty of time by renting the car almost two hours prior to our appointment, but as luck would have it a lane was closed due to an earlier collision and coupled with the ongoing and seemingly never ending road work on all and any highways in and out of Manhattan, we realized we would be lucky if we made our appointment at all.

When we pulled up, Soma was waiting, we were exactly two minutes late(!) so we jumped out of the car and raced in to begin Emma’s session.  Emma wrote, “What happens if traffic never gets moving?”


“You are stuck in a rut.  It’s like autism.  When you have the diagnosis you are stuck in stims and cannot proceed where your actions want to be.  It is always clogged like a caged mind driving through traffic.”

This morning I asked Emma if we could talk more about this as I’ve not heard her talk about autism and stims in this way before.  In fact, Emma has referred to stimming as self-care ‘here‘ and ‘here‘ and I wondered if she’d be willing to talk a bit more about this with me.  She wrote that she would.  She wrote, “Circular stimming begins in self-care and can aid focussed mind, but samples hasty stress when consumed by the stim.”

“So what I hear you saying is that the stim begins as a way to self-care, but can also become the cause of stress.  Is that accurate?”  I asked.

“Understand that I cannot always filter all that is going on easily.  My string grounds me.  Not having it can cause horrible stress, but it can also distract me.”

I asked Emma if there was anything that another person can do that would feel supportive and encouraging, but that might also make that struggle easier.

Emma wrote, “Don’t force me to put it away, but instead gently remind me to stay in the task asked.”

“Is it okay to suggest you hold the string in your left hand or wrap it around one hand so that you’re still free to type?”  I asked.

“It is nice to be helped with kind suggestions, not nice to be stripped of any say in what is being done.”

“Okay, I totally get that,” I said.  “With Soma you wrote, “What is wrong with the world?”  Then you answered your own question by writing, “In fact nothing is wrong with the world.  We are the problems.  We are not right.  We see things and create a problem.  I don’t have autism label on my forehead like Soma’s dot.”

(Emma was referring to Soma’s “bindi” the red dot Hindi Indian women often wear.  Soma, being Soma, made a joke and did not take offense.)  Emma then wrote, “But I have to walk around all my life with this label.”

I asked Emma if she’d talk a bit more about this and asked, “Do you feel if you didn’t have a diagnosis, people would treat you differently?”

“People see me, think she is different, forgetting that I have feelings like they do. If people understood what autism really is, it would not matter, but people don’t, and so it makes life much harder.”

“So it isn’t the label or the word “autism” that bothers you as much as what that seems to mean to so many people?”

Emma wrote, “This is the biggest problem and causes mistreatment and misunderstandings.”

“Thank you so much for clarifying all of this Emma.  Do you have anything to say to parents and educators who are trying to understand?”

“Keep your open mind and listen to the people who are Autistic for information about autism,” Emma wrote.

Soma and Emma ~ June 12, 2014

Soma and Emma ~ June 12, 2014


“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


Emma’s Ten Research Questions

* A note from Ariane:  What follows was the result of a discussion about people who say one thing, but actually do something else.  Emma then wrote a list of questions she would like to ask such people to make sure they were genuine.

Emma wrote that she’d like to do some research on “who is faking their love of autistic people.”  She proposed that there be a list of questions.  This is the list she wrote.

1.  Where did you get information about autism?

2. What was your initial reaction after reading (the information)?

3.  How many people did you see?
a) Less than ten
b) Less than fifteen
c) Fifteen to thirty
d) More than thirty

4. What will you do if you see a five-year old Autistic person?
a) ask curious questions
b) Advise parents
c) Ignore them as if they are invisible
d) Talk to the child by saying, “Hello”

5. If an Autistic teenager holds (touches) your clothes, what will you do? (No choices)

6. What do you expect to see in an autism classroom?

7. Will you let an Autistic teenager spend the weekend with your family?

8. What present will you buy for an Autistic person?

9. Will you accept if autism is not cured?

10. Did you enjoy the questions?

From Ariane:  What struck me as Emma created this list was how so many organizations, therapy centers, schools, treatment facilities and people who have chosen the field of autism as a career and yet do not treat Autistic people with the respect and care one would show others one supposedly “loves.”  Any who suggest the conversation that continues to take place regarding autism and our autistic kids is not affecting them, is sadly mistaken.

Emma writes her list of questions

Emma writes her list of questions

A Stim or “Self-Care”

I asked Emma if I could write a post about her string and she has agreed.  Yesterday she told Soma about her string.  Emma wrote by pointing to letters on a letter board.

“It is sometimes like a pet, but I don’t have to walk it every day. It does not bother me with noise. It helps me think and I can have secret names for it…”

When Emma was around two she had a mermaid finger puppet that she would hold in one hand and run up and down the hallway leading to our front door.  The mermaid had long black hair and she’d watch its hair sway as she ran.  Later, Emma began twirling a strand of her own hair.  She would twirl it around, but then began putting it in her mouth.  The strand would get tangled and knotted and no matter what we did, that strand of hair would escape our attempts to keep it contained.  We were advised to always put her hair in a pony tail, or braid it, which we diligently did, but despite our best efforts, the strand would come loose, wrapped around a sticky finger, wound and unwound; no brush or comb could tame it.

Then, one day at a birthday party Emma caught hold of a balloon string, the kind that one uses for wrapping presents with.  It was yellow and the balloon had long since popped and been cut away.  I kept thinking she wanted the balloon and asked the parent hosting the party if I could take another balloon as Emma’s had popped.  But Emma wasn’t interested in the balloon.  It was the string she wanted.  I was so fixated on the balloon it took several balloons before it dawned on me that the balloon was merely an annoyance and removing it from the beloved string was necessary.

That yellow balloon string was joined by another balloon string, this time blue.  Emma would intertwine the two, twist them together and twirl them.  This then evolved to packing tape, which Emma would strip down to narrower pieces and then gather a dozen or so up and twirl them about.  A few years ago, she began adding brightly colored duct tape to a few of the pieces, thereby binding them together and it became a kind of work of art, constantly changing, growing, evolving.

Now, the packing strips count to over a dozen, some are several feet long, others are shorter, some even less than six inches, but each string is part of a larger whole and when one goes missing, the upset it causes can be terrible.  Still, we have come to understand how important the string is.  When Emma is writing she wraps it around the other hand, or will place it in her lap, or sometimes will even set it down on the table next to her left hand.  But it is always close by.  We have come to see that this is Emma’s version of a stim, or as Emma has described it, “self-care”.

Yesterday Emma wrote about her string with Soma and I once again marveled at her creative and inventive mind.  I have come to see it as a thing of beauty, ever-changing, a metamorphic reminder of life, attachment, movement, and the never-ending dance we are engaged in with ourselves and each other.

A collection of balloon strings

A collection of balloon strings

The string with masking tape.  A precursor to the colorful duck tape that would follow.

The string with masking tape. A precursor to the colorful duct tape that would follow.

The "string" with duck tape

The “string” with duct tape

Soma and Emma

Soma and Emma

“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

Emma’s Take on “The Tyger”

The other day Emma chose to read and discuss William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” for one of our two sessions.  A brief aside:  When I was in graduate school, one of my favorite classes  was on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.  As I remember it, we spent a week discussing a single paragraph.  To me, this was bliss.  Are you familiar with Virginia Woolf?  A goddess of women writers.  A writer of imperfect perfection, truth, honesty, despair, joy and suffering, that tumultuous roiling, spilling of words on the page evoking sadness, confusion and ecstasy all at the same time, this was what I felt as I read Virginia Woolf for the first time.

But the other day, instead of pulling out my old copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I thought of poetry and grappled with which poet and which poem?  Should we read Yeats, Wordsworth, Baudelaire or Keats?  But then, for some reason I decided on William Blake’s The Tyger:

“Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forest of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

After we’d read the entire poem to its end I asked Emma what she thought.  Emma wrote, “Beautiful illustration of torn ideas.  Rabid wondering regarding innocence and the result of omnipotence.”




This was her response after reading it through one time.  No discussion.  Nothing from me about meaning or interpretation.  Nothing.  This was Emma’s take away, having been given nothing else.

I then asked her what role if any evil played in the poem.  Emma wrote, “I am thinking evil is understood as being the tiger.”

“I agree,” I said, “What do you think about using the tiger to describe evil?”

Emma wrote, “The worst evil is the kind that is camouflaged as something else…  like an innocent lamb.”

The second to last stanza is:

“When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

Emma then wrote, “… maybe god understands what it’s like to be misunderstood.”

Emma ~ May 2014

Emma ~ May 2014

And Then Suddenly Life Changes

Life has, quite suddenly, taken a dramatic turn.  Over the weekend I finally came to the decision that I cannot keep my business AND finish this book I’m writing AND work with Emma AND have the time to study this method of helping her, so that I can help others help her.  This feels like a good decision, the right decision, one I’ve been struggling with since last fall, but finally feel ready to take the actions to make this happen. So this morning as I looked around my studio, wondering how I was going to sort through everything and begin the process of dismantling a business and a working studio, I received a call from Emma’s school.  They are putting on a show next week and there have been some issues that required my presence.  As I’ve been going to her school every Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to teach some of the staff how to support her so she can write with them too, I left a little earlier than usual.

After school we met with the principal who asked Emma what she did for mother’s day, Emma wrote, “Mom helped me talk to my brother.”

“Oh!  What did you talk about,” the principal asked.

“We talked about whether Truman should have dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Emma wrote.  Then she stood up and ran across the room, whipping her arms around like windmills before settling back in her chair.

It was decided that Emma needs to be in a classroom where she is being taught the same curriculum as her same age non autistic peers.  Except that she is not yet able to write with anyone at her school the way she can with me, so I volunteered to come in until someone can be trained.  It makes perfect sense.  But as Emma and I left her school yesterday, I thought to myself – what did I just agree to? It was one of those moments when the full weight of what you’ve committed to hits you and you think – am I going to be able to do this?  Really?  Can I do this?

Well, I guess we’ll see.  And for the next ten days I will get an interesting view into how her school does things.  And here’s the other thing…   There is nothing I could do that comes even close to being as important as finding a way for my daughter to communicate in a way that gives her greater access to this “awkward world” as she wrote the other day.  No book I might write, no piece of jewelry I might design, nothing comes close.

My life is suddenly no longer what it was.  I am nervous about going to her school with her and essentially being her one on one aide, but I am also really curious to see how it goes and I’m excited to see her in a class where, I’m hoping, she will be challenged.

Before we left school yesterday, the principal asked Emma whether she preferred being referred to as a young lady with autism or an Autistic young lady, Emma wrote, “I am an Autistic girl and proud of it.”

The principal smiled and asked, “Why do you prefer being called Autistic?”

“Because autism is part of me and can’t be removed,” Emma wrote.

“That makes sense,” her principal said.

I told the principal and assistant principal how fortunate we are that I have a number of friends who are Autistic, one of whom is like a sister to me.  And then Emma wrote, “They are my Autistic family.”

How lucky are we?

The journey continues…

Emma and Me

Emma and Me

“Barb Doesn’t Talk” ~ Emma

I have a friend who, when they met over a year ago, Emma observed, “Barb doesn’t talk“.  “Doesn’t talk” means she doesn’t talk with her mouth to communicate the way she can and does when writing.  Her name is Barb Rentenbach and she and her therapist, Lois Prislovsky wrote a book, I Might Be You.  I’ve written about Barb and Lois before, ‘here‘, ‘here‘, ‘here‘ and ‘here‘.  If you haven’t read their book, you must.  (Continue reading for a surprise later in this post about that book.)

I met Barb at the Autcom Conference in 2012 and though I didn’t know it at the time, Barb and Lois  would have an enormous impact on me that was far-reaching.  You see, it was because of Larry Bissonnette, Tracy Thresher, a boy I saw writing to communicate, and finally Barb, all of whom I met at the Autcom Conference, that I began looking into other ways for my daughter to communicate.  (You can read more about the process by clicking “How We Got Here“.)  Even though Emma can and does use her voice to speak, she has described her attempts to communicate with spoken language as, “I can’t talk the way I think.”  Later Emma wrote, “Please remember that my mind tells my body and my mouth to do all sorts of wonderful things constantly, but they don’t obey.”

In Barb’s most recent blog post (I urge everyone to read it) – Open Hearted Letter Quilt to Andrew Solomon –  she writes about autism, empathy, and how autistic people are often misunderstood:

“It’s like Saxe’s (1873) poem, “The Blindmen and the Elephant” where each blind man is partly in the right as he describes an elephant piece he studies, but all are in the wrong in knowing an elephant.

This autistic pachyderm will expand perceptions by presenting more pieces.”

Barb goes on to describe herself, “I don’t look normal.  I appear quite messed up and a prime candidate for nothing but pity and patronization, with a sprinkling of repulsion and fear.  I am disguised as a poor thinker.”

Still further along she quotes Emma:

“To quote my mentor Emma who is 12 (This old dog is all about learning new tricks) who wrote this by saying each letter aloud she pointed to it on a stencil board, “Autism is not what parents want to hear, but I hope that will change as more people get to know someone like me.”

This short video shows Barb typing just a few days ago.

Now there are some people who have suggested Barb is not typing on her own.  They believe that the person whose two fingers are tentatively touching her back are actually guiding her and that it is their voice and not hers that we are reading. This is a video of Barb writing four months ago…

And here is a video of Barb typing in 2011…

I am showing you these clips so you can see Barb’s obvious progress and please note, Barb is not a child.  I know that’s obvious, but it seems many people forget this or have trouble believing that people of all ages can and do progress.  Just as Barb works hard to become more independent while typing, so does my daughter.  Emma’s way of writing is slightly different in that no one is physically touching her and she points to letters on a letter board,  but she is working hard to move from pointing to the stencil letter board to the laminated letter board to a qwerty keyboard, with the eventual goal – being able to type on a computer regardless of who might be seated nearby.

As all these videos show, none of this is easy.  Barb is working hard and so is Emma.  Some days go more smoothly than others.  As Barb writes –

“I often politely ask my brain to please move my hand to do this or that only to be told, “We’re sorry due to high autism volume we are not able to answer your call at this time.  Please try harder later.”

For any of you who would like to have a hard cover copy of Barb and Lois’ terrific book, I Might Be You, I am giving away five hard cover copies.  Please comment below, saying something about yourself and why this book is of interest.  I will place all comments into a hat and will choose five at random.  If your comment is chosen I will contact you, via the email you use to comment, for your street address, where I will send you your copy of Barb and Lois’ MUST READ book at no cost to you and in appreciation to Barb, Lois and Emma for their hard work in bringing much-needed awareness to all who are like Barb and my daughter!

Emma, Barb Rentenbach and Lois Prislovsky

Emma, Barb Rentenbach and Lois Prislovsky




How Do We Put A Price on Communication?

As I was downloading a couple of photographs just now, I found the video we took of Ari and Emma’s presentation Wednesday evening.  Intact.  We’ve got it all!!  Woot!  Woot!  But before I put the video on here, I have to get permission from Ari and Emma.  So let me do that and then, if both agree, you should be able to view it next week.  I’m hoping by Monday.

In the meantime, there’s something else I want to talk about.  And that is the experience of hearing your child’s thoughts and opinions, interests, questions, and desires, when you weren’t sure you would ever be able to do so.  Now this is a little loaded because there are some who believe it’s wrong to suggest all Autistic people will be able to express themselves.  Those people believe there are some who cannot and it is creating false hope to suggest otherwise.  There are still others who feel that communication comes in myriad forms and we must stop insisting one way (speech) is the only way. They believe we should honor all methods of communication, whether that’s through words, sounds, body language, or silence and using our other senses.   Those people believe, and I am one of them, that we all have the wish to connect with our fellow humans in some capacity, at least some of the time, and it is incumbent upon all of us to figure out how we can support each other so that all have the opportunity to do so.

When Emma first wrote an unexpected sentence, described in detail ‘here‘ it was the beginning of what would turn out to be nothing short of an odyssey for all of us.  From that moment, on November 25th, 2012, we have experienced what can only be described as a dream-like adventure with Emma leading the way.  The degree to which she was underestimated by almost everyone who met her, including us, is beyond my ability to describe.  I say “almost” because there were a few people who met her who were not fooled.  It is interesting to note that those few were Autistic.  My friend Ibby was the first and we’ve written a little about this in two pieces she and I wrote featured in Parenting Autistic Children With Love and Acceptance’s first addition of their terrific new magazine, which you can read ‘here‘ (It begins with a piece by Ibby on page 17 and then ends with my companion piece beginning on page 21.)  By the way, the entire magazine is filled with wonderful pieces by Beth Ryan, Nick Walker, Cynthia Kim, Amy Sequenzia, Renee Salas, Sharon davenport, Alyssa Hillary, Kimberly F. Steiner, Juniper Russo, Amy Caraballo, Jane Strauss, Kelly Green, Steve Summers, Leslie Rice, Zita Dube-Lockhart, Leah Kelley, Lei Wiley Mydske and others who donated their art work.

When someone sees Emma, who now communicates by pointing to letters on a letter board, (which is different from when she wrote that first sentence a year and a half ago) I sometimes hear the following comments – “I just don’t see how this can translate to a school setting” or “It takes too long” or  “economically it’s not feasible because it requires a one on one ratio that most schools won’t be able to pay for.”  Except here’s the thing…  The way Emma communicates is tailored for an academic setting.  Just as in any classroom, a student is called upon to give an answer or thought, about any given topic, so could Emma be given the opportunity.  All it requires is for the teacher to say, “Emma when you’re ready just signal and you’ll be next.”  The aide can then raise their hand when Emma has finished writing.  This would also deal with the comment that it “takes too long” and I’ll just add that our society’s increasing desire, that everything be reduced to a sound bite, should be tempered, and having someone like Emma in a classroom, would be beneficial to all, by the very fact that we all need to slow the f*ck down.

As far as what this means economically, I argue that there is a great deal of money being spent on a great many things that are NOT working.  Things like trainings for methods that do not produce the type of complex and nuanced language we are seeing.  How do we put a price on communication?  How can anyone suggest that having someone who was thought to be unable, or worse, incapable of expressing their thoughts, not be supported to do so because of the cost associated with it?  How can any of us seriously object?  And yet… people do all the time.  And it catches me by surprise every, single time when they do.

To see your child express their thoughts, as we have had the opportunity to do, is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.  It has changed everything.  Literally everything.  Some people have said to me, “Oh you’re so patient.”  No.  I’m not.  When Emma is writing something, I am filled with eager anticipation for what she’ll say.  Patience?  No.  Ecstatic is a better way to describe my feelings as I witness the outpouring of her words.

How we engage with our daughter, how we speak to her, what we think and now believe, all of it has dramatically changed as a direct result of her communication.  I haven’t even begun to discuss what this has meant to Emma.  And here’s just one more massive difference between then and now.  Instead of me guessing or making assumptions about what this means to Emma, she can now tell us.

“I want to tell you that I am capable.  Daring massively, eager to prove my intelligence, I will work tirelessly so that Autistic children younger than me won’t be doubted the way I am.”                                         By Emma Zurcher-Long

How does anyone put a price tag on this?

Emma Wears A Pretty Dress To School ~ April 4th, 2014

Emma Wears A Pretty Dress To School ~ April 4th, 2014

Emma Discusses – Awareness

“Awareness is deciding something is worth your time and attention.  It is not necessarily good.  Real awareness needs to be balanced.” ~ Emma Zurcher-Long

I asked Emma whether she wanted to write something about autism awareness since April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, designated by the UN in 1989.  Emma wrote,

“Autism awareness really does me very little.  It is not honoring or making my life easier.  So many believe I am unintelligent even though I write well.  Until they see me writing, it is not what they assume.  What good is awareness if it doesn’t tell people the truth?”

Ariane:  “What is the truth?”

“The truth is, so much of what we perceive compared to another, isn’t known.  People see me, but don’t understand what they are seeing.  I want people to know what it is like to have smart thoughts, but not be able to prove it.

“No one wants to be treated with impatience.  I am happy when people are aware of how bright I am.  Maybe they have a special light bulb for that.  Shine some awareness on those of us who can’t talk the way we think.”

Texas ~ September, 2013

Texas ~ September, 2013