Tag Archives: Soma

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

“Music is Stars for your Ears”

Profound. Poetic. Always unexpected. When Emma writes (in this case she was typing), she is able to express herself in a way that she isn’t able to with speech yet. But what she has to say is always (to me at least) profound, poetic and unexpected.

Take that above line for example. As she slowly typed, letter by letter and got to this point: “Music is star…” I wondered, where is she going with this? And no matter how many times I witness her write, I never cease to marvel at what she ends up saying.

It’s Richard here. Ariane has been traveling for the last two weeks doing her Holiday Trunk Show in Chicago and for the last day today in Aspen. She hates it. She is an incredibly talented, award-winning jewelry designer. Just take a look here and see for yourself. She began designing jewelry after some prodding from me because she had become so obsessed with autism and (many years ago) with finding a cure, that she was stressed out to the snapping point.

Ariane went to school for fashion design with a bunch of today’s top name luxury designers–an exclusive class at an exclusive school. But she hated the fashion world. I suggested that she channel all that talent and creativity in a different direction, so she wasn’t spending every waking moment of her life reading books about autism and searching the Internet for the latest studies and therapies and anything else under the sun she could discover about autism. That inexhaustible search led her to discover the blogs of autistic adults, films like Wretches and Jabberers, Supported Typing, Soma’s RPM, the Intense World Theory, and a hundred other things that have completely transformed our family in the most wonderful way possible. And by sharing her/our journey on this blog, I believe she is making the world a better place, day by day.

Ariane would never make such claims about herself. I’m happy to. She invited me to write a guest blog today while she is doing her trunk show. I’m certain she thought it would be all about Emma, but “heh heh” as Ibby would say.

If Ariane had a partner that handled the business side and left her free to simply design jewelry, she’d probably still be having fun with it. But these trunk shows are definitely a drag. I know for certain that she would much rather spend the day writing a blog post, replying to comments, working on one of the books she’s writing about her/our journey, reading more books and articles, chatting with her friends, getting a manicure–basically anything other than sitting around in a hotel room, waiting/hoping for people to stop in and buy some of her amazing designs so she doesn’t hate being there even more. So if you’re in Aspen, stop in and say “hi!” Oh, and bring your wallet. If you’re not in Aspen and love jewelry, or just love Ariane, send her a note, or a message or call, or Skype–or buy some jewelry after browsing on her website. She would never say such things here, or anywhere but once again “heh heh.”  I, for better or worse, am and shall always be: The King of Bluntness.

Now, after that shameless plug, let me talk about the session I had with Emma and “B”, who helps with Emma’s written communication, using Soma’s RPM method. Yesterday was a milestone because Emma used a keyboard throughout the entire 45 minute session, instead of the stencil board or letter board she usually uses. This was clearly a stressful adjustment for Emma, but she soldiered on bravely, and as usual, wrote some amazing things. Profound. Poetic. Always unexpected.

Rather than editorialize, I’m going to relate the entire session, using B: and E: for Emma. Some of B’s statements are paraphrased. All of Emma’s responses are exactly what she wrote, because the keyboard was connected to an iPad and it was all recorded.

B: What history topics are you interested in?

E: music, history, country, the world, the playground

B: Tell me something about music.

E: Music is stars for your ears.

B: (B gives a lesson about the origin of blues music with slavery) What kind of music are we talking about?

E: blues

B: Tell me something about our country in the 19th century as opposed to the 20th century.

E: there were slaves

B: What can you say about freedom?

E: less freedom when you are someones slave.

B: What do you think singing (the blues) did for them (slaves)?

E: how about it helped the crops grow.

(There was an interesting blurt Emma did here: “You left him there to die!” from her favorite movie Two-Headed Shark Attack. It speaks to me of injustice, self-interest and the horrifying results)

B and Emma then did some “Call and Response” blues-style singing together.

B:  What would you say about that?

E: when you call your friend they should not ignore you.

B: Can you come up with a call and response song?

E: I like to eat cake

the sweet is so nice

They sang these verses together a few times (ultra-sweet!).

B: Where in the country does the blues come from?

E: south

B: Do you have something to say about this?

E: there is fun music in the north also.

B: (B plays a video of BB King singing “Stormy Monday”) What do you think about that?

E: stormy tuesday it was. (the previous day was Tuesday and it was stormy).

B: (B tells a story about a teenage boy who was lost and later found by a homeless man who called the police and contacted his mother. The mom was very grateful and rewarded him.)

B: What did I say about the man?

E: homeless.

B: The mom was grateful. Why?

E: he found the son.

B: Years later there was a news article about the man whose name was Leo. Another man named Patrick used to pass Leo every day on the way to work. They began chatting. One day Patrick gave Leo an offer and he had two choices:

1. $100

2. A laptop, lessons everyday for an hour in computer coding.

(Leo took door #2, and in the article Leo coded an app later.)

B: What was one of the options?

E:  money

B: What do you think about the story of Leo getting lessons and coding the app?

E: he needed to get rewarded.

B: Any message for the world about anything?

E: hearing my response to your call is like being at a fun amusement park.

Image

And being present for all of this was like being in a fun amusement park too.

“Music is Stars for the Ears.”

Yes, it certainly is Emma. It certainly is.

Happy holidays to all! See you Saturday Ariane. Emma and Nic are counting the days and so am I!

Our Amazing Adventure

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

Soma & Em