Monday, March 6, 2017

When Janey got studied and blew our minds

Janey is part of a study of autism at Boston University.  They are interested in kids who are low verbal---who talk but don't talk a lot, and she fits right into that category.  We first started with them just right before all hell started breaking loose, when Janey went to Bradley Hospital and then in fairly short order had her appendix burst, so quite a while went by without us going to the study.  I called them a few months ago and got us started again, and we've been twice since then.
Dedicated parking!

BU has a great setup for the study.  They have a dedicated area, which has been designed to be very autism-friendly.  It's calm feeling, there are toys and books in the waiting area Janey actually has an interest in, they have a dedicated parking space for participants (a BIG deal in the city!) and most of all, everyone we have met working on testing or on interviewing parents seems to be absolutely wonderful at what they do.

Janey seems to love going to the study.  She's never one to have much trouble separating from us, and she goes off happily with the tester while Tony and I get interviewed about her by the head of the study.  The few times we went a few years ago, and the first time we went this go-round, the interviewing lasted as long as Janey's testing, but this last time, we finished the interview and so got an offer to go watch Janey being tested, through a one way mirror.

Well---that is where we got our minds blown.  We saw a Janey we've never, ever seen.  She seemed totally at ease, and very, very on.  She's been in a great mood lately, so that was part of her, but a lot of the credit has to go to the tester, a young woman who had the perfect mix of calm voice, persistence, encouragement and firmness.  

The testing was a mix.  Part of it was identifying pictures, and Janey whizzed through that---words I knew she knew like "cow" and "apple", but lots of action verbs, which I had no idea she really knew.  For example, a picture of a boy swimming got the response "The boy is swimming"---perfect grammar and a full sentence.  With a picture of some birds, Janey first said "bird" and then when asked how many, she actually counted them and correctly answered "four".  We looked at each other in the darkened observation room in amazement.

Some of the tasks were non-verbal things, like sorting silverware or doing little block puzzles.  Janey had no trouble at all with most of them.  Sometimes, she had to be encouraged along a bit, but she didn't get upset, she kept working and she did them!

It was interesting to us that what she consistently got wrong was what I've never had any luck at all teaching her---colors.  She honestly seems to have no clue about colors, and sometimes I wonder if she might be colorblind.  I've been told, though, that many kids with autism have a hard time with colors.  She also gets a little confused on shapes.  She called a star a diamond---sort of like she knew it was one of the more exotic shapes but couldn't bring the name to mind.

Toward the end of the session, Janey was getting a little restless, and she started singing to herself.  It took me a while to recognize the song, but when I did, I was happy---it's a song I love that she's never shown much interest in---"I'd Really Love To See You Tonight".  An old 70's soft rock classic!  She just kept singing the first few lines---"Hello, yeah, it's been a while, not much, how 'bout you?"  She probably sang those 100 times over.  What struck me was how although it looked like she wasn't really paying any attention to the tasks at hand, she kept getting them right.

On the way home, as I processed the whole experience, a few thoughts kept popping up.  One is that Janey's mind truly is different than most.  Not less than most---different than most. It made me think how often I've assumed she was paying no attention, because in her situation I'd not be able to pay attention while screaming or singing or watching a show intently, but from seeing her at work, I realized her mind seems to work on more than one track at once.  

I also kept wondering how often Janey is bored out of her mind.  I've always suspected and in fact felt quite sure she knew more than she showed, but I don't think I realized how much more.  However, it's so hard to access that knowledge, and to know what she knows and how to teach her.  Tony put it well.  He said he always tries to not bring work home mentally, to leave work thoughts at work, and it's like Janey does that with school, and in fact with much she learns in any way.  If it's not something she needs to show in a particular situation, she doesn't show it.  I've asked her to count lots of times, and to use action verbs, and all that---but she seems to feel they aren't something she needs to show she knows, unless it's obviously a testing situation (and then of course only if she is in the mood)

I'm very glad we are part of the BU study. It's the kind of study I heartily support---not one that is aiming to figure out WHY she is autistic (and unspokenly, figuring out how to prevent future autism) but one that is trying to figure out the autistic mind---for that is indeed also my main task in life---figuring out Janey.  It's going to be a lifetime study on my part, and one worthy of the time spent.

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