Tag Archives: Tito Mukhopadhyay

A Documentary, Two Blogs and A YouTube Video

The following is a trailer for Spectrum:  A Documentary about Autism and Sensory Perception.  This is the documentary I cannot wait to see when it’s finished!  It features Nick Walker, Martial Artist, writer of the single best description I’ve ever read answering the question  “What is Autism?” and all around amazing guy and Judy Endow, a terrific writer, speaker, talented painter and sculptor and friend.  The third person featured is Tito Mukhopadhyay, eloquent poet, writer and son to the woman I am filled with gratitude for on a daily basis, Soma Mukhopadhyay, who taught me how to communicate with my daughter.

 

This is the first of two blogs you must know about, if you don’t already.  How to Talk to a Woman Whose Child is Dead the most recent post on Unstrange Mind.  It is so beautifully written by the multi-talented Sparrow Rose Jones, who also sells her fabulous art work in the form of t-shirts, stickers, hoodies.  Click this link Red Bubble to see and purchase Sparrow’s wonderful art work.

The second blog, We Are Like Your Child, is one I’ve been following since it was created.  It’s a group blog with a variety of people, mostly Autistic, who write about a wide range of topics.  A Checklist For Identifying Sources of Aggression is a great bullet point checklist everyone should read and Meltdown, Night Blooming Flowers: Sudden Skill Acquisition and Extreme Context Dependence,  Teaching Us to be Silent, and Please Don’t Rush Me are other examples of the kinds of posts you’ll find.

And finally I’m going to end by sharing again a video of the presentation Emma and I gave at CoNGO affiliated with the UN a month ago on World Autism Awareness Day, now captioned thanks to the beautiful and talented, Savannah Nicole Logsdon-Breakstone.  Thank you again Savannah!

 

Acknowledging Other’s Achievements

When I asked Emma if I could post this video of her doing her latest “catch”, she said, “Yes!  Post on blog!”

I’ve written about Emma perfecting her “catch” ‘here‘ and ‘here‘ and I’ve mentioned too, the hours of practice it took, for her to get to this point.  It’s important you understand how hard she’s worked.   She didn’t suddenly climb up a ladder, grab onto the trapeze, swing a few times and then catch someone else’s arms one day.  She has been practicing this for years.  Just as she didn’t suddenly begin typing sentences or one day open up a book and start reading it, Emma has worked hard, incredibly hard and for anyone to suggest otherwise is doing her and others who are accomplishing wonderful things a tremendous disservice.

Far too often we hear stories of children and people who, seemingly miraculously, began reading grade level material or began typing their thoughts or began playing an instrument and to us, the reader, the person who has just now discovered this story, this video, this whatever it is, it seems it all happened “suddenly”, “miraculously”,  “overnight”, yet this is rarely the case.   Years and years of practice, of hard, hard work have taken place before that moment when we become aware of the person.  How many times have we heard about someone being an “overnight sensation” with lots of exclamation marks following those two words.  How often do we hear of someone who has accomplished incredible things, we marvel at them, but we also dismiss their tremendous accomplishments with our belief that it all happened “miraculously”.

The years leading up to those success stories are not so interesting to most of us.  We don’t really want to know about the daily grind, day after day of showing up to perfect or master a skill.  When we apply these same beliefs to people with disabilities we are doing them a tremendous disservice.  Not only are we ignoring the difficult work, the hours and hours they put, in practicing and honing their skills, we are dismissing all that hard work with words like “magical” and “miraculous” and we are ignoring just how hard that work is.   There is nothing miraculous about someone accomplishing something after putting in hundreds and thousands of hours of practice and hard work for years.  Their accomplishment is not an indication of our failure.  We do not need to dismiss someone else’s achievements to make ourselves feel better.

All those people who have gone on to prove themselves as more capable than most people gave them credit for are NOT examples of miracles.  They got to where they are through HARD WORK.  To all of you,  Emma Z-L, Carly Fleischmann, Tito Mukhopadhyay, Jennifer Seybert, Jamie Burke, DJ Savarese, Barb Rentenbach, Amy Sequenzia,  Emma Studer, Paige Goddard, Amanda Baggs, Henry Frost, Larry Bissonnette, Tracy Thresher, Sue Rubin, Alberto Frugone, Richard Attfield, Nick Pentzell, Rob Cutler (there are too many people to list) to all of you who have worked so hard, who continue to work every single day to communicate and do all that you do, your hard work is acknowledged and appreciated.  I need you to know how much I appreciate the days, months, years, and for some of you, decades that each of you has spent showing up, day after day to do what does not come easily.

You are leading the way for my daughter.  You are showing me how it’s done; I cannot thank you enough.

Emma practices climbing the rope wall

Nic & Em

A “Miracle” or the Norm?

Years ago I saw Autism is a World, about Sue Rubin who is non-speaking and Autistic.  I was amazed by her and thought how incredible she was.  I had similar thoughts when I read about Tito Mukhopadhyay, saw the news program about Carly Fleischmann, watched and listened to Amanda Baggs‘ You Tube video… there were others, all non-speaking for the most part, all Autistic and each time I was struck by how “miraculous” they were.  They gave me hope, but each one, individually, seemed incredible, too good to be true.  The word “miracle” implies a rare occurrence.  I didn’t dare believe any of these Autistic people were indicative of a larger truth.  When it came to my daughter, I could not make the connection.

I have to interrupt this post for a second because last week I went through the blog and deleted all the posts I thought might hurt my daughter’s feelings if she were to ever read them or ask me to read them to her.  (That I realized I needed to do this, is yet another example of how far I’ve come!)  I am not trying to erase the truth or the past, I just do not want those posts in the public domain for all to view, at my daughter’s expense.  I do not want people coming to this blog to read an old post and leave thinking I am supporting or encouraging people to try any of the various treatments we once did.  There is plenty of negative, stereotyped thinking going on when it comes to autism and Autistic people, I don’t want this blog to be one more place people come to read that.

As I was going through old posts I was confronted with the level of panic and desperation I felt not so long ago.  I was confronted with how completely I had bought into the way autism is represented in the world, encouraged by the media’s representation and the public’s ignorance of it.  None of which is in accordance with these stories of Autistic individuals, unless they are “miracles”.  So when I heard about people like Carly and Tito and Sue, I could not make the leap required to apply what they were accomplishing, to my daughter who was then in a private, special education, school being taught the same fairy tale going on two years.  A place where, as well-meaning as they certainly were, they were not taught or trained to presume competence of their students.  The curriculum, if you could call it that, was not remotely age appropriate, yet she was loved and safe, though not challenged intellectually; it seemed it was the best option available to us.

I was fortunate.  I had some terrific people who recommended books and documentaries that I’ve included on the Resources page of this blog.  I was asked to speak at the Autcom Conference and met a great many more Autistic people who do not speak or speak intermittently or un-reliably, but who are communicating a great deal.  So many, that it finally began to occur to me that maybe, just maybe, my daughter might be one of them.  Perhaps they were not the exceptions, perhaps she too could learn to communicate as so many of the Autistic people I was meeting were.  And once I made that connection, once I stopped viewing each person as a miracle, but began to wonder whether given appropriate accommodations this was more the norm, than not, that was when I was able to understand what practicing presuming competence really meant.  And the more I was able to do this, the more my daughter rose to the occasion.  The more she proved she could and did understand, the more I presumed her competence and on it goes…

Em types us a message that astonishes us ~ April, 2013

EmTypes ICI

Less Than A Year Ago…

If I don’t immediately take notes during and after my typing sessions with Emma, I would wonder whether the words she typed were a figment of my imagination. There is something almost magical seeing and reading the words typed from someone who does not, or does not easily, communicate with spoken language.  It reminds me of the time I went to a lecture given by Soma Mukhopadhyay with her autistic son, Tito who began answering questions from the audience.  Tito is non-speaking and has a great many stims, yet translates his beautifully eloquent, poetic  thoughts into words and has no problem answering any question posed.  It’s often a disconnect for the neurotypical person watching someone who isn’t able to verbally say what they are thinking, yet has no trouble writing their thoughts, which in no way match the presumptions we, NTs tend to make.  If you’ve never witnessed something like this, it can be pretty mind-blowing, which says more about the limitations of neurotypical thinking and the constraints we unintentionally place on others who seem different from us than anything else.

Last night I began Emma’s session with a question.  It’s the same question I always ask her.  “Hey Em, how about after you sing this song we do a typing session together?”  And Emma answered, as she does every time I ask her this question, “Yeah!  Typing session with Mommy!”  Emma’s excitement, in and of itself, makes me incredibly happy.  That she’s interested and (I think) looks forward to our sessions as much as I do, makes me believe we are on the right track.  When we went into the room, now dubbed, “Emma’s office” I tried to think of a question it seemed likely Emma would know the answer to, but that if she typed it out, I would be surprised.  As we are leaving soon to visit her Granma for the holidays, I said, “When we fly to Granma’s we have to first take a taxi to an airport.  What’s the name of the airport we usually go to?”  Without hesitation, Emma typed, “La guardia”.  Wow!  Just wow!  I then asked, “There’s another airport near La Guardia, we don’t usually fly out of, but what’s the name of it?”  Emma, again, without hesitation, typed, “kennedy”.  Whoa!   Then I threw her, what I thought would be, a curve ball and asked, “When we fly out of La Guardia we always take the same airline to visit Granma.  What’s the name of the airline we always take?”  Emma wrote “United”.   EEEEEE!!!!!  Snoopy dance.  Give me a moment while I hyperventilate.  Whooooo, whooooo.

Emma went on to tell me what state and city we live in, the name of the state we were flying to and when I asked, “What’s another name for the city we live in?  It starts with an M?”  Em immediately typed “Manhattan” though she forgot the h and one of the ts.  I followed up with, “And what’s the neighborhood we live in?”  Emma, again without hesitation, typed, “Chelsea.”  Taking another deep breath.  For those of you who are doubting what I’m writing, I understand.  Really.  I do.  As I wrote above, I actually had to take notes during our session, because I knew I would come away as if in a dream.  (Ibby suggested I record our sessions together and I keep forgetting to do that, but I have to remember to from now on.)  That’s what it feels like, a dream.  I absolutely believe in my daughter’s competence.  I believe she is far more competent than most people who come into contact with her do.  I do not for a second doubt that she has a busy, complicated and fascinating mind, filled with thoughts, ideas and knowledge I can only guess at.  But to know this, to believe this, is different from being shown this.  I don’t mean to offend any of you reading this who are non-speaking and communicate by typing.  I don’t mean to offend, really I don’t.  I hope that were Emma to ever read this she will understand what I’m trying to say.  This is not about Emma’s limitations, either intellectual or otherwise, this is about my own.

For all you neurotypicals who can speak, humor me for a moment.  Think about how you would feel if you could not speak.  Think about all the things you know, but couldn’t say.  Now imagine if you were told something simple, like the city and state where you lived over and over, repeatedly, day after day.  Just think about this for a second.  Close your eyes and try to imagine what it would be like to not be able to speak.  Imagine that well-meaning people tried to help you speak through repetition and you were not allowed to move on until you were able to say these things being “taught” aloud.  Imagine how you would feel were you never able to say these things, so you weren’t allowed to move on.  It was assumed that because you couldn’t say them, you must not KNOW them. And yet, all this time…   all this time you really did know these things.  Not only did you know these things, but you knew so much more.  But no one believed that you did.  No one treated you as though you did.  Less than a year ago I assumed Emma did not know.  Less than a year ago I assumed Emma did not understand.

Less than a year ago…

Emma waiting for the school bus with her string

*Em