Tag Archives: training

Demanding Speech

Over the weekend I witnessed a young man who did not easily speak and when he did say a word, it was clear how hard he was having to work for that one syllable.  Yet the people around him bombarded him with questions.   Questions he could not answer with spoken language, but that did not stop them from asking.  When he managed to make a sound resembling the answer they wanted, they would pause for a moment before asking him another question.  After about ten minutes of this he retreated into what looked like a sensory friendly room, where he rocked gently back and forth, holding his hands over his ears.  Even so, the questions continued.  

Another boy who was having his lunch was told during a ten minute time period to “look at me” more than a dozen times.  He too could not easily speak and was asked a great many questions.  Things like, “Is that good?” When he said, what sounded like, “Yes,” the other person said, “Look at me.  Stop.  Put down your fork.  Look at me.  Is it very good?”  When he again said, “Yes,” he was allowed to eat his lunch for a few seconds in peace before the next question came.

People often ask me why I object to ABA therapy.  It is not only ABA therapy that I object to.  It is ANY therapy that treats another human being as these very well-intentioned people were treating these young people, all of whom were teenagers.  I object to the way so many, who are in the field of autism are trained and how that training  affects how they speak to and interact with people who are autistic.   I do not, for a moment, doubt that they believed that what they were doing was good and ultimately helpful to the kids they were working with.  Yet each one of them was unconsciously or not, treating those kids as though they could not and did not understand what was being said to and about them.  The kids were not being treated as one would treat their same age non autistic peers.

On the Presume Competence – What Does That Mean Exactly – post I wrote, “What I have come to understand, is that a presumption of competence is much more than a set of beliefs, it is a way of interacting with another human being who is seen as a true equal and as having the same basic human rights as I have.”

What I saw was fairly typical of what I see often – well-meaning people who are working with autistic people, but who do NOT presume them competent, not really.  Had I said something to any of these people, I’m sure they would have expressed surprise with my observations of what they were doing and how they were interacting.  I would even guess that they would have told me that they were presuming them competent.  These were not mean people, they were not sadistic people, these were people who believed in the training they’ve been given and believed this was the best way to interact with these teenagers.

At one point the young man who was trying to eat his lunch, looked over at me and my son.  My son, smiled at him and I did a little wave and said, “hi.” He nodded his head ever so slightly at us and then the person who was paid to sit with him, asked him another question.  I do not doubt for a second that all the kids there were competent.  In fact I am convinced of it.  I know it to the core of my being as I have been around so many people who cannot speak, or who can speak, but not easily or naturally and who are all competent.  But this was not how they were being treated.  This idea, which is popular with a number of therapies, not just ABA, that we withhold desirable things until the person speaks as demanded, is not something I agree with because it is based in a presumption that wanting something is equated with ability and this is incorrect, even if it obtains the desired result – a verbal utterance.

Until Emma began to write, using her letter board, I had a great many thoughts about her that have proven incorrect.  Until she began to express herself through those words she painstakingly spells out, I was not treating her as the exceedingly  competent human being that she is, even though I often thought I was.  Even now, on any given day, I do not do this as well as I’d like to.  All those years of ingrained thinking are extremely difficult to change.  But change I must…

A Renassaince Princess

A Renassaince Princess

EEEEEEEEEEEEE!

EEEEEEEEEE!!!!   (This is, but one, of many fabulous expressions I have come to love and use.  I first saw it used by my friend Paula and it made me happy.  I love that woman.)  What better way to express emotions that go far beyond “excitement”?  What words can possibly express joy and excitement and exuberance and that feeling when your throat constricts and tears flood your eyes and there’s that fluttering feeling in your chest that travels up and down as your vision blurs because of the tears?  Tears of joy.  Tears of overwhelming emotion that are impossible to express, that makes it difficult to breathe.  I don’t know of anything I could write here that would sum up what I am feeling.  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!   ⇐ comes the closest.

Yesterday was our second session with Pascal who is a trained facilitator of more than two decades.  Our first session I described ‘here‘.  Yesterday’s session took place over Skype.  It took us a while to get connected and once we did our connection kept going out on us.  At one point during a particularly exciting moment with Emma I squealed in delight, looked over to see Pascal’s expression and was met with a blank screen.  We’d lost him again.  “NOOOOOOO!  I cannot believe you just missed this!”  I shouted at the darkened screen while Joe, Emma’s therapist, and Richard laughed.  Our excitement was palpable.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me back up.

Two weeks ago we had our first session.  It was beyond exciting, but in the interim, between that session and our Skype call yesterday I’ve been filled with anxiety and so have only tried to practice with Emma a couple of times.  (For those of you unfamiliar with facilitated communication, it has a complicated history.  That history I’ve touched upon ‘here‘ and ‘here‘.)  I worried that I would inadvertently push Emma to type something she didn’t intend, I worried that I might betray her, by literally putting words in her mouth.  I have never forgotten one of the things Amy Sequenzia said to me regarding FC – that the most important piece was trust.  I didn’t want to do anything that would betray that, so I did nothing at all.

The first thing Pascal did was cover some of the basics.  We went over different things I could try.  We discussed the correct way of providing support firmly enough to ensure that trust, but not so much that it becomes a vise grip or so loosely that it is little more than an irritant.  Getting the support right is key and not as easy as it might sound.  There is also the resistance piece to all of this and there’s a rhythm that must be achieved as well.  The process is unlike anything I’ve ever done before.  I want to liken it to dancing, not the sort of dancing one does in a mosh pit, but ballroom dancing or learning the mambo, where you have to be in sync with your partner, both with your physical movements, but with your mind as well.  I’ve had some wonderful FC advisors (other moms who have generously talked to me and given me tips from their experiences doing FC) and so I remembered some of their suggestions.  One, from a new friend, Sheree, told me I need to empty my mind.  For anyone familiar with Buddhism this sounds much easier than it actually is.  But when I felt myself wanting to push Emma to hit a certain letter on the iPad, I “told on myself” immediately and Pascal would gently advise me.

As our session continued and I became more comfortable, feeling the rhythm and getting the right sense of her, we went beyond Emma typing answers to questions such as, “Where are they ice skating?” after being shown a photograph of ice skaters at the ice rink in Rockefeller Center and her dutifully typing Rockefeller Center (which I don’t mean to sound blasé about because you have no idea how  HUGE this was, but it was nothing compared to what happened next!)  We moved on to increasingly challenging questions, like “What is the name of the airport we have to fly into before we fly to Granma’s house?”  She typed “Denver” and I gasped.  *I keep wanting to tell you, to describe to you how massive this is.  I want to explain to you that while it may seem small or even utterly unexciting to you, it was beyond exciting for me to see her respond in this way.*  I don’t think I’ve ever heard Emma say the word “Denver” before and while this is something she has heard many, many times in her life; it is a place we must fly to several times a year when we go visit Granma, it is not something I expect Emma to utter.

Pascal continued to ask Emma more questions about visiting Granma and then I asked, without really thinking, “What kind of dogs does Granma have?”  Emma pointed her index finger and then reached for the “g”.  I think I may have held my breath.  Waiting.  Empty my mind.  Wait.  And then her finger found the “e” and I let myself take a tiny breath.  Keep breathing I told myself.  Keep breathing.  Quiet mind.  Be with her.  Let go.  Be with her.  Open mind.  Breathe.  And then her finger found the “r” and on we went until she’d written “german shepherds” complete with the “s” at the end because there are two and of course she’s correct and I sat there and stared at those words; the two most beautiful words my daughter has ever typed and I looked at her and pressed my forehead to her cheek.  I cannot convey the feelings.  Gratitude.  Joy, unbelievable joy and something else…  something I don’t know that I have the words for.  A knowing.  That’s all I can say.  I deep knowing that this is the right road we’ve taken.  We are on the right road.  And I exhaled and asked, “Em.  What kind of dog is Dozer?”  Emma looked at me and said, “Last time.”  And I laughed and hugged her and said, “Oh Em.  Really?  I want to talk to you like this all day!”  Emma beamed at me and then she patted my knee.  “Okay Em.  Last time,” I said. Then she typed, “nufandland.”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

*Cannot type through the tears.

Dozer with Emma, who is terrified of dogs and yet…

Dozer&Em