Does Not Compute: Spoken Directions

I suck at following spoken directions, verry merry berry much. At following spoken directions, my suckage is not within normal limits. I suck abnormally at following spoken directions. My suckage at following spoken directions is not only high, verry merry berry, but high, eggstremely.

Here is a schematic to visualize these advanced concepts:

As you can see, I really really really suck at following spoken directions.

I suck at doing things when someone tells me what to do:

When someone tells me what to do when I am cooking dinner, I have no idear what they are talking about, and I wish that they would stop, so I can cook my dinner in peace, quiet, and combobulation, a lack of discombobulation.

When someone tells me what to do when I am doing a science experiment, I have no idear what they are talking about, and I wish that they would stop, so I could do my science experiment in peace, quiet, and combobulation, defined above.

In seventh grade, when my Home Economics teacher told the class what to do when we were making aprons, I had no idear what she was talking about, and I wished that she would stop, and I sucked at making my apron. At making my apron, I sucked so eggstremely much that I had to go to school extra early in the morning for a special remediation of my apron-making deficits. Me and the teacher both had to show up extra early, so she could show me how to make my apron, me having learned nothing at all from her spoken directions in class. After she showed me how to make my apron, my deficits in apron-making dissolved, problem solved, and I became purrrty durrrn good at making aprons. I made an apron for my class, and I made moar moar moar aprons for fun. I made so many aprons for fun that you could even say that I got an itsy-bitsy obsessed with making aprons, but fortunately, the fad went almost as fast as it had come.

In general, I learn nothing at all from people telling me what to do, whether they are teaching me how to cook dinner, do science experiments, or make aprons. When people tell me how to do things that I already know how to do, I can do everything just fine by ignoring everything that comes out of their mouths. When people teach me how to do things that I don’t know how to do by telling me what to do, or giving me spoken directions, I suck at doing whatever I am supposed to be doing, knowing whatever I am supposed to be doing, understanding whatever I am supposed to be doing, and learning whatever I am supposed to be learning to do.

This was true when I was a child. This is true for me as an adult. This was true when I sucked at language. This is true now that I have good language skills. It doesn’t matter how old I get, or how great my language skills become. I suck, sucked, and will suck at following spoken directions 4evar and evar and evar.

But why do I suck at following spoken directions? Why do I suck so much at learning from people telling me what to do?

I don’t know eggsacly, but I have a few idears:

I suck at processing hoooman speech.

I suck at processing hoooman speech into meanings.

I suck at processing hoooman speech into the non-spoken meanings that I understand fast and good in my own mind.

I suck at processing hoooman speech into the non-spoken, non-verbal meanings that I understand fast and good in my own mind.

I suck at processing hoooman speech into the visual meanings that I understand fast and good in my own mind.

I am a visual thinker, so I understand non-spoken, non-verbal, visual meanings fast and good in my own mind, without taking much time or making much effort to understand them. Them, I just get, just like that, and that is just how I naturally normally think.

I am not a verbal thinker, so I have to translate all verbal spoken directions into non-spoken, non-verbal meanings as the verbal directions are spoken into my ears and brain. This translation takes time and effort, so my understanding of things passed this way into my brain is slow and sucky. It is slow and sucky compared to my natural normal way of thinking, and it is slow and sucky in general. Sometimes, the machine that does the translation gets bogged and clogged when there are too many directions feeding into it too fast, more after four after three after two after one. Sometimes, the machine gets overloaded and shuts down, and all the translations stop. For awhile, anywhile from tenths to tens of hours, the translations cease, and the machine rests in peace. After awhile, when the machine slugs back to life again, the translations start again, but it would be a good idear not to overload the machine again. It would be a good idear not to shut down the machine again. It would be a good idear not to tell me what to do, step after step after step. It would be a good idear not to teach me anything new by giving me spoken directions, yak yak yakkity yak yak. Instead, just show me in actions, pictures, or text, and I will probably get it just fine.

This is what it looks like when the machine bogs and clogs:

“In one ear…&…Out the same ear,” the machine rejects the snail trail.

In moar moar moar official terms, this slow, sucky, sluggish, slimey snail trail is a language processing disorder, an auditory processing disorder, or both. Many autistic people have one, the other, or both.

For example, many autistic children have poor receptive language, meaning that they suck at following spoken directions, learning from spoken language, and understanding what the begeebus people are yakking at them. Maybe they can follow one step at a time, or maybe not. Maybe they can follow two steps in a row, or maybe not. Slime together three or four or moar moar moar slugs in a snail trail, moar moar moar words, and forget about following anything or learning anything. I can’t follow that many steps, that many words, and my brain overloads and shuts down when the machine bogs and clogs, which means the end of any learning of anything in any way for the rest of the day.

So what do we do about this problem? This language processing disorder or auditory processing disorder or ear-brain disconnection disorder or whatever it is?

Problem: Poor receptive language through the ears, slow and sucky, sluggish and slimey

Solution: Develop good receptive language through the eyes, fast and good, autistic and awesome

When I was in grade school, I had a special education plan that I call the “Leave Me Alone” education plan. Ackshuly, I call it the “Leave Me The Fark Alone” education plan, or LMTFA for short. According to LMTFA, I was allowed to ignore everything that came out of everyone’s mouth at school. I did not have to listen to the teachers in class, and I did not have to pretend that I was listening either. I did not have to work or play with the other kids, including the other kids in the gifted and talented program that I had gotten into based on the results of a non-interactive, non-spoken, non-verbal test, basically an IQ test like the Raven’s Progressive Matrices.

Instead of learning from other hooomans in the typical way that hooomans learn from each other, I got to learn on my own from pictures and words in textbooks, worksheets, flashcards, puzzles, and games, thus completely bypassing my receptive language deficits through my ears and my expressive language deficits through my mouth.

If slow and sucky through the ears, then try the eyes instead.

If slow and sucky through the mouth, then try the fingers instead.

Nevar evar evar assume that slow and sucky in one way means slow and sucky in all ways.

Nevar evar evar assume that disability in one way means disability in all ways.

Always search for a way that works.

When I was a kid, I could not learn many things in the typical ways, but I ended up learning many things anyway, because there was always someone willing to adapt to me and teach me in my own way instead of me always having to adapt to everyone else and learning nothing on their highways.

From third grade (or was it second, I furrrgotz) through fifth grade, I had my special education plan that worked grrrrrrreat!!! for me, but I am not advocating for all awesome autistic kids to be left alone to their own soft- and hard-ware. Instead, it would help a lot lot lot if kids with receptive language problems and/or auditory processing problems were taught to read and write and type, so they could bypass their weaknesses to develop their strengths. It would help if the kids could read what was said at the same time that it was said. It would help if the kids could write what they wanted to say, then read what they wrote. It would help if the kids could type what they wanted to say for everyone else to read. All these things would help adults as well, no matter how highly intelligent or how high-functioning they are. As long as they are autistic adults with language and auditory processing problems, then they will benefit from an accommodation for their weaknesses and a recognition of their strengths.

Speaking of strengths, here is another story to balance out the snail trail:

In seventh grade, we were required to take both Home Economics and Industrial Technology as part of the standard junior high curriculum in our school district. Industrial Technology consisted of a bunch of twelve-year-olds on sugar highs running around in a large multi-room workshop operating saws, drills, and sanders, while the lone teacher operated on standby to call the nurse’s office or 911 when I sanded off my fingernail on the belt sander, ooops, or the nerd/geek/dork with the preppy haircut and big glasses cut off his finger with the bandsaw, yikes. In this class, I completed several projects with no problems whatsoever. We had to make a whistle, and I made the whistle that blew the loudest. We had to make a miniature load-bearing bridge, and I made the bridge that bore the greatest load. We had to make a gas-propelled model vehicle, and I made the sharkmobile that flew the fastest.

In this class, I did grrrrrrreat!!!, but not because I knew lotsa fizzicks (I didn’t), or had lotsa experience building things (I hadn’t), or was a gigantic nerd/geek/dork (OK, I was). I did grrrrrrreat!!!, because there were no verbal directions for doing anything, no spoken directions, no written directions, no textbooks, no worksheets, no flashcards, no rulez. Instead, the teacher just drew some pictures of whistles and bridges and cars on the chalkboard and showed us a few of these things, the real things, to hold in our hands, and we were left alone to our own soft- and hard-ware, small pieces of which got lost during the process, ooops.

The only verbal directive was not to lose any of our body parts in class, and I had no problem complying with that spoken direction. The fingernail didn’t count, cuz it grew back just fine, and I’m purrrty sure that the guy got his finger reattached just fine too, two for two.

Advertisements

Level Up: Learn To Write

At two years old, I started to learn to read, as I wrote about in my post Level Up: Learn To Read.

Verry merry berry early, I learned to read *apple* and *pear* and *cat* and *rabbit*, single words for single things, but I did not develop reading comprehension beyond the single word, single thing level for a verry merry berry long time to come. For me as a small child, that was alright, because although I did not understand the whole sentences, paragraphs, or stories that I was reading, I still learned a large vocabulary of words for things, and I still made the connections between words and things, and I still built the foundation for learning later to make the translations between my visual thoughts and the verbal communications that would allow me to offload my brilliant brilliance, for hours and hours and hours at a time, to my fellow Earthlings on Earth, the poor things.

For writing, things were much the same.

At three years old, I started to learn to write.

One day, my father doodled a doodle of a cat or a rabbit or something on an envelope or something, and I saw it, picked up a pencil, and doodled his doodle. Then, we ate some oodles of noodles for lunch and doodled oodles of doodles afterwards, some of which included words, which to me, as I doodled whatever he doodled, were no different from the small furrry purrry animalcules that he is still doodling all over envelopes to this verry merry berry day, while he is waiting for one of his extraordinarily slow, Luddite-endorsed thinking machines to recover from him stroking a key, any key, on its orderly array of mechanoreceptors.

For me, writing words was like drawing pictures.

I saw a picture of a cat, and I drew it.

I saw a picture of the word for a cat, and I drew it.

The way that I saw the word for a cat…

…was like the way that someone else would have seen the word for a cat…

…in a furrreign purrreign language that they didn’t understand…

…except as a picture, just as we all saw the picture of the cat, the small furrry purrry animalcule itself.

From reading and writing at the pictorial level of single words and single things, I made the connections between words and things, which was an important step for me to generalize an idea as simple as a cat from a picture of this cat, a picture of that cat, pictures of moar moar moar cats, the small furrry purrry animalcules themselves, all labeled by the picture *cat* as I saw it with my eyes and drew it with my fingers. I still didn’t talk or talk about cats, but I did build the foundation for learning to do that a few years later.

Just as parents should teach their awesome autistic children to read words as early as possible, so should they teach their children to write or type words verry merry berry early too. Regardless of whether or not the child speaks any words or looks anyone in the eye or points at anything, the parents should try to teach the child to read and write words. Reading and writing single words for single things were the first and second steps in language development for this awesome autistic child. For me, reading and writing came before listening and speaking, so not listening and not speaking do not mean not being able to learn to read and write words.

Want a non-verbal autistic child to learn to communicate and use language for communication?

Step 1: Read words.

Step 2: Write words.

If receptive language is bad through the ears, then try the eyes.

If expressive language is bad through the mouth, then try the fingers.

When I was little, I had atypically good motor skills for drawing pictures and writing words, but not all autistic children have those skills at those ages. Most typical children don’t either, but we now have the technology to bypass the majority of the motor skills deficits commonly found amongst autistic children and children in general. Instead of writing, a child can type. She can see a picture of a cat and admire it. She can see a picture of the word for a cat and type it.

In the beginning, her fingers can be guided to the keys on the keyboard, but hands off as soon as she starts pecking with some accuracy herself. I was a small child in the olden times of the 1980s, so I did not have access to these new-fangled thinking machines with their orderly arrays of mechanoreceptors, but I could have learned to type words on a keyboard just as well as I did learn to write words with a pencil. All I had to do was to match the letters in the words that I saw to the letters on the keyboard. That was within my abilities as a non-verbal autistic child who did not have much in the way of language, communication, or joint attention. I did not look at things that people pointed out for me to look at, but I could have looked between a flashcard and a keyboard just fine. I did not point at anything for anyone else to look at, but I could have moved my fingers around the keys on a keyboard just fine.

When I saw these pictures…

…I could have typed the words to go with them just fine.

I could have typed the words, and typing the words would have solidified the connections between the words and the things in my mind, the connections encoded through my eyes and my fingers. By seeing with my eyes, I would have learned to read words as labels for things. By typing with my fingers, I would have learned to write and spell them too. Later, in school, I was always verry merry berry good at spelling.

Once I had made some progress in typing, anyone who had tried to move my arm or hold my hand or guide my fingers or provide any push or pull in any direction or interfere in any way with my extremely enjoyable, independent activity of extremely enjoyable, independent typing, would have been deservingly met with some minor violent act, such as me slapping their dirty paws off my dirty paws and my soon-to-be-dirty keyboard not to be dirtied by their dirty paws, but only mine, Mine, MINE, MY PRECIOUS, everyone else, HANDS OFF!!!

At a young age, autistic children can be taught, and so learn, to read and write words, the first and second steps in language development.

What is this thing? Do you remember the word for it?

She remembers and types the word for this thing, knowing that the word goes with the thing.

Rinse’n’Repeat, many many many times, to learn a vocabulary of words, the foundation for language development.

Once, I asked a professional in the field, a speech and language pathologist, if she or her colleagues regularly used this technique to teach kids like me to read and write words. She told me no, that this technique was not regularly used in speech and language therapies for autistic children. In fact, she said that she had never used it herself. According to common practice, autistic children were not taught to read or write words, because it was commonly believed that they lacked the ability to learn or use language for communication. For this, the words are “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

For me, these words did not apply, because I learned to read and write many many many words before I learned to speak, communicate, or use language for communication. I learned to read and write at the single word, single thing level, before I learned to read at the level of sentences, paragraphs, stories, office products catalogs that I like to read in the bathroom, or scientific publications that I like to read in my bed, the bester to fall asleep faster. If someone had tried to teach me to speak or communicate or use language for communication before I had learned to read or write words, then I don’t know what would have happened with me. Maybe I would have learned just fine, but maybe I would have been super duper confused. Perhaps I would have gotten it after awhile, but perhaps I would have struggled forever. Possibly everything would have been the same for me today, but possibly everything would have been different. Who knows? I don’t, because that is not what happened with me.

What happened with me was that I learned to read and write words in the way that I learned the bestest…

…me seeing the words as pictures just as I saw the pictures as pictures…

…and me drawing the words as pictures just as I drew the pictures as pictures.

Pictures of cats and pictures of the word for a cat.

Pictures of rabbits and pictures of the word for a rabbit.

As you can see, I had a lot of fun doing it too, both then, when I saw and drew my words as pictures, and now, when I type my words to tell my stories on my blog, mine, Mine, MINE, MY PRECIOUS!!!

Everyone else, HANDS OFF!!!

Please refer to my post The Magical World Of Make-Believe, if you are wondering why I am so skeeery-looking in my picture, skreeemy-looking with my words, and impersonating the dentist of your dreams, your really really really bad dreams.

The Magical World Of Make-Believe

In the autism community, there is a magical world of make-believe.

In the magical world of make-believe, non-verbal autistic children who had received no education in the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic, or anything else either, suddenly know how to use complex language to communicate their complex thoughts and feelings as soon as someone shows up to move their fingers around a keyboard, the bester to rescue them from their trapped existence in their miserable prisons, their bodies that motor fine for many activities requiring fine motor skills, but typing on a keyboard not included.

All of a sudden, there is hope on the horizon. Not only is there hope on the horizon, near or far, but the fruit ripens before your verry merry berry eyes in an amazing time-lapse video accompanied by eloquent verbal articulations in real-time. There is no process of learning to type. There is no process of learning to use language. There is no process of learning to communicate using language by typing. There is no mistyping of nonsense letters followed by repetitive typing of single words followed by a small breakthrough, a short simple phrase expressing a short simple thought, typed many times in a row for her own pleasure and not with an audience in mind, the complex sentences with the complex words and the complex meanings quite a few yellow bricks down the road, but worth the hard work for you and her both when she gets there, a few months, a few years, a decade or two past today’s golden delicious sunset on the horizon, no wizards, spells, or magic involved.

For the non-verbal autistic child of a certain age, let’s say 8 or 9 or 10, learning to type, use language, and communicate are all verry merry berry possible things, as long as these things are taught to them us. There is the child, and there is the teacher, and the teacher works with the child one-on-one to teach the child that words mean things and make sentences, which also mean things beyond the things that the words mean themselves, and here is how to string the words that I learned to read and write into a sentence that means something to me and the person to whom I typed, wrote, or spoke it to communicate my thoughts and feelings to them. That is how I learned to use language for communication, starting at the age of 8, progressing through the age of 9, and doing verry merry berry well by the age of 10. It was a process that occurred over months and years, not minutes or hours, and it was a lot of work, but it was play too, because I had lots of fun learning to use language, and using language for everything from communicating to generalizing to analyzing to creating was essential to my cognitive development into the thinker that I am today.

At the age of 8 or 9 or 10, what I could do was learn the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic, and purrrty much everything else too, as long as there was a teacher to get me started and myself to do the work and play, lots of lots of fun.

I was a verry merry berry smart child, and I was verry merry berry good at learning, but I needed a lot of help in the areas that my brain was not naturally good at. Every area that was verbal, my brain was not naturally good at. Every area that my brain was not naturally good at, I was taught, and I learned, and I worked on it, and I tried hard, and I had both successes and failures many many many times, so I got good enough to get by and then some on a good day. It was a process that took months and years, and this process is still going on today. I did not learn to speak for myself in a day, right away.

At the age of 8 or 9 or 10, what I could not suddenly do in front of a keyboard was all of the following:

Type a sentence to communicate a thought in words.

Think a thought in words in my mind.

Think of communicating a thought in words to others.

Know what verbal communication was.

String words into sentences in real-time.

Communicate my thoughts in words in real-time.

Think thoughts in words to communicate in real-time.

Think of thinking thoughts in words to communicate in real-time.

Before I learned to use language for communication, I also sucked at all of the following:

Reading beyond the single word level.

Understanding most of what I had read.

Thinking about what I had read in my mind.

Thinking of thinking about what I had read in my mind.

Outputting what I had read in my own words.

Outputting what I knew in my own words.

As a verry merry berry small child with hyperlexia, I learned verry merry berry early to read and write words. To me, reading words was like seeing sights and hearing sounds. To me, writing words was like drawing pictures. Without help, I did not develop good reading comprehension on my own. I did not develop good language usage on my own. No wizards. No spells. No magic. None of these for me. Without an understanding of language, I did not learn all kinds of things of cabbages and kings to be able to show the cornucopia of knowledge that I had accumulated during my non-verbal, socially aloof, uncommunicative years, as soon as someone showed up to move my finger around a keyboard. No, I did not have super duper awesome thoughts on this topic, and no, I did not have super duper awesome feelings on that topic. No, there were no complex thoughts and feelings in my mind, and no, I did not have a running commentary of my brilliant observations, analyses, and conclusions between my ears. Behind my eyes were no powerful poignant emotions or emotional expressions, and nowhere in my brain was there the flickering faintest about what could possibly be going on inside anyone else’s mind.

I was a typical autistic chid. Smart, ready to learn, capable of learning, really good at some things, really bad at some things, and in no way, shape, or form ready or capable of using facilitated communication to speak for myself.

After I learned to use language for communication and many other things, I still cannot do most of the following most of the time:

Communicate a smooth and coherent stream of verbal thoughts and feelings in real-time.

Answer smoothly and coherently open-ended questions in real-time.

Write a smooth and coherent narrative of my experiences for an audience in real-time.

Express my opinions smoothly and coherently with an audience in mind in real-time.

Be socially insightful in my verbal communications verry merry bery often.

Be socially adept in my verbal communications verry merry berry often.

Use persuasive emotional language in my verbal communications lots lots lots.

Use cogent abstract arguments in my verbal communications lots lots lots.

Sound like a typical person in all my communications as an autistic person at all times.

Sound like an autistic person communicating my real thoughts and feelings at no time.

These are all things that I cannot do consistently, and the moar moar moar people there are watching my every move, the less less less likely that I will be able to do them. I could not suddenly do them or any rudimentary version of them before I learned, I mean really really really learned for real real real, to use language for communication, and I cannot do them well now. I can do some of them some of the time on my blog, but not as well as most bloggers or most autistic bloggers on the Internetz. That is fine with me, because that is not my way anyway. My way is to communicate concrete thoughts in concrete language about concrete topics that I know and understand.

Here is one of my latest:

I feel ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh to find that facilitated communication is widely accepted within the autism community, especially amongst the autistic proponents of neurodiversity, whose magical world of make-believe is not, was not, and could never have been good for me.

In this post, my point is that this non-verbal autistic child could not have learned to communicate through facilitated communication. Instead, this non-verbal autistic child learned to communicate and use language for communication, because she was taught in a process that took months and years, not minutes or hours, that required work on the parts of the teacher and the student, that was really really really worth it with each and every brick that she, really really really her, built into the road.

Dear parents, please consider helping your children build this road, word by word, sentence by sentence, brick by brick, for genuine language and communication. It is not quick or easy, but it is possible, probable, worthwhile.

At the same time, please resist the wizardry, spells, and magic of things that are too good to be true, no matter how instantly gratifying and emotionally uplifting they are.

When I was a child, I could not have communicated through facilitated communication. I would not have had the skills to do it. It would have been beyond my abilities. I would not have learned to communicate using it. I would not have learned to communicate for real. I would not have learned to speak, write, or type for myself. None of the communications would have been mine. This communication would not be here today. I would not have been able to tell my stories on my blog. No doubt would tales have been told here still, but none of them mine, and not by me.