“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
I had lunch this week with a friend of mine who in my opinion really understands autism. She has taught children with all levels of autism, the highly verbal and the non-verbal. She knows James well and has been his teacher. She was thrilled for us last year when we met Soma and had such an extraordinary breakthrough of communication using RPM. She definitely believes that James is a smart kid and she knows we wouldn’t make up the things he says on the letterboard but I am guessing there was still some doubts about some of the things we reported he was spelling. It is easy to understand this because a lot of what we report about James’ progress is rather extraordinary and honestly its fun to shock people with the vocabulary he uses and the things he writes about. In fact, our SLP sometimes calls the big words that James and her other clients use in RPM as “liar” words because when reported to others they might think she is lying!
So during lunch with my friend I excitedly reported to her that an 11-year-old girl we both know had just taken off with RPM and had asked her mom if “she could study others who had been ostracized”. My friend said (and I paraphrase) “well that is great but can she tell her mom that she prefers the green shirt to the blue one, because really life is made up of the little conversations we have throughout the day, and can these kids do that or are they just writing the big words and the lofty thoughts”? Gosh, I was surprised by this question but it makes sense. If we just tell people about the big things being said they may not understand how truly important the little things are and how much they have changed our lives. And they may not totally believe us either. Last thing I want to do is give doubters more reason to doubt! So I wrote this blog post to say that for every big thought being spelled on our letter board there are 20 that are mundane. But those mundane thoughts have made life so much easier. Despite having some speech James doesn’t mean a lot of what he is verbally expressing. It comes from the 10 plus years of speech therapy and ABA where we drilled words and phrases into him and they are so ingrained that when he goes to retrieve a word often an unintended one comes out. Now we say to him “do you mean that or something else?” and give him the board to tell us what he is REALLY thinking. Of course it’s not always pretty. One of the first times that my family was gathered after we were using RPM, we were sitting in a circle waiting for James to say something profound to his Grandmother on her 86th birthday and he said I DON’T LIKE THE BIRTHDAY CAKE. It wasn’t what we expected but it was so nice to know why he was acting irritable!
One more thing about lunch with this friend. We were celebrating her birthday and mine. When the cake and candle came I realized that for the last 13 years I have wished for the exact same thing. That James would talk. This is the first year my wish has come true!
I am so glad Brooke wrote this and perhaps more people can share just how important those little things are. Working with James 5 days a week for the past school year reminded me how much we all have to assume in their daily life. Do they care what they wear, do they have a favorite color, what do they like to read, are they cold or hot, and really how do they feel? James has learned to tell us the little things to make him more comfortable and to give him the same opportunities as other teens to share their opinion. I remember the day he asked for new shoes that looked cooler, or black socks because he didn’t like white socks and black shoes, or so many other little things that we never would have known.