Monday, April 11, 2005

There's nothing quite like it...

...being invisible, that is. I hadn't thought to put it quite like that, but a friend named Serhiy who was visiting Saturday from Odessa gave me the idea. He said it was like that for him when he was in Switzerland, like he was invisible. It's amazing that you can stand in a small group of people and have them talk over, around, through you and, since you can't understand what they're saying, you might as well not even be there. I feel like a little kid who starts dancing and singing and tugging on his mother's sleeve and making an obnoxious scene to get her attention. "Mommy's talking to Mrs. Snodgrass right now, Tommy. You need to wait. Why don't you go play over there?" That's when Tommy sulks off to the side and starts ripping out grass and chucking it at the neighbor's dog until he gets mad and barks so loudly that Mommy grabs Tommy by the hand none too gently and drags him off -- but really Tommy won, he got Mom's attention back away from Mrs. Snodgrass.

I have been thinking a lot lately about this one girl that I worked with when I had the autism job last year. Let's call her Simone. When I first started working with Simone, my sessions were one-on-one with here, but then they got more therapists for her team and it was decided that it would be better for her if we had two people working with her at a time, particularly because she needed to work on sharing and taking turns and stuff. Simone would get really mad when the other therapist and I would talk and not include her in the conversation, even if we were both walking with her, holding her hands, but for two minutes we talked about college or something she couldn't follow. She would stomp her feet or start interrupting or, my favorite, just sit down and make this great frustrated noise, like a big "Humph!" or sometimes it was more of a "Grrr!" combined with a little scream. Sometimes she would start to cry then. She didn't cry very often, but some days she was really tired, you could see it in her eyes. She hated school and her teacher didn't help matters much. How had she learned to cope with spending seven hours a day being yelled at, told to be quiet, to sit still, to do work that maybe she didn't understand, or maybe she did, but without the meaningful human interactions that make our days worth living. During training for that job, they gave us a handout about what it was like to have autism. It was a series of statements beginning with "Imagine what it would be like to..." Autism has a lot to do with communication difficulties - someone with autism may have difficulty translating in their brain what comes out of someone's mouth into comprehendable speech. "Imagine what it would be like to never understand what people are saying around you." Body language is also often completely lost on them - things like learning what facial expressions convey is a skill that has to be taught instead of inately learned. "Imagine what it would be like to have people getting mad at you and you don't know why or what you did wrong."

I've criticized myself here for seeking to be the center of attention - but really I can identify very much with Simone in her frustration to make people understand her, and to understand them. It's hard to be invisible.


Post a Comment

<< Home