Today is the last day of the month of Autism Awareness.
About 50% of people with Autism cannot speak or speak minimally or cannot speak fully functionally. Some communicate with devices that speak for them. A small population uses typing or a board. Each device, whether high-tech or low-tech, is a huge learning effort. Because the neurology of the person using the device is of autism, which has many unknowns.
My son, M, first started typing in early spring of 2011. An accidental happening. I wasn't aware of all the communication techniques being used already. I had read that some adult stroke victims while healing can type before they can talk again. There was also insight on how they view the world. I put two and five together and one day, when we were on the sofa, I said 'mom' and placed a keyboard in front of him. I was intrigued.
It took a few weeks before we tried simple words. 3 letter words, 2 letter words, 4 letter words.. It was an extremely tiring effort for him. Then 2 words, 3 words, 1 word answers to questions- What's up there? What is this? What is the color of the sky? 5 minutes at a time. 2-4 times a day. Soon, I had to leave the study for I could not hold myself after the session. Shaking, delighted, shocked, straining to comprehend and metabolize the unfolding reality, walking around to compose myself.
I would ask trick questions. I would explore for self-consistency.
A month or two later, one day we tried a very small story. I asked him to tell me a story from a video he loved to watch. He typed with a focused face, all his life force engaged in the effort of transferring a scene, an idea, into a medium of words. A new way. Each tap of the finger an act of hesitant grace. He typed a few words, searching, pausing, struggling, concentrating, being direct, being repetitive.
One word he typed was "son". I slowly figured from the context the word was, likely an interesting substitute for "prince". Do you mean prince? Also, he started the story from the middle, the peak of conflict! It is his unique trait, I found later, again and again. He gets to the main point right away. And tells from there.
This poem is how I felt when M typed this first story. He was 8.
Summer is Coming!
Today was cloudy, cold and windy.
Last night, the rain tapped on the windows -
Can I come in no, stay outside
It is cold here no, if you come we will all get wet
Late-noon we were looking out our study window
branches and leaves plumped with moisture, sinking down down
Will you break and fall no we won't
Peach buds do not have white fungus anymore
at wits-end I almost asked the gardener to trim down the tree
I wavered and before I knew the nubs appeared and that was that
Did you hear my thoughts? no, I didn't
Two days ago it was warm, even hot -
screeching squirrels were chasing each other
Do you have to be so intense? yes, we do
Birds singing, hopping, nesting
Are you tired, I asked one bird resting flat on the ground,
legs tucked in it skittered away
Ants got into the lid of the honey jar I left outside
Some saw me and fled. Are you trapped, I asked of others yes we are
wait, I will get you out of there- I held a paper towel for them to launch into
Life is crawling out of every crevice to meet the sun
in this festive see-saw between spring and summer
Honeybees, bumblebees, hesitant butterflies, pregnant ladybugs
arrived for our afternoon yard play
What are you doing today in the cold? We are lying low
It is ten o’clock now at night and my son isn't sleeping
he’s coming out of his room on every pretext
Do you want to sleep no
No worries, I am not fatigued. For today he typed a story,
his first. 'Snow White' it was and started-
there was a girl she ate an apple
What happened then? she fell down
Thoughts weaving into garlands with language blooms
these eight years of low-words autism, watching, waiting
waiting for a string. Tomorrow when I'll ask him to continue the story
I'll be finding more blooms- he came, she heard him, there was a son,
each flower beaming with the beauty of a shy universe
Strung on so exquisite a string, it is almost invisible
I have to close my eyes to see it
Something in the path we're walking through
is giving the tastiest crumbs, never in a straight line
I pick each up like a gem that never was
I can't wait for summer
for the choice will be warm or warm
Will you come closer, faster? I ask the Sun
No, silly mama. I'll stay my course and you do the same