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Monday, February 5, 2018

The Pepsi Challenge of unlocking Janey's knowledge

The other day, Janey and I were at her favorite after school place, the "ice cream store", which has been various chains and is now a 7-11.  She wanted soda, and I took a diet Coke out of the cooler.  She usually drinks just a sip or two and then Tony has the rest, and he is diabetic, so we get diet.  I hate diet soda, and I try to avoid corn syrup, so I don't drink regular soda usually (and of course all soda is unhealthy and we shouldn't have it and all that...but anyway...)  As we walked toward the register to pay, Janey yelled out "NO!"  When I asked her what was wrong, she grabbed the soda from my hands and said "No!  PEPSI!"

Janey looking ready to take on the world
Well, that was a huge surprise.  I don't think we've ever used the word Pepsi at home.  Not that we are opposed to Pepsi, but we just call soda "soda".  I had no idea, no idea on earth, that Janey would have the slightest idea there is a difference between Pepsi and Coke, or in fact even that there is a difference between store brand soda and brand name soda.

We went back to the cooler and I got a diet Pepsi out.  Then Janey surprised me again.  She said "NO!" and put back the diet Pepsi and got out a regular Pepsi.  Again, I was stunned. I had no idea she knew there was a difference between diet and regular soda.  So we bought the regular Pepsi, Janey had her usual few sips, and that was that.

I've been thinking a lot about this.  Janey doesn't often tip her hand and let us know what she knows.  Weeks or even months can go by without her saying a single new word, or doing anything really new.  But it's up there, stored in her brain.

When I got Janey's progress reports from school last Friday, there were surprises there too.  In OT, she has been typing the letters of handwritten words into the computer, to get the YouTube video she wants.  I was shocked she was able to do that, to match up written letters with keyboard letters.  The report said at first she typed each letter multiple times, but now she was learning to just hit each one once.  She has also been identifying classmates using TouchChat, an assisted communication program.  I didn't know she knew her classmates apart, to say nothing of being able to pick out certain ones.  At home, she often has trouble giving the right names to her two brothers even.

The problem with knowing that Janey has knowledge she doesn't let on she has is that there isn't always, or even often, a way to get at that hidden knowledge.  It's not very transferable from one context to another.  Like the thousands of songs I know that Janey knows by heart, the knowledge is stored in her brain but comes out only when she wishes it to, when the moment is just right.

Sometimes, though, I think Janey wants to access brain files and she can't, or she can't translate what she wants into speech.  The other day, she came home singing a tune I didn't recognize.  Then she wanted a video, and kept saying names of videos and then getting upset when I actually put them on.  Finally, after a long run of this, by chance she saw the icon for "Yo Gabba Gabba".  I read through the names of all the episodes, and she stopped me at one.  I put it on, she smiled a huge smile and in a minute I heard the tune she'd come home singing.

I was almost in tears thinking how it must all feel.  She knew exactly what she wanted, but the words didn't come.  I didn't remember the tune, and she couldn't think of "Yo Gabba Gabba", or couldn't get her mouth to say the words.  I'm glad we figured it out, but how often does this happen to her?  I know how I feel when something is at the tip of my tongue and I can't quite access what it is.  That's a very, very frustrating feeling.  What if I felt that all the time?

William and Freddy always picked Coke...
I wish I knew how to better help Janey say what she wants to say.  I am sure that much of the time when she acts out and I don't know why, it's from not being able to communicate.  I need to keep in mind the Pepsi incident, and try harder to give Janey a way to have her say, to get her non-diet Pepsi.  It's my personal Pepsi Challenge.

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