Monday, October 18, 2010

“I want to have a full life.”

In January 2010, during one of his first Facilitated Communication typing sessions led by Marilyn Chadwick a speech therapist from Syracuse, New York, Michael typed, “I want people to talk about interesting topics with me.”  Knowing his family had collected hundreds of Thomas the Tank Engine videos and DVD’s for him over the last 20 years because Michael demanded them, I asked Michael whether Thomas the Tank Engine was an interesting topic we should talk about with him.  He typed: “Don’t pay attention to the requirements of my autism.”  At that moment, we knew Michael had insight and reason ability none of us gave him credit for.

To me, one of Michael’s most significant statements lately has been, “I want to have a full life.” 

I recently learned from Michael’s grandmother that his school psychologist diagnosed Michael as mentally retarded at age 5.  The psychologist told Michael’s family that he would need to be institutionalized as an adult.  Now that Michael can reveal his thoughts, feelings, opinions, and desires to us by typing, it’s obvious he has a future outside of an institution.

Now that he types to talk, Michael is minimally aggressive.  He recognizes it’s his anger that gets in the way of his thinking more clearly – albeit with an autistic brain.  Mostly though, Michael can now communicate to us that he’s interested about life. 

Last weekend, he and I went to the movies and his mom made sure he had his iPad with him.  He had asked that I see the latest Thomas the Tank Engine movie. It would have been my first experience with 90 minutes of Thomas on the big screen.

Among the many cool things about the iPad is that I can email my conversation with Michael to myself.  It makes it easy for me to post these blog entries.  I’ve discovered that it helps Michael focus his thoughts if I type my words on the screen, too.  That way, my statement is right there for him to read again if he gets distracted.  I also believe typing my words is respectful to him.  After all, it’s the method he uses to talk with me.

With the iPad in front of him, Michael had the opportunity to make conversation right there when it counted the most.

S: I have an idea.  Since you already saw Thomas and Friends, do you want to see the Owl Movie (Legends of the Guardians)?
M: yes
S: that means you have chosen something new and different and that's the way to have a fuller life.
M: Thomas means I want Thomas because it's what I am used to.

Michael bought his ticket at the ticket counter and said thanks.
M: owl movie
M: thanks

Michael ordered his movie snack
M: popcorn large soda large have
M: pepsi

S: is this seat okay or do you want to sit somewhere else?
M: I want to sit here
S: is it ok that your soda is on that side so we can talk if we want to?
M: the soda is fine
S: cool
S: I'm having a good time.  are you?
M: I want the movies
S: I just thought of a question.  do you know anything about this owl movie?
M: movies yes
S: what about the owl movie? have you heard anything about it?
M: need
S: need what?
M: movies
S: ok
S: these are the previews. we need to be patient. it will start very soon.
M: I only
S: you only want what?
M: kindness
S: ok

During the movie, I checked in with Michael
S: are you ok?
M: yes
S: do you have to go to the bathroom or can you wait to the end of the movie?
M: I can wait
S: do you like the movie
M: yes

I noticed Michael fidgeting
S: bathroom?
M: yes

We walked to the bathroom and came and saw the rest of the movie.

Michael hasn’t seen a movie with this much intensity before.  Although the characters were animated owls, there was a battle and talk of evil… a concept I thought I’d better discuss with Michael.  So while the credits rolled…

S: there are people who make mistakes and who want to learn to do better and then there are evil people who don't care about anyone but themselves and who want to rule other people.  the evil owl died in the end. what do you think?
M: I think the evil owl was feed.
S: feeding what?
M: feeding his feeling.
S: I agree. too bad he didn't discover he could have a different feeling.
what do you think?
M: I want to me to do better
S: you are doing terrific at expressing yourself. this will help you!


  1. Steve

    This is fascinating! I never imagined Michael using an iPad like that and admire your respect for his method of communicating by also typing back to him. This post requires some deep thinking. Keep them coming.


  2. Hello! I am a new visitor to your blog but have enjoyed reading about Michael and his expressive communication skills using the iPad. I think this is wonderful news!

    The iPad has been amazing for our family as well. We have two sons on the autism spectrum, 4 and 11. We have learned by watching our 4 year old son use Google Maps on the ipad that he remembers the exact route on how to get from our home to Chuck E Cheese (approx. 9 miles away), to his school and to many other places.

    We would have never known some of the skills he was currently capable of without the ipad. His expressive communication has increased significantly over the past couple months and although this is attributed to many factors, we know that iPad apps are helping out!

    It sounds like Michael has a lot to say and by entering into his world using his preferred method to communicate, it seems like you're making great progress!

    Best wishes!