Yesterday, I sent the following letter to everyone on Brooke’s support team.
Hi, all. I hope everyone is doing well. I read something this morning that stopped me in my tracks and I hope you don’t mind, but I feel compelled to share it. It’s a post about echolalia written by an autistic woman named Julia Bascom on her amazing blog, Just Stimming. The following two paragraphs resonated like nothing else I’ve ever read. Knowing my girl as you all do, I’m guessing you’ll know why.
“As much as I can hate words, I delight in them, too. When I’m echoing, referencing, scripting, riffing and rifting, storing and combing and recombining, patterning, quoting, punning, swinging from hyperlexic memory to synesthetic connection, words are my tangible playground.
Make me talk like you, and you’ll get a bunch of syntactically sophisticated nonsense. Let me keep my memories and connections, my resonations and associations and word-pictures, and if you slow down enough, you might hear something ringing true.”
Here’s the whole post.
Thank you all so very much, not just for teaching Brooke, but for respecting her, supporting her, and helping her to celebrate who she is.
I often caution parents not to assume that anything and everything that they read from autistic adults applies lock, stock and barrel to their own children. Until the day that we can, in some way, ask, “Is this what you feel too?” and our children can, in some way, say, “Yes, Mama! Yes, it is,” we won’t really know.
Autism is a spectrum. Humanity is a spectrum. The intersection of the two is as vast and wide and messy and all-encompassing as either of them alone. There is no more valuable insight than one person’s experience of the world and yet, it is just that – one person’s experience. It takes so much more before we can assign it to our children, manifested precisely the same way because of this one connecting thread.
Ask any scientist and they will tell you that assumption, no matter how well-founded in research, taints the objectivity of further observation and strangles the possibility of discovery. Look only for the thing we’ve already determined that we will find and we will, even if we have to force it into being. But so too, in dismissing anything that doesn’t fit, we will miss everything else there is to see.
The best that we can do is watch, watch, watch our children. Listen with so much more than our ears to not just what they say and do but HOW they experience the world from the inside out. And then gather insight from others. And see what fits and what doesn’t. What might and what might not jive with what we know.
I read a lot that doesn’t resonate. I store it, just in case, holding onto it like a treasure map to a neighboring island I’m not now, but might someday, be on. And then, once in a rare while, I find something that is so achingly familiar that I gather it up and hold it close and revel in the intimacy, the knowing, the reflection of some aspect of my girl in all her wonder, there in someone else’s words.
Julia’s words. My God. This is my girl.
Brooke skips through fields of words and frolics in their sounds. She rolls from one to the next — Water Water Besha Besha — filling her pockets with the ones that delight her senses, dropping the rest on the grass with a satisfying thud as she runs, overcome with squealing laughter, a vocal gymnast throwing sounds twirling, twisting, flipping into the wind. My girl loves sounds. As tongue-tyingly frustrating as they may be when forced into the box of Other People’s Perceptions, words and sounds and sounds that are words are wondrous, joyful, FREE when unencumbered by the burden of Communicative Purpose.
Words are her playground, and now I know that they are Julia’s too. Perhaps some day they can slide and swing and sift and rift together.
In the meantime, I will be her word playmate any time she wants one. And I’ll have these words in my pocket the whole damn time:
Make me talk like you, and you’ll get a bunch of syntactically sophisticated nonsense. Let me keep my memories and connections, my resonations and associations and word-pictures, and if you slow down enough, you might hear something ringing true.