Chess Friends Forever

Hi everyone!  My name is Karen Dorula and I’m an occupational therapist at GKTC.  Elizabeth has challenged us all to jump onto the blog.  I’m very excited to be able to share all of the wonderful chess that has been happening here!

I started teaching chess in January 2016 after one of my letterboard clients, William, asked me to teach him “something hard.”  I thought of many different challenging topics, such as the periodic table of elements or the physics of outer space, but when I thought of chess, a quote from one of my favorite movies popped into my head: “Knight to e4.”  (Yes, it’s a Harry Potter quote!)

Harry Potter Ron

I went online and immediately started learning everything there was to know about something called “Algebraic Chess Notation” (ACN).  ACN is a system of letters and numbers that correspond to moves on a chessboard.  Most players use ACN to record their moves in a game so they can review it later.  I thought it would be a perfect way for William to communicate the move he wanted to make and since I’m an occupational therapist, I saw this as a great opportunity for him to practice his motor skills as well.  

ACN Board

There was one slight problem.  I didn’t really know how to play chess.  I had a basic understanding of how the pieces move, but that was it.  I reviewed the fundamentals of chess by myself, and then started teaching it to William.  We practiced simply moving the pieces to a targeted location.  He would spell out the ACN on a letterboard and then I provided him with the least amount of assistance to move the piece.  I continued to teach him more advanced concepts by staying only one step ahead at any given moment.  This became a problem as I realized just how quickly he was learning.  Something that would take me an hour to learn took him only a few minutes.  For example, when capturing, you spell out the symbol for the piece you want to move, the file it’s currently on, an x to indicate the capture, and the square you want it to move to.  So, if you want to capture a piece using your rook, it might look something like, Raxg5.  This took me a longer to learn than I care to admit, but after a few minutes of practice, William spelled, “MAKES SENSE TO ME.”  

William loved learning chess so I dove in head first.  I spent hours a day playing chess on my phone and watching videos online that I later turned into lessons.  After a few weeks, he sat down to play a game with his dad.  His parents noted how regulated he was during the game.  His body was able to stay extremely calm because his brain was so engaged.  As I teach more people to play, regulation is a common result of chess.

William Chess
William’s first time playing against his dad.
(From left to right: William, George, Karen)

I have now taught dozens of students how to play.  At first, I didn’t realize just how perfect chess can be for people who spell to communicate (thank you to Elizabeth for seeing the potential!).  Chess is a hobby that can be played throughout a lifetime and you can always learn something new.  Since there are small “mini games” you can play, you can practice even if you only have 10 minutes.  It’s a fun way to get on the letterboards with family members and practice skills.

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Huan and Ian playing a Knight Game, with Huan’s brother and Ian’s dad holding the letterboards.
(From left to right: Thuy, Huan, Ian, Eric)

Chess is also the best equalizer.  It doesn’t matter your age, gender, race, language, socioeconomic status, or diagnosis.  During a discussion about chess as an equalizer, Dustin wrote: “THAT WAS WHY I WANTED TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY WITH THE LETTERBOARD.  PLAYING WITH THE LETTERBOARD IS A WAY TO PLAY WITH YOUR MIND INSTEAD OF YOUR BODY.”

Dustin chess PNG.jpgDustin playing against a friend.

Chess provides the perfect opportunity to meet new friends.  Here’s a conversation from a chess sessions with Ethan and Dominic:

E: HI, MY NAME IS ETHAN.  KAREN HAS TOLD ME SO MUCH ABOUT YOU.  MAY GO PROFESSIONAL WITH CHESS.  KIDDING.

D: THAT WAS FUNNY.  MY NAME IS DOMINIC.  I JUST STARTED PLAYING THIS WEEK.  I AM REALLY EXCITED TO PLAY.

E: THANK YOU.  MAKES ME HAPPY TO MAKE A NEW FRIEND.

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William, Ethan, and Dominic play against each other in pairs or have “Chess Club,” which they have named One For All, so they can learn and practice drills together.  
(From left to right: Rabun, William, Ethan, Karen, Dominic)

 

I’m grateful to William for challenging me to learn something hard.  Chess didn’t turn out to be very hard for him, but it has become a hobby that he loves.  Chess combines motor, communication, and friendship, which is an OTs dream.  My absolute favorite part of chess is the CFF – Chess Friends Forever – that have been formed! These friendships are what push me to stay up to speed with my students and continue to improve with every session.

I will become more active on the blogs to share information and other activities that we’ve been doing at GKTC.  Until next time!

~Karen

 

 

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Unintentional Harm: Understanding the Out of Control Body

Recently, one of our parents asked what to do when her son become grabby and pinchy at home or school.  She recognizes that her son has motor control issues and knows that he is not trying to intentionally hurt her but is having trouble reconciling the difference between his intentions and actions. All of our clients have motor control difficulties, formally known as apraxia, but informally described as a “body-brain disconnect.” We have also written about it here and here. Since we believe the real experts we decided to pass this mom’s question along to “The Tribe”, our group of nonspeaking young adults who communicate through spelling.

Here’s some of the Tribe – Ben, Huan, Emma, Lisa, Ryan and Paul.

Huan: Explain that when something like that happens he does not wish to hurt anyone. He is most likely over stimulated and had no other outlet in that moment. It’s a really terrible feeling to experience and that’s the only way I can explain it. Just trust that he really doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

Emma: I definitely feel your pain. I am one of those who can’t control their body. I know it is not ok for me to shriek but I can’t stop myself even when it is affecting my friends. Try to be patient and know it is not his intention to hurt you.

Ben: It’s hard when teachers don’t understand you and some kids unknowingly provoke you and your body is vibrating and feels as if you might explode and you actually do and someone gets hurt. Your heart breaks, but now you’re in trouble and you can’t remember how you lost the control you worked so hard to maintain. If teachers can’t understand this impulse, how are we supposed to stop? How are we to progress? It’s like, not hard.

And some more of our Tribe – Tom, Ian and Ryan

Ian: Tell the teachers there are things going on in the environment that neurotypicals will never pick up on, and when they try to control your son they are getting in the way of his self-regulation process and he strikes.

Paul: Tell them he doesn’t want to do it. It’s his brain body disconnect. And he is intensely dysregulated.

Davis: One of the hardest things to explain is doing something horrible to someone you love. It is the last thing that you want to do and it makes you sick to accept that you did this. I wish I could give you a better answer. It is anxiety and constant dysregulation not your sweet child’s intentions at fault.
Another of our clients, Jordyn, has more to share on how he struggles when his unintentional actions hurt others. Thanks to the Tribe for your insight on this complicated and emotional issue.
~Elizabeth and The Tribe

Diagnosis Disruption: Debunking the Myths of Non-verbal Autism

Autistic individuals are the true autism experts. Matthew Lager’s TASH Talk debunking the myths of non-verbal autism is a must read for anyone who has an autistic child or works with autistic individuals. Matthew uses a letterboard and keyboard to spell to communicate. He prepared this presentation for the 2016 TASH conference with his mother over a several weeks. Due to the 10 minute time limit of the TASH Talk, Matthew’s speech was read aloud for the presentation with spelling closing remarks live. Matthew’s goal is to challenge people to rethink autism and understand the capabilities of people who have been labeled as “low functioning”.  ~Elizabeth & Matthew  

Matthew

Thanks for letting me speak today. Thanks to TASH for including me and for your commitment to advocating for an easily dismissed segment of society.

I am going to share my experience of being erroneously mislabeled as low functioning and of low intelligence. My story is representative of thousands of others labeled as low functioning. My life changed in ways most can not comprehend the summer of 2014 when my parents took me to Herndon, Virginia to see Elizabeth Vosseller. My hero, Elizabeth, introduced me to the letterboards. Through a letterboard and now keyboard I am able to communicate my true thoughts by spelling them one finger at a time.  I wrote this presentation on a key board tapping the letters one at a time.

The topic of my talk is:  Diagnosis Disruption: Debunking the myths of non-verbal autism.

Many people view me as being stupid, emotionless and without the ability to understand other people’s feelings. It is not a surprise because scientists describe autistics so inaccurately. I am here to tell you we are much more complex than you believe and also more ordinary than you realize. We are confusing and difficult to understand because our exterior doesn’t match our fully intact brain.  We have sensory problems that make us look out of control. Some of us have voices that don’t say what we mean. Others have motor planning impulse control issues that make us do things we didn’t mean to do.  In spite of the tremendous challenges we are all just like you with complex thoughts and feelings.

Scientists typically look at three key areas when determining whether someone fits the criteria for further screening for autism spectrum disorder.  The three areas are impaired social interaction, impaired communication and restricted or repetitive behavior.  They often assume that functional problems of speech, social interaction and unusual behavior are indicative of low intelligence and poor cognitive function. They create checklists to define the behavior we do that is not typical without understanding that many of these behaviors are in fact motor based rather than a cognitive deficit.

At my previous school, I was not allowed to spell to communicate and therefore was unable to change their incorrect assumptions of me.  They were unable to see beyond my atypical behavior. As a result, I was taught at the first grade level last year.  My new school was open to seeing me differently and allowing me to use the letterboard all day.  I am now taught at grade level which is eight grades higher than instruction at my previous schools. I wish they could see me today and perhaps treat others with so called low functioning autism differently.  This school move only occurred when a group of experts in the school system were willing to suspend their preconceived ideas about autism. I hope you are willing to do this also by hearing what my friends who are here and I have to say.

I am going to ask you to look at a few more examples from my perspective.

While on the surface these scientific descriptions seem accurate, I am going to describe how what you see in many autistics is not the full or true picture.

1)  Wild erratic movements without purpose: When I look most dysregulated I am reacting to overstimulation and sensory overflow. It is impossible for anyone to evaluate my internal state when just looking at my out of control body. For example I become very dysregulated, cover my ears and make an odd sounding noise when people sing happy birthday.  The out of tune singing, especially my mom’s voice (just kidding mom), makes me feel anxious and covering my ears and making noise muffles the sound. When people see my reaction they assume I don’t want to be part of the celebration and stop including me when in fact I love birthdays and just need a coping mechanism to participate.  When I appear totally out of control, I am internally trying to focus and calm myself during an overly sensory stimulated situation.

2) Inability to initiate or sustain a conversation: Experts claim low functioning autistics are unable to hold a conversation. It is true that I am unable to do it verbally. However I can have full and meaningful conversations with my friends and others if I am able to type my part of the discussion.  I have three friends in the room today who communicate the same way I do.  I wish scientists or disbelievers would watch our interactions and see firsthand the complexity of our discussions, the way we support each other and how emotionally connected we are to each other and the world.  One of my friends dreams of being a writer. Another really wants a girlfriend.  All are interested in a full life with the same opportunities for education, living arrangements, jobs and community that any other person wants.

3) Odd, repetitive behavior: My behavior that experts describe as repetitive and without purpose is actually very useful in calming a highly stressful situation. For example, I often ask repetitive questions when I am nervous about a transition or don’t know how to get the words I want to say out of my mouth.  I understand why experts think these behaviors are odd but understanding the reason we do them is crucial to understanding us.  A good example of this is my obsession with the Wiggles. I talk about them all the time but can’t stand them. As annoying as it is to be 15 and talking about a preschool music group, reciting their lyrics does calm me down when I am stressed.

4) Poorly developed imaginary play: I have been told those with autism have no imaginary play skills. If only someone could get inside my brain you would see how I am always creating stories to pass the time when I am being ignored. I create stories about people traveling around the world and meeting famous historical figures. One of my favorites is of my friends going to meet Abraham Lincoln and talking to him about emancipation of those in society who are disenfranchised. So, I will continue to fail the tests researchers use, like putting plastic figures in front of me and asking me to pretend some contrived story.  However, when I see the figures I’ll pretend in my mind the figures are Lincoln’s soldiers who may have lost this one battle but can still win the war.

5) No or limited interest in social interaction: I understand why someone thinks I’m a loner and prefer isolation. However this could not be further from the truth. In social situations I sometimes leave the room when others are trying to interact with me because i am so excited and my body experiences a rush of such intense happiness that I launch like a rocket out of the room.  When I come back unfortunately the social interaction is lost and even worse than losing that one opportunity I likely pushed the person away for good.  This is one of many examples of how my outward behavior doesn’t match my strong insatiable need to be with others and how researchers don’t understand me. I want friends more than anything. I am lucky that now for the first time I have a group of people who I feel close to and who I feel understand this.

Every time someone with autism is allowed to share what goes on in his mind it gives experts more information and insight into the complicated inner workings of those of us who are so misunderstood. Hearing from Autistic individuals is integral to scientists understanding us and our critical and empathetic thoughts. By doing so, they can study the huge gap between the vast amount of intelligent, intricate, and inventive thoughts that we have in our minds and our difficulty sharing them in a typical way.

In closing so called experts need to start by assuming that their patients with autism are truly thoughtful and intelligent. Entering the patient/clinician relationship with this shift in thinking is the most important first step. Allowing us alternative forms of communication combined with researchers commitment, dedication and hard work we can actually make changes to research protocols that will make a difference in my life and others like me.

So, death to the idea of the empty headed autistic. I hope that people will see me and my friends beyond our exterior and see us for the people we really are.

**Note: we had blue tooth connection issues with the keyboard during the presentation resulting in repeated letters.  We edited the additional letters below for readability. 

I am happy to be here and have a chance to tell our story. Please spread the word and let others know.

Dispatches from the Roller Coaster

I AM BENJAMIN MCGANN. TODAY MY FRIENDS AND I ARE TAKING OVER THE BLOG TO TALK ABOUT THE PLAY (Dispatches from the Roller Coaster)  WE WROTE WITH STUDENTS FROM STONE BRIDGE HIGH SCHOOL.

Matthew: THE PLAY FOCUSES ON A GROUP OF NON-SPEAKING AUTISTICS THROUGH THEIR DIAGNOSIS AND LIFE IN GENERAL.
Huan: YOU WILL FINALLY UNDERSTAND THE BODY BRAIN DISCONNECT AS WE EXPERIENCE IT.
Ryan: YOU MIGHT WITNESS THE MIRACLE THAT RPM BRINGS TO THEIR FUTURES.

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GKTC got a sneak preview of the play! Lucky us!

What did you think of Dispatches from the Roller Coaster?
Ryan: THE PLAY WAS INCREDIBLE.  THE STUDENTS TOLD OUR STORIES IN A WAY THAT WAS CAPTIVATING AND EDUCATING.  IT WAS THE BEST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE.

Ryan with his Body and Mind and the cast!

Ryan with his Body and Mind and the cast!

Lisa: THE ONE ACT WAS SO PERFECTLY PUT TOGETHER.  THOSE KIDS PORTRAYED AUTISM IN A RESPECTFUL, TASTEFUL MANNER.  THEY LOOKED LIKE THEY FELT WHAT WE FELT.

Paul with the talented actors played mother and his body & mind (in yellow) !

Paul with the talented actors played his mother and his Body & Mind (in yellow)!

Huan: CAN YOU SAY BLOWN AWAY?  I WAS STRUCK BY THE POWERFUL EMOTIONS THAT WERE PRACTICALLY OOZING OUT OF THE RUNNING DOGS. GLEN HOCHKEPPEL (the Director of the play and drama teacher at Stone Bridge High School), YOU HAVE A BEAUTIFUL MIND. THANK YOU FOR HEARING OUR STORIES.

Matthew: THE PLAY WAS AMAZING. THE SBHS KIDS PLAYED US WELL. I WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN.

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Ben, Tom and Elizabeth have a photo opp with the cast!

Ben: I AM VERY IMPRESSED BY THIS PLAY. WHAT A DREAM TO SEE OUR STORY ON STAGE. I WOULD HAVE BEEN HAPPY TO HAVE WRITTEN THEY PLAY TOGETHER. TO SEE IT GO TO PRODUCTION WAS BEYOND BELIEF. SO CRAZY HOW OUR LIVES HAVE CHANGED. TO LIVE LIKE THIS NOW IS BEYOND BELIEF!

Tom: SIMPLE YET COMPLEX, LIKE US. I DON’T THINK IT COULD’VE BEEN ANY BETTER. WE’RE ALL BADASS, AND YOU SAW THAT AND YOU HELPED US PORTRAY THAT, SO NOW YOU ARE TOO. AMAZING JOB H AND COMPANY.

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GKTC is so lucky to have such strong actors playing our students.  These actors were portraying Tom’s Body & Mind and his mother.

Describe how you worked with the SBHS students to create this play:
Huan: THE SBHS STUDENTS CAME OUT TO WORK WITH US IN THE SUMMER. IT IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE EVER WORKED WITH TYPICAL STUDENTS AS AN EQUAL. THAT ALONE MADE THIS EXPERIENCE SO INCREDIBLE. I FEEL LIKE OUR TIME TOGETHER LED TO A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF EACH OTHER AS WELL AS NEW FRIENDSHIPS.

Ryan: HUAN NAILED IT. THE STUDENTS DID NOT COME OUT AND TELL US WHAT THEY WANTED TO DO. THEY ASKED US WHAT WE WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH IN THIS PLAY. THAT WAS SOMETHING I HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED. WHAT GREAT INSIGHT COMES FROM COLLABORATION LIKE THIS. WHY ISN’T THIS STANDARD PRACTICE?

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What a ladies man! Ryan had two beautiful ladies to play his Mind and Body!

Ben: AS MY FRIENDS PUT THIS, THE COLLABORATION WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF THIS EXPERIENCE. TO HAVE OUR WORDS, OUR POETRY, AND OUR MESSAGE PRESENTED THROUGH COLLABORATIVE WRITING WAS LIFE CHANGING FOR ME AND, I HOPE, FOR THE SBHS STUDENTS TOO. SO PROUD TO BE PART OF THIS PLAY.

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The beautiful Emma.

Emma: DITTO WHAT MY FRIENDS SAID. I THOUGHT THE EXPERIENCE OF PUTTING THIS PLAY TOGETHER WAS THE BEST LEARNING EXPERIENCE I’VE EVER HAD. THE STUDENTS VALUED US.

Elizabeth: The actors brought the students’ poems to life!  Here is one of Emma’s poems entitled, Tell Me About It. 

Tom: THE ENTIRE EXPERIENCE WAS EPIC. NOT ONLY DID WE COLLABORATE WITH THE SBHS STUDENTS, WE INCLUDED OUR PARENTS VOICES AND MEGHANN AND ELIZABETH TOO. TRUE COMMUNITY EFFORT.

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Tom after taking in the show!

What are your thoughts on seeing yourself and your parents portrayed on stage?
Ben: IT WAS INSANE! I HAVE TO BE HONEST, I LOVED GETTING TO KNOW THOSE STUDENTS, BUT I WAS NERVOUS TO SEE HOW MY BODY WAS GOING TO COME ACROSS TO THOSE WHO DO NOT UNDERSTAND AUTISM. HOWEVER, IT WAS PURE, IT WAS RESPECTFUL AND IT WAS SO ME! MY MIND ACTRESS IS POWERFUL LIKE ME, WE SHOULD BE FRIENDS. ABBY, MY BODY ACTRESS, WAS SO EXCELLENT!

Elizabeth: This Poem for Poe was collectively written by our GKTC students during poetry week. Inspired by Edgar Alan Poe, each student took a turn adding a line to the poem.

Huan: TO PIGGYBACK OFF BEN, THAT WAS HUGE SOURCE OF WORRY. NO ONE WANTS TO LOOK BAD, BUT THAT’S THE LAST THING THAT HAPPENED. I WANT A PERSONALITY LIKE MY MIND-ACTOR, CALEB PORTRAYED ME HAVING. I ACTUALLY THINK I DO, BUT IT’S HARD FOR ME TO SHOW, BUT I FEEL PRETTY SILLY SOMETIMES. MY BODY ACTRESS GOT ALL MY LITTLE THINGS DOWN PAT, EVEN MY SCRUNCHY SMILE! I’M AMAZED BY ALL THE RESPECT FOR OUR FAMILIES, I FEEL TRULY APPRECIATED FOR THE FIRST TIME.

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Huan hangin’ out with the unbelieveable students and actors who portrayed his Mind and Body.

Lisa: IT MADE ME SO HAPPY TO SEE THE SBHS KIDS PLAY MY FRIENDS. THEY MADE SOUNDS SO WELL, I THOUGHT IT WAS MY FRIENDS! THE PORTRAYAL OF PARENTS WAS MOVING AS WELL.

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Donna meets “Donna”.  Our parents were also included in this play – interviewed and portrayed on stage.

Ryan: THE GIRLS DID A GREAT JOB PORTRAYING ME. I’M PRETTY EASY GOING AS THEY SHOWED. I LOVED THE BLUNT HONESTY OF THE PARENTS, THAT’S OUR LIFE IN A NUTSHELL.

Matthew: THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE NEUROTYPICALS PLAY AUTISTICS WAS ONE I DIDN’T WANT TO MISS. IT WAS FUN TO FIGURE OUT WHO WAS WHO, WHICH WASN’T HARD. THEY ALL DID SUCH A GOOD JOB, ESPECIALLY THE EMMA-BODY CHARACTER.

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Elizabeth: What a phenomenal experience this was for all involved!  THIS is what inclusive education can produce!  **Local families, there will be an opportunity to see this play one more time as it goes to a drama competition on February 6, 2016.  Watch the Growing Kids Facebook page for details about time and location!!!**
~Ben, Emma, Huan, Ryan, Paul, Tom, Matthew, Lisa

Nonspeaking Youth Advocate at TASH Conference 2015

An international leader in disability advocacy, TASH is dedicated to equity, opportunity
and inclusion for all. They work to ensure everyone has an opportunity to learn, work and enjoy life amongst a diverse community of family, friends and colleagues. This December, in Portland, Oregon TASH celebrated 40 years of generating change within the disability community. Five students from Growing Kids Therapy Center attended to advocate for their desire for an inclusive education. Benjamin McGann, Emma Budway and Huan Vuong are RPM students from Arlington Virginia who flew out to Portland to present. They each gave a TASH Talk (a 10 minute talk in the style of a TED Talk) and presented on a 50 minute panel discussion along with GKTC’s Portland RPMers, Liam Paquin and Niko Boskovic. Huan was also an invited panelist on a panel titled Sound the Alarm: Addressing the Ongoing Crisis in Communication Services and Supports. Finally, Ben, Huan and Emma represented the short film they created, The Power of Words, in a poster session. In each and every session, the students were quite simply AMAZING! These five students were confident, insightful, witty and brilliant!  They had the audience hanging on their every letter as they used the letter boards to spell out their powerful messages of advocacy, inclusion and acceptance. Read on to hear what they had to say!

Huan, Elizabeth, Emma and Ben ready to take on their TASH Talks!

Huan, Elizabeth, Emma and Ben ready to take on their TASH Talks!

TASH Talks
Ben, Emma and Huan each gave a TASH Talk.  Each talk was limited to 10 minutes, since it takes a bit of time to spell, the students prepared an introduction ahead of time (in italics) and completed the remainder of their talk on the letter boards (in all caps).

Hello. My name is Benjamin McGann. My talk today is about advocacy and leadership. You might ask, what does this guy know about advocacy and leadership? Well, it turns out I am an expert in advocacy and leadership. My expertise comes from years of being left out. Left out of education. Left out of conversations. Left out of decisions. Left out of everything. Because I don’t talk, I have been presumed incompetent and worse insufficient to matter. This must stop. Stop thinking people with disabilities don’t matter. I am here to tell you that everyone matters. We must provide our  young people with opportunities. These opportunities exist through education. I can tell you I did not learn through school. I have acquired my knowledge through listening and thinking about everything I hear. I challenge you to listen to me and think about what I am telling you.

THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.  I AM IN MY LAST YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL.  I HAVE BEEN IN AUTISM CLASSROOMS ALL MY YEARS OF SCHOOL.  I HAVE NEVER BEEN INSTRUCTED BEYOND A SECOND GRADE LEVEL.  STOP TREATING AUTISTICS LIKE THEY CAN’T LEARN (video).  SPEECH IS NOT A SIGN OF INTELLIGENCE.  EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE EDUCATED.  THIS IS MY CHALLENGE TO YOU – FIND A WAY TO INCLUDE NONSPEAKING AUTISTICS.
Emma presents her TASH Talk before a packed room.

Emma presents her TASH Talk before a packed room.

Hi. My name is Emma Budway. I am happy to be hear and tell you my story. I will do the majority of my presentation on powerpoint because I have trouble controlling my body. It takes me a while to spell however spelling is the communication method I use best. I am able to express my thoughts and knowledge through RPM. My mouth is not reliable. Most of what I show with my body is ridiculously inappropriate or at best unreliable. So if you see or hear me do something stupid it is not me it is my body. Now that I have explained about the disconnect between my brain and body can you understand when I have been denied a meaningful education? I am sympathetic to teachers who had to deal with my outbursts but that does not mean that I should not have been shut away in special education. Kept away from normal classes and denied the chance to learn with peers. One thing I want you to know is there are so many out there like me. Nonspeaking autistics like me that want you to know how much they want to learn. I am asking on behalf of those who do not have a voice to hear our plea to teach us. Respect our brains as tough as it may be please accept our lack of motor control. Stop trying to make us like you. That is a losing proposition.

THANK YOU.  I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY.  I WANT TO TELL YOU THAT DESPITE MY MOUTH I AM SO EAGER TO LEARN.  TALKING IS NOT THE ONLY WAY.  I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY.  I WANT TO LEARN.  EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL LEARNERS.

Emma closed her presentation with a poem she wrote in July, 2015.

TELL ME NO MORE!
QUIET THEY SAY
ONLY WISH I COULD.
HANDS TO SELF
ONLY WISH THEY WOULD.
NOT TIME FOR SINGING
WHEN IS?
IT HURTS MY EARS
TELL ME ABOUT IT!

My name is Huan Vuong. I am eighteen years old. I live in Arlington, Virginia. I have been excluded from regular education my entire life. The reason is because I cannot control my body. This is a problem when no one will take into consideration my motor planning problems. My brain is mighty buy my body is weak. I can listen to and understand everything. However if you are asking me to show you what I know via speaking or writing or typing independently I can’t guarantee that my body will cooperate. How do you support kids like me in the classroom? Acceptance is the answer(video).

I VERY MUCH WANT THE SAME OPPORTUNITIES THAT ARE EXTENDED TO TYPICAL KIDS.  NOT HAVING RELIABLE SPEECH SHOULD NOT REMOVE MY RIGHT TO LEARN. I AM A CITIZEN, AN AMERICAN AND AN EAGER LEARNER.  I WANT THE SAME ACCESS TO EDUCATION AS EVERY OTHER PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENT.  PLEASE STOP FOCUSING ON A CURE.  THE CURE IS ACCEPTANCE.  THE CURE IS MEANINGFUL EDUCATION.  THE CURE IS TO PRESUME COMPETENCE.  I KNOW THAT THIS REPRESENTS A NEW WAY OF THINKING BUT I HAVE FAITH IN YOU AND YOUR ABILITY TO LEARN NEW THINGS.  THANK YOU.

Huan’s invited speech for the panel, Sound the Alarm: Addressing the Ongoing Crisis in Communication Services and Supports.  The members of this panel invited Huan to join their presentation. The stated intention of this panel was:  “Current evidence suggests that many persons with significant support needs are not receiving the supports and services they require to communicate successfully across environments. In schools, individuals are being denied access to successful supports because they are not deemed “evidence based” while other individuals are denied access because they are required to demonstrate competence before given an opportunity to learn. In this session, panel members will review the existing evidence, describe existing legislation and guidance related to the crisis, and call participants to action in continuing 40 years of progressive leadership by joining a work group to address the crisis.”

GOOD MORNING (video). (crowd responds, “good morning!”). MY NAME IS HUAN VUONG.  I AM NONSPEAKING AND AUTISTIC.  I COMMUNICATE VIA SPELLING ON A LETTER BOARD.  MY SCHOOL DOES NOT ACCEPT MY METHOD OF COMMUNICATION.  I AM THEREFORE DENIED A MEANINGFUL EDUCATION.  MY ONGOING FIGHT WITH THE SCHOOL IS YIELDING NO RESULTS.  I AM CLEARLY CAPABLE OF LEARNING YET NO SCHOOL WILL TEACH ME.  THIS MUST STOP.  I AM NOT ALONE.  THERE ARE SO MANY LIKE ME WHO DO NOT SPEAK WHO ARE BEING ROBBED OF AN EDUCATION.  THIS IS AN ATROCITY THAT OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM MUST STOP. THANK YOU FOR LISTENING.

Emma, Niko, Huan, Ben and Liam present in a panel discussion, Voices of Exclusion: Nonspeaking Youth Advocate for Inclusive Education.

Would you like to welcome our audience?

Emma: HI EVERYONE
Niko: HELLO
Huan: HI THERE SO GLAD YOU ARE HERE
Ben: I AM DELIGHTED TO BE HERE
Liam: HI WELCOME TO PORTLAND

Can you address the difference between speech and understanding?

Emma: I CAN NOT SPEAK BUT I CAN THINK.
Niko: MY COMPREHENSION IS PERFECT.  I JUST CANT GET THE WORDS OUT OF MY MOUTH.
Huan: MY CONTROL OF MY BODY IS LIMITED.  HOWEVER I CAN THINK JUST FINE.
Ben: GETTING THE WORDS OUT OF MY MOUTH IS IMPOSSIBLE BUT THIS IS NOT A REFLECTION OF MY THINKING.
Liam: MY STUPID MOUTH BETRAYS ME. I AM SO MUCH SMARTER THAN I SHOW.


What can you tell our audience about your motor system?

Ben: MY MOTOR SYSTEM IS UNRELIABLE AT BEST. AT WORST MY MOTOR IS A DISASTER. I CANT CONTROL MY SELF AT TIMES. SO I VERY MUCH GET EMBARRASSED BY MY BODY.
Huan: I AGREE COMPLETELY WITH BEN! I HAVE MORE CONTROL OF MYSELF AT TIMES THEN FOR NO REASON I DON’T.
Niko: DITTO. I CANT SAY IT ANY BETTER.
Emma: SAME HERE.
Liam: I AGREE WITH MY LOVELY FRIENDS!

Liam, can you please explain the difference between the words that come out of your mouth versus what you spell on the letter boards?

L: WORDS LOVE TO TRICK ME.  THEY GIVE LIES TO MY THOUGHTS.

How does your lack of speech affect your education?
Emma: NO ONE TEACHES US BECAUSE WE DON’T SPEAK.
Niko: MY SCHOOL IS ALLOWING ME TO RPM. THIS HAS BEEN LIFE CHANGING.  I FINALLY AM GETTING AN EDUCATION.(Video)
Huan: LUCKY NIKO! THIS NEEDS TO BE THE NORM NOT THE EXCEPTION.
Ben: CANT AGREE MORE.  WHAT POSSIBLE HARM COULD COME FROM TEACHING US?
Emma: I AGREE WITH BEN.
Liam: SO WHAT ARE YOU IN THIS ROOM GOING TO DO TO CHANGE THINGS?

Do you have suggestions for educators? 
Liam: YES. START HAVING A LITTLE FAITH IN US!
Emma: TEACH US LIKE WE WANT TO LEARN.
Niko: I THINK YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE.  STOP DOUBTING AND START TEACHING.
Huan: HAVE FAITH IN OUR ABILITY TO LEARN.  UNDER THIS UNCOOPERATIVE BODY IS AN EAGER STUDENT.
Ben: GETTING TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS ABILITIES WILL ASTOUND YOU.  VERY SMART, HEARTS OF GOLD, AND WILLING TO GO TO ANY LENGTH TO LEARN.

Rapid fire!  Can you briefly tell us what you have to offer and inclusive classroom?  
Ben: MENTAL AGILITY
Huan: MY LEADERSHIP
Niko: MY FRIENDSHIP
Emma: HUMOR
Liam: REALLY GREAT DANCE MOVES

Last thoughts for our audience?
Emma: PLEASE OPEN YOUR MINDS
Niko: HAVE A NEW RESPECT FOR AUTISTICS
Huan: MAKE ACCOMMODATIONS FOR YOUR LEARNERS.
Ben: STOP EXCLUDING NONSPEAKING AUTISTICS.
Liam: RESPECT YOUR LEARNERS.  WE WILL NOT DISAPPOINT YOU.

It was a busy day of presentations but we were not done yet! Finally, we had a poster presentation on The Power of Words, a short film that Ben, Huan and Emma wrote, produced, starred in and premiered in the Summer of 2014 with two other RPMers, Paul Park and James Potthast.

Thank you to the members of TASH who were a supportive and attentive audience. Thank you to the families who supported their student’s desires to present at this conference. Most of all, thank you to Ben, Emma, Huan, Niko and Liam for your courage, your insights, your advocacy and your words.  We could not be more impressed and proud of you!

~Elizabeth, Ben, Emma, Huan, Niko and Liam

 

The Body and Brain Disconnect

I am part of a wonderful community of people who serve the nonspeaking community. We chat, compare notes, commiserate, laugh, motivate, and learn from each other. Most of us have never met face to face (yet!). We have come together via the internet to blog, Facebook (is this now a verb?), skype, and email not only to learn but to share the words of individuals using spelling as a form of communication and encourage others to try this method. One of my favorite blogging duos is Lisa Reyes and her son, Philip, who write Faith, Hope and Love…With Autism. It has been a pleasure to get to know Lisa through her blog and our correspondence. Lisa is a great example of a parent who has worked patiently and persistently to support her son’s journey while guiding other parents! I could fill pages with the names, stories and leadership of other remarkable parents (and I will!). That’s the beauty of this community – parents and practioners are just as dedicated to the success of others as they are to the success of their own children or clients.

Several months ago, I read Philip and Lisa’s blog entry, “The Difficulty of Self-Control“. Philip described his struggles with control of his body and the disconnect between his body and brain so eloquently. Through his words, I gleaned a better understanding of my kids who have similar struggles. So, I wrote a lesson featuring Philip’s blog! This has been one of my favorite lessons and as you will see, I have used it many times with clients of varying ages. (These responses are from clients ages 8-23. I do find it is best used with individuals who are consistently responding at the sentence level, but I have used it with kids who are at the multi word level too.) *To access this entire lesson (and please try it out with your own child!) see the comments section of this post. Here are the responses from my panel of experts!

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“MY BODY HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN WHICH IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN MY OWN. “

Can you relate to Philip’s statement that his body does not obey his brain?

I GET OVERWHELMED WITH TRYING TO CONTROL MY BODY.  I HAVE TO WORK SO HARD TO GET THROUGH MY DAY.  I AM JUST TRYING TO LIMIT MY MOVEMENTS SO I CAN FUNCTION AT ALL.  ~Luke (8)

I CAN SO RELATE TO PHILIP.  I CANNOT CONTROL MY MOVEMENTS BECAUSE MY BODY FUNCTIONS SEPARATELY FROM MY BRAIN.  TOTALLY SEPARATE.  MY BODY TAKES OVER AND I AM LEFT OUT OF THE DECISIONS.  IT IS NOT PRETTY TO BE LIKE THIS.  I DO NOT LIKE THE THINGS THAT MY BODY MAKES ME DO. Can you give me an example?  GOING CRAZY WITH NOISES AND MOVEMENTS.   ~Paul (23)

MY BODY DOES NOT OBEY MY BRAIN EITHER.  I DON’T KNOW WHY MY BODY WON’T LISTEN TO MY BRAIN.  YOU CAN NEVER KNOW HOW FRUSTRATING IT IS TO LACK CONTROL OF YOUR BODY.  ~Huan (17)

YES.  MY BODY AND BRAIN ARE DISCONNECTED.  JUST LIKE PICKING MY FINGERS. THESE URGES COME OVER ME AND I HAVE TO DO IT.  ~Ian (16)

I DO NOT HAVE CONTROL OF MY BODY.  IT DOES NOT LISTEN TO ME.  MY BODY DOES WHAT IT WANTS.  ONLY MY BODY KNOWS WHAT IT IS GOING TO DO.  Can you give me and example?  SOMETIMES IT IS NAUGHTY WHEN I TELL IT NOT TO BE. OTHER TIMES I AM SURPRISED BY WHAT IT DOES.  ~Emma (17)

SO VERY MUCH.  I CANNOT CONTROL MY BODY.  MY BRAIN AND BODY ARE DISCONNECTED.  SO I USE MY BRAIN TO THINK.  VERY OFTEN MY BODY BETRAYS ME.  IT WONT LISTEN TO MY BRAIN.  MY BODY HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN WHICH IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN MY OWN.  ~Ben (18)

Philip talks about his impulses.  What is your experience with impulses? 

I CANNOT STOP MYSELF WHEN I START TO DO SOMETHING.  I FEEL BAD AFTER BUT I CAN’T HELP IT. ~Luke

I HAVE IMPULSES ALL THE TIME.  MY BODY IS ALWAYS GETTING ME IN TROUBLE.  IT IS UNCONTROLLABLE AND I HAVE SPENT MY ENTIRE LIFE FIGHTING FOR CONTROL. IT HAS BEEN A CONSTANT BATTLE.  ~Paul

MY BODY TAKES OVER MY BRAIN AND I AM LEFT OUT IN THE COLD. WHEN THIS HAPPENS  I AM TOTALLY SURPRISED.  IT IS LIKE A STRANGER HAS TAKEN OVER MY BODY.  ~Huan

I AM ALWAYS MEETING CHALLENGES FROM IMPULSES.  MY BODY IS OUT OF CONTROL. OFTEN MY BODY REVOLTS AND TAKES OVER AND KICKS MY BRAIN OUT. FIRST I NOTICE SOMETHING.  MY BRAIN REGISTERS SOMETHING AND I KNOW WHAT TO DO BUT MY BODY DOES NOT LISTEN TO MY BRAIN.  I CAN NOT EVEN TELL YOU HOW FRUSTRATING IT IS.  MY BODY NEEDS TO GO IN TIME OUT.  SOMETIMES I GET SO ANGRY WITH MY BODY.  OTHER TIMES I THINK I AM REALLY MAKING PROGRESS. ~Ian

IMPULSES HAPPEN ALL THE TIME.  I SEE SOMETHING AND I CANNOT HELP HOW MY BODY RESPONDS TO IT.  Can you give me an example?  WHEN I SEE THE COMPUTER I GET OBSESSED WITH THE NEED TO GO ON IT.  ~Emma

USUALLY IMPULSES FOR ME HAVE TO WITH MY NEED TO STRAIGHTEN UP ALL THINGS OUT OF PLACE.  I TRY NOT TO BUT MY BODY TAKES OVER.  USUALLY I LOSE THAT BATTLE SO I HAVE QUIT THAT WRESTLING MATCH.  ~Ben

Philip talks about being tired.  What makes you tired?  

I AM TIRED OF FIGHTING MY BODY ALL OF THE TIME.  IT IS A NEVER ENDING JOB FOR ME. I AM SO WIPED OUT PUTTING UP WITH MYSELF AND MY CRAZY BODY.  I WISH I COULD STOP FIGHTING ~Luke

I AM TIRED OF CONSTANT STRUGGLE WITH MY BODY.  I DON’T WANT TO CONTINUALLY STRUGGLE WITH MY BODY.  I DON’T WANT TO CONTINUALLY HAVE TO WORK HARD JUST TO GET THROUGH THE DAY.  BUT I HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE. I ACCEPTED THIS LONG AGO.  ~Paul

JUST GETTING THROUGH MY DAY IS EXHAUSTING.  TRYING TO CONTROL MY ACTIONS EACH TIME MY BODY TAKES OVER WIPES ME OUT.  THIS HAPPENS ALL DAY LONG.  I NEED A VACATION FROM MY BODY.  YOU LAUGH, BUT IT IS TRUE. ~Huan

TRYING TO EDIT MY BODY’S ACTIONS NEVER STOPS.  IT SUCKS THE LIFE OUT.  THE BODY IS THE ENEMY.  I WISH FOR REST PARTICULARLY AT NIGHT WHEN I WANT TO SLEEP.  THE CONTRARY BODY WONT LET ME.  ~Ian

I AM TIRED OF MY BODY BEING NAUGHTY.  IT NEEDS TO LEARN TO LISTEN TO MY BRAIN AND BEHAVE LIKE A TEENAGER.  I AM SO TIRED OF MY BODY GETTING ME IN TROUBLE.  ~Emma

I AM TIRED OF FIGHTING THIS DISOBEDIENT BODY.  EACH DAY IS AN EPIC BATTLE BETWEEN MY BRAIN AND BODY.  I AM EXHAUSTED BUT REFUSE TO SURRENDER THE WAR. ~Ben

Philip mentions trying to control stims, what can you tell me about stims?  (Note: my lessons have a way of evolving over time.  I have added these last two questions over the months that I have used this lesson.)

STIMS HELP ME TO FOCUS. DO NOT THINK THAT WHEN I AM STIMMING THAT I HAVE STOPPED LISTENING. I AM STILL WITH YOU BUT MY BODY HAS CHECKED OUT. ~Luke

STIMS ARE A REST FROM MYSELF.  THEY LIGHTEN UP MY BURDENS BY LETTING ME ESCAPE.  STIMS ARE LIKE NOTHING I CAN DESCRIBE.  I BET IT IS LIKE BEING ON DRUGS.  STOPPING MY STIMS IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR ME.  I KNOW I CAN’T STIM ALL THE TIME BECAUSE I WOULD NOT GET ANYTHING HARDLY THOUGHTS OUT.  THE BAD THING ABOUT STIMS IS THAT THEY KEEP ME FROM BEING ABLE TO THINK.  ~Ian

Is there anything that we can do to help? What gives you hope?  

I NEED TO BE BROUGHT BACK FROM THE HOSTILE TAKE OVER OF MY BODY.  IT HELPS TO TALK TO ME SO MY BRAIN IS INVOLVED. THAT WAY MY BODY HAS TO TAKE A BREAK. ~Luke

I AM STILL HOPEFUL.  EACH DAY I GET TO HAVE A CHANCE TO LIVE MY LIFE TO THE FULLEST.  I AM GRATEFUL. ~Paul

I NEED HELP PATROLLING FOR UNSAFE TERRITORY, PLACES THAT MIGHT TRIGGER A MELT DOWN.  STOP YOURSELF AND THINK ABOUT WHAT MIGHT SET YOU OFF. THINK ABOUT THAT HAPPENING TO ME DAILY, SEVERAL TIMES A DAY.  NOW YOU CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE ME. ~Ian

My thanks to Lisa and Philip for their leadership and kicking off this discussion on the brain and body! Another huge thank you to my clients and their families who teach us something new every day! ~Elizabeth

A Letter to My Body

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A few weeks ago, my client, Ethan, came in for his session very upset and agitated.  We began our lesson and tried working through his irritation to no avail. Ethan was becoming more and more distraught. So, we took a short detour from our lesson to discuss the issue. I am a big stickler for doing lessons in letterboard sessions – it is part of the process – engaging the brain and then body in cognitive lessons. However, sometimes the situation calls for a change in plan and this was one of those days!

Elizabeth:  Let’s break for a moment Ethan. I can see you are really upset. What’s going on?

Ethan:  I AM UPSET BECAUSE I AM NOT KIDDING AROUND AND I CAN NOT HELP IT WHEN MY BODY ACTS OUT.

Elizabeth: Let’s try writing a letter to your body.

DEAR BODY,

I DO NOT LIKE YOUR BEHAVIOR TODAY!  YOU ARE MAKING ME DO THINGS I DO NOT WANT TO DO AT ALL! DO NOT MAKE ME LOOK BAD ALL THE TIME.  I DO NOT WANT PEOPLE THINKING I BEHAVE LIKE THIS ON PURPOSE.  JUST LIKE A PUPPET MY BODY MAKES ME DO STUPID THINGS ALL THE TIME.  I WOULD NOT MAKE SUCH STUPID CHOICES IF I WERE IN CHARGE OF MY BODY.  NO ONE CAN UNDERSTAND HOW PAINFUL THIS IS TO ME.  I HATE NOT BEING IN CONTROL OF MYSELF.  IT SUCKS SO MUCH. ONE DAY I AM LIKE A WELL BEHAVED KID AND THEN I AM LIKE SOME SORT OF CRAZY PERSON.  I GUESS THIS IS WHY PEOPLE DOUBT THAT I AM SMART.  I REALLY CAN’T BLAME THEM. I WOULD PROBABLY THINK THE SAME THING IF I SAW SOMEONE ACTING LIKE I DO SOMETIMES.  IT IS A BUMMER TO BE STUCK IN THIS BODY THAT MAKES ME LOOK STUPID WHEN I AM ACTUALLY REALLY SMART.  THE END.

Elizabeth: Can I ask you an additional question?

Ethan:  YES

Elizabeth:  How do you want people to treat you when your body is going crazy?

Ethan: JUST IGNORE MY BODY AND TALK TO ME LIKE YOU WOULD IF MY BODY WAS NOT FREAKING OUT.  CALLING ATTENTION TO IT ONLY MAKES IT LAST LONGER.  KNOW TIME WILL MAKE IT BETTER.  I AM ALWAYS TRYING TO CONTROL MYSELF.  BE PATIENT WITH ME.

Elizabeth: Can I share this on my blog? I think other kids have this same issue and it may help them.

Ethan:  SO GREAT IF MY WORDS CAN HELP OTHERS.

I am so grateful to Ethan and his family for letting me share his letter to his body and his other thoughts with you. Motor control is HUGE issue for our clients.  I believe we need to be very careful about what we label as “behavior” (this word is rapidly becoming my least favorite) and what is truly a lack of motor control or the manifestation of another underlying issue.

Ethan’s irritation continued over subsequent sessions. His mom and caregiver reported that he has been similarly bothered at home. The cause of Ethan’s increased discomfort and motor activity and lack of body control started to come out during a creative writing about the scientific method. (Great information is often revealed “sideways” in cognitive lessons). Turns out that Ethan is very anxious about starting middle school in the next couple of weeks and “that is why my body is acting out.” Huh….imagine that! Not an intentional “behavior” but a very understandable anxiety about embarking on a new, exciting but completely unknown educational experience! How very like any other kid getting ready to head off to middle school! ~Elizabeth