Tag Archives: talking

Typing to Communicate & Busy Work

Typically in school life there is a certain amount of busy work that one is expected to do, forms that need to be filled out (repeatedly), words that you are expected to say whether you mean them or not, because it is what we as a society do.  “It’s just the way it is,” we are told.

However, let’s say you cannot speak and must type to communicate.  And let’s say you are in school where upon arrival you are expected to sit down, state write your name, what day of the week it is and the date.  You are also expected to say write at least one sentence about the weather and another sentence to describe how you’re feeling.   Now let’s also pretend that typing is really difficult for you and it takes you some time to do so in the best of circumstances.

For example, writing five sentences may take you ten minutes or more.  You are in a classroom with other students, most of whom speak and cheerfully say their name, the day of the week, the date, what is going on weather-wise and how they feel in under 30 seconds.  Go ahead, time yourself and see how long it takes you to give that information.   I just did -sixteen seconds and I didn’t have to think about any of the information I was giving for more than 5 seconds.  I did pause for three seconds to figure out how I would describe my current mood, and probably could have used a more descriptive word than “okay” but for the purpose of this exercise, just went with “okay” and shrugged.  🙂

But what if you can’t do this.  You cannot find the words readily and when you do, you blurt out someone else’s name or maybe you get the day of the week wrong and some of the other kids chuckle under their breath, but your hearing is excellent and so, of course, you hear them.  Maybe you see that the weather is beautiful and so you say cheerfully, “Pool!” and there’s more laughter or worse confusion and silence.  The only way you can prove that you know any of this is by typing, by pointing to one key at a time with the index finger of your dominant hand, and fortunately you’ve been given the help you need to be able to do this, maybe you’re one of those lucky few that even has someone who is with you who holds the keyboard for you and gives you encouragement.

As you look for the key or the first letter you become distracted and by mistake you hit the wrong key.  You meant to press the S for September, but you hit the d, right next to it instead.  Hitting the d completely derails you, but you know there’s a month that starts with the letter d so you spell out December.  Maybe everything breaks down from there, or maybe you’re able to tough it out and with some patience and help you are able to get back on track, you type the date and the day of the week.  You must constantly check in and remind yourself to keep on task.  You must concentrate and not become distracted.  You know you must write about the weather, something you don’t particularly care about as you know you won’t be able to go outside to enjoy it anyway, so why does the weather matter?

Still you persevere.  You say that it’s sunny outside and finally you’re in the home stretch.  You have to write a sentence about how you feel.  That’s easy.  You know you must write that you’re happy because last time when you wrote that you were feeling frustrated there were questions, questions you couldn’t answer and so you write, “I am happy.”  By the time you are ready to hand in your paper you look up and find the classroom is empty.  Everyone has gone to do “movement” or morning yoga or they’ve split into smaller groups and are reading.  Those five sentences that were asked of you, those sentences that you labored over and now have finished, no one seems particularly interested in reading.

The above scenario is imaginary, but I can still remember the busy work we had to do in school that was very similar to what I’ve described.  It was easy for me.  I answered the questions without thinking twice and I answered them in under 20 seconds.  But my daughter cannot.

If you are going to ask someone who cannot use spoken language to communicate easily, or they cannot speak at all, but can type, even though it may take them five or ten minutes to type a sentence, you better be sure what you’re asking them to write is worth their time and energy.

Typing To Communicate

Typing To Communicate

A Few Thoughts From Emma

“Today I will talk about the weather,”  Emma wrote.  Then she smiled and wrote, “That’s a joke.”

*Quick aside from Ariane.  Emma has referred to those who are well versed in cocktail party conversation as “weather talkers”.

“You’re funny,” Ariane said.

“Lean trains of thought provide rich moments of quiet peace.  Purposeful silence holds meaningful interconnection between like-minded souls.  Caring beings care in the silence as much or more as with words.   Now for a moment of silence.”

The view from the deck where we are staying

The view from the deck where we are staying

Talking By Writing

*Emma gave me permission to write about the following…*

Every Tuesday afternoon I go to Emma’s school where Emma and I do a sample lesson, or Emma answers questions from staff or sometimes someone wants to share what they worked on with her and what her answer was.  As Emma “talks” by pointing with a pencil to the letters on a laminated letter board she twirls her string, and often, while she is “talking” by writing, she is also talking, as she describes it, “with my mouth” at the same time.  When I mentioned this to her at our last training session she smiled and wrote, “It is hard for non autistic people to multitask as well as I can.”  Which was one of those frequent – oh-my-gosh-Emma-you-are-so-fabulous – moments, because, really, not only does she have a wickedly wonderful sense of humor, but whoa(!) how right she is!

Later Emma wrote in answer to the question, “Is it problematic for you to switch from the letter board to a qwerty board, she wrote, “No.  It’s not a problem.  Is it hard for you?”  I was so taken aback by her response, because, honestly I had not ever considered that it isn’t a problem for me, so why did I assume it would be for her?  And yet, I have.   This was yet another reminder to me of how I presume competence as best I can with all that I know and yet, am humbled by constant little nudges urging me to go farther.  How beautiful is that?  Seriously?!

When I began witnessing people who use spoken language like my daughter does or who do not speak at all, but write, often poetically, often beautifully, I was astonished.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It’s been close to two years now since that first time I witnessed in real life someone communicating this way.  At first I was so incredulous, all I could do was watch and try to take in what I was witnessing.  After many encounters, repeated by so many people, men, women, teenagers, boys and girls as young as seven or eight I went from shocked amazement to a more calm feeling of  excitement, but even now, having spent nearly every day watching my daughter write this way, I often still feel like I’m in a dream.   It is as though I have been allowed into another dimension, and it is more beautiful than anything I ever believed possible.

"Talking" with the letter board

“Talking” to Soma using the letter board