It's almost impossible for me to write legibly by hand. If I had grown up in today's world, I'm quite sure I would have been diagnosed with dysgraphia or something similar. As an adult, this is not a huge problem. I type everything---out sick notes, grocery lists, birthday greetings---whatever needs writing. But lately, I've been playing out an extended analogy in my mind.
What if every day, all day long, I was being asked to write by hand? What if almost every waking hour, someone handed me paper and pencil and told me to write? What if this happened in every context---out of the house and in?
What if I were offered tool that were supposed to help me write, but that still left it very hard to do---tools like special pens, nice smooth paper, a great writing desk? What if, when I resisted these tools because they still left it very hard for me to write, instead of backing down, I kept being offered them, with new tools being tried all the time?
What if, once in a while, if I put all my effort into it, I wrote fairly well? What if instead of people accepting this as something I could do when conditions were just right, they took it as proof I could write well ALL the time if I tried a little harder?
What if I had to write to get the things I wanted, even if people knew perfectly well what I wanted? What if I brought someone the food I wanted, or the video, or the toy, and instead of just giving me what I wanted, they insisted I write it down?
What if I were feeling upset, crying, screaming, and people came over and said "If you could just write down what was wrong, we could help?"
By saying "people" here, I mean, most of all, myself. I have done all those things, often. I constantly ask Janey questions, hoping for answers. I start sentences for her, hoping she will finish. I present her with alternatives to verbal talking. When she does speak well, I latch onto it, hoping it is proof she will someday talk easily. When she brings me a glass and a container of juice, I ask her what she wants. When she screams, I say "What feels wrong? Why are you crying?"
After my last blog post, I thought and thought about what I was doing. And I decided to try to change.
For the last few days, I've done my level best not to do ANYTHING to try to get Janey to talk or communicate. I've stopped asking her questions. It's very hard to do. I catch myself 20 times a day about to ask one, and quickly change it into a statement. I'll say "What do you want to watch...um, I'll put on the TV and see what's on!" or "What's wrong, sweetie...oh, uh...you seem very sad. I will snuggle you" I have been talking to her, more than ever, but talking without asking for a return conversation. If I know what she wants, I either give it to her or tell her why I can't.
It's very early to say, but the results have been quite astonishing to me so far. Almost immediately, I saw an uptick in Janey's talking. As I wrote on Facebook, within an hour, she had spoken one of her longer sentences to me---"Want to snuggle on Mama's bed with some cheese?" I've heard a few of the rare non-asking for things statements---outside, she saw one of our resident stray cats and said "That cat is Tommy!" (it wasn't Tommy, but that's beside the point!) When we wants to watch something to TV, I scroll along all the possible choices without comment, and she yells out what she wants "Want Uncle Rusty!" (a favorite episode of Little Bear) or "Want quilt one!" (her favorite Courage the Cowardly Dog)
This trial of not asking for communication is part of a larger general new philosophy that Tony and I have started, without really anything as formal as talking it about it or putting rules to it. In general, we are trying to keep the stress level of Janey's life as low as possible. From what those with autism that are able to communicate their feelings say, just living through a day with autism can be very stressful. Maybe my job is to not add any stress, to reduce stress wherever I can. This new attitude started while Janey was in the hospital, dreadfully sick. Janey has been dealt a hand in life that is not always easy. I hope this experiment, this test of reducing the pressure on her in a little way, helps her. If not, we'll keep trying, to see what does.