July 8, 2008
No Blue Fairy
Of late, she's had something of a rough time with the BBoW. There are times, especially during the school year, when Schuyler really seems to dig the device and the very unique place she has in the world because of it. Lately, though, I think it's just pissing her off.
Part of the issue is summer. No school, no peer group of device users, and no structured classroom environment. Just her smelly old parents and lots of activities that are not even remotely BBoW-friendly. She loves to swim, for example; she has never willingly left the pool without at least a grumble or a plea for five more minutes. She'd stay in her swim suit all summer if she could, her device hidden safely away on dry land. For the Fourth of July, we went camping with my brother's family, and I can count the times I saw her use the device on one finger. I know because I made her do it, and while it wasn't exactly under protest, she definitely did the bare minimum required.
We've decided to try to vary her techniques a little, stepping back up to the sign language plate again, for example, as a parallel technique alongside the device. Schuyler's condition limits her fine motor abilities in her hands and thus keeps her from being truly skilled at signing, but that never kept her from having real enthusiasm for it. She learned most of her signs from the early Signing Time videos, which I think I've discussed before, and now that they're on PBS, the DVR catches new episodes every now and then and we all sit down and learn them together. Her signing is limited by her own monster-stifled, clumsy fingers and by the limited number of people who can understand her. Nevertheless, signing still presents an elegant way to speak that the Big Box of Words simply can't match, at least at this point where she's still constructing sentences and thoughts at a necessarily slower, sometimes maddening pace. She understands the necessity of the device, but I think she sees the beauty of sign language in a way that I am only now appreciating myself.
Recently, Schuyler has begun to outwardly express her own awareness of her monster. She has this thing she does now to explain it, a whole story told in gestures and sign language. She gently touches her throat and shakes her head. She then touches her head with her finger (the sign for "think") and draws a line down to her mouth, signifying how the things she wants to say don't make the trip from her brain to her mouth. I like how she recognizes that her voice is broken, but her mind is working. It's important for her to know that her thoughts are there, and they are magnificent.
The thing about this little mimed explanation of Schuyler's condition, however, is that no one taught it to her. It's all hers. While some people worry about how to tell her what's wrong with her and how to explain it in gentle terms that won't bruise her delicate psyche ("Don't call her broken!"), Schuyler has figured out her own harsh reality by herself and expresses it without a hint of self-pity or trauma. Schuyler knows her monster better than any of us; it's presumptuous for anyone else, even me, to pretend we understand it, too, or to think that we can somehow tell her something about it that she doesn't already know on some visceral level.
Lately, Schuyler has balked a few times in public at using the Big Box of Words to answer other people's questions, and the sense that I get from her is that she may be starting to feel, if not embarrassed, at least self-conscious about it. Schuyler may delight in being a weird little girl, but only when it is on her terms. A speech output device still represents her very best (and possibly only) chance of being able to spontaneously communicate any kind of real expressive thought, but it remains an unnatural way for a little girl to speak. I suspect the day is coming, and soon, when her desire to be "normal" is going to cause some serious heartbreak for her.
There's one literary figure with whom I have always associated Schuyler, although to even say it aloud breaks my oft-broken old father's heart right in two.
In her own very unique way, Schuyler is Pinocchio.