Showing posts with label big box of words. Show all posts
Showing posts with label big box of words. Show all posts

October 6, 2014

An Extraordinary Story

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
In the list of commemorative awareness months, October's got a lot going on. It's Down Syndrome Awareness Month, after all, as well as National Dyslexia Awareness Month, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National ADHD Awareness Month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Spina Bifida Awareness Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. October kind of feels like Awareness Awareness Month, to be honest. Relevant to my own life and my own personal perspective, along with all those worthy causes, October is also AAC Awareness Month.

September 15, 2014

The Key

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler's voice is no longer a thing to squeak out of her iPad in close proximity. It's a thing that can travel beyond her immediate space. In some ways, Schuyler has found a way, though the simple act of handing a speaker over to a listener or placing outside of her own immediate personal space, to improve upon the natural human voice that she has been denied. And in handing that voice over to another, she creates a strange kind of intimacy, better than a shout. In a loud room, Schuyler can put her voice in your ear. I can't do that, and I find myself ever so slightly envious.

December 18, 2013

My All, at Fourteen

This week always presents a natural time to stop and reflect on where Schuyler is in her life, with her birthday only a few days away. It's also the end of the year, so everyone's in this whole "looking back" mood anyway. It's a good time for marking transitions.

This year, it feels even more so. When I look back on Schuyler's first teenaged year, it feels like a great deal of significance took place, not all of it easily measured or commemorated. She doesn't come across as a different person than she was a year ago, but she just seems... more. More complete. More complicated. More damaged. Stronger. A little sadder. A lot smarter. And in some ways happier, too.

Thirteen was the year that Schuyler became serious about using her iPad to communicate. It was the year when the software and the hardware caught up with each other, and despite a few snags and professional lapses, it was the year when she began to assemble a team that is developing a real plan for how she moves forward. She still resists using AAC to communicate; once again, we recently had the semi-regular "But I want to talk like everyone else!" tantrum. I don't think she's demanding that the impossible change somehow. I think she just needs to howl at the sky every now and then, to protest the injustice and to fight the future a little. She's learning to put aside her protest when she needs to, and that might represent the best step forward that she's taken in a long time. This next year will tell.

Thirteen will almost certainly be remembered as her cheerleader year. She's still got some responsibilities for the spring semester, but not that much. This was the year that we crossed our fingers and stepped into uncertainty, handing our daughter over to a situation that could very much work, or very much not.

The verdict? I don't actually know. Schuyler loves cheerleading. She's incredibly proud of herself, and she participates with real joy and enthusiasm. When she's actually cheering, she's on top of the world.

But there are... complications. The inclusive environment that we'd hoped for feels more like the "you can stand here and be happy" school of inclusion. Schuyler hasn't received the extra help that we'd hoped she might get, and wasn't even allowed to move to the back row of girls so she'd have some visual cues to help her, despite both Schuyler and us making that request. The mix of girls broke into cliques almost immediately, and stayed that way. That's never good news for the kid who's different.

It's the little things that start to feel not so small. As we discovered last week, Schuyler's name wasn't even spelled correctly on her locker poster OR the official board at the school, and I guess it's been that way all semester. That might sound minor, but it sends a message.

I asked Schuyler if she'd pointed out the spelling error to her cheer coach, and she said no. She's being frustratingly oblique about the whole thing. She has a good time cheering, but she also says she doesn't want to do it again next year. Schuyler has taken the parts that she's enjoyed, and she's given up on the rest, and I'm saddened for her but also proud of her, for her pragmatism and her unflagging positivity.

A couple of months ago, after her request to move to the second row of girls was turned down, Schuyler and I walked to the car after the game. She down and sighed.

"I wish she would treat me like a real cheerleader," she said. And then she didn't want to talk about it any more.

So. That's cheerleading.

Most critically, thirteen was the year that Schuyler began taking seizure medications. Her neurologist had determined that she was likely having partial complex seizures for some time before, but it was only when the aftereffects of a recent seizure were bad enough to send her home from school that he decided it was time. Her MRI showed changes as well. We didn't disagree with his earlier determination that it wasn't time for meds, and we don't disagree with him now.

She's ramping up to her full dosage; she'll be there in a couple of weeks. So far, she's just beginning to show some side effects. None of them are unmanageable, and she's aware of the changes and tries to compensate for them. She understands that this is all in the service of helping her brain heal and manage itself, and she's game, to the point of clarifying how she feels so that I can get it right for this post. ("Now my brain feels weird and strong, like smart.")

I'm proud of her; she knows that the "brain pills" are fucking with her, but she grasps the big picture and never ever tries to beg off of taking them. We should have a better idea in the next few weeks if this is going to help and if she's going to be able to manage the effects.

So her birthday, and the holidays, arrives at a moment of transition, of a kind of change none of us have ever experienced together. Schuyler's having a bit of a rough time right now, but she's holding things together. She leaves thirteen behind at a crucial time, and she's going to need the love and support and, yes, the patience of every person in the world who loves her.

Fortunately for her, that's a lot of people.

What will fourteen bring? It'll bring high school, two words that encompass all the fear and all the potential and all the excitement in the whole world for her, and for us. Fourteen will include meeting new friends and even new family. It'll be about finding a balance that has eluded her. Balance in how her school implements an inclusive curriculum. Balance in her mysterious brain chemistry. Balance between her dependence on her parents and her desire to take flight on her own. Balance between her natural exuberance and the reality of her world. Schuyler's both younger than her chronological age, and wise beyond her years. That may be the trickiest balance of all for her.

Thirteen was big for Schuyler. Thirteen was unyielding and rough, but it was transfiguring and significant. Thirteen showed Schuyler, in ways it hadn't before, that the world might eat her up if she's not careful, but I think it also might have just introduced her to the empowered young woman she's going to be.

When asked if she had a message for the world, Schuyler said,
"Go see The Hobbit and have a happy New Year!"

November 18, 2013

Her World, Her Words

Today at Support for Special Needs:
But Schuyler also does a lot of free writing, creating text files on her iPad both for homework assignments and just her thoughts as they come to her. And it's here where the results of her increased freedom of expression and communication suddenly become clear. 
It's not perfect; her grammar is touch and go at best, but even then, when she fumbles the language, she doesn't mangle it so much as twist it into something different. Her language can be broken, but also beautiful and free. A little like Schuyler, come to think of it.

October 28, 2013

At the Center of her Own Narrative

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Putting Schuyler at the center of her own story isn't just polite. It's appropriate, and it's essential. She's thirteen now, and while I've certainly spoken on her behalf, or at least facilitated her communication, when she was younger, she's reaching an age where she will continue to advocate for herself more and more. I still speak for her far more often than I should, but sometimes I catch myself. Even as we endeavor to increase Schuyler's communication skills, we're working to provide her with the tools to express herself more comprehensively and training her to use those tools more efficiently and quickly. The goal is to enable her to hold her own, in any social or academic or even professional environment.


September 2, 2013

Everyone communicates

Today at Support for Special Needs:
It's when we are faced with the subtle, nonverbal communication tools of the disabled that we find ourselves challenged to learn the language of the land, and learn it quickly and without translation to ease the process. How much easier it is to simply declare communication as unattainable, and to place the blame for that failure at the feet of the disabled.
2007: Schuyler's howl of joy upon seeing the Empire State Building for the first time.

May 27, 2013

Conversations

Today at Support for Special Needs:
There has been so much conversation, so many choices to be made, all focused on enabling Schuyler to have the opportunity to fully realize the potential of the technology that so many people worked so hard to provide to her. That technology has changed her life. The early years are crucial to language development. It was almost too late when she first started at the age of five, and we did what we had to do to give her that tool before the doors slammed shut for good, pride and principles be damned. I would do it all over again, except years earlier.

May 23, 2013

She's waiting.

Schuyler's IEP Redux took place yesterday. Her previously unsatisfactory speech and language goals were revisited and the new plan for restoring Schuyler's AAC proficiency was worked out, at least on some level. How did it go? I'm not sure how to answer, honestly. The specific goals we wanted were added with a minimum of resistance, and some really good discussion took place that I think will lead to improvements next year. There's a big thing we're asking for that I don't think we're going to get, and it feels important enough that I really believe that without it, everything else might just fall apart, so I'm advocating hard. But no decisions about this big thing were made yesterday, which I suppose is something not altogether like bad news.

The meeting was going well, and Schuyler was listening attentively to our timeframes and our plans for implementing better AAC standards. She answered questions and understood (and agreed to, more importantly) the things we asked her to consider for next year. It was clear she was thinking a great deal about all this, about how her verbal expression needs to take a backseat to her assistive technology for now, and the kind of communication she needs to focus on in the near future. We've talked about all of this before. Schuyler is facing the future of her own communication, and she's making plans.

It wasn't until she passed us a note during the meeting that I realized all over again how much her plans still include the miraculous.



"How I can talk like my friends?"

Schuyler is looking at the things we're asking her to do, and I think she's going to be willing to do the work required to make those things happen, and to improve her situation.

But she's also waiting. She's waiting for someone to tell her when she'll be able to talk like everyone else. She's waiting for a solution, and a miracle. She's waiting for this to be behind her. Schuyler is waiting, patiently but steadfast, for her monster to leave her alone at long last.

She believes she will talk. And no amount of discussion about her brain's deeply, congenitally flawed architecture is going to divest her of that belief.

It's heartbreaking. We have this discussion every so often, maybe twice a year, and she always accepts the reality of what she's told, but with an unspoken caveat.

"I'll accept that. For now."

And the worst part is, I get it, because I don't allow myself to completely let go of this most improbable of dreams, either. I overbelieve, and sometimes that means keeping the door slightly ajar, like accommodating the return of a runaway cat that's been missing for months, or even years. I do my overbelieving quietly, because expressing it out loud doesn't do anyone any good.

Schuyler waits for something that will almost certainly never come. Even knowing the reality of her condition, I can't express that without including the "almost". She waits, and she never gives up on this hurtful dream. Knowing that it hurts her, I still can't bring myself to tell her that it can never happen, because I owe her the truth, even if it's just MY truth. And my truth hasn't given up hope, either.

This summer will mark a decade since Schuyler's polymicrogyria diagnosis. She's been waiting for someone to help her, to cure her, to fix what's broken, for ten years now. It breaks my heart that she's still waiting hopefully. It also binds my heart together a little to quietly and secretly hold onto a few strings of that hope with her.

We're fools, the both of us. I can live with that.

May 6, 2013

Tooth and Claw

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Overall, it wasn't a bad IEP meeting. Most of the team was very responsive to the philosophical shift we asked for, and they seem eager to find a way to engage with Schuyler in a more comprehensive way. It did feel a little like IEP meetings of old, where we fought tooth and claw for what we felt our daughter needed. It was emotionally exhausting, like being attacked by vampires and bled dry,and we both felt like we'd resorted to becoming Those Parents for the first time in years. Not a great feeling, but a necessary one, I guess.
Schuyler's poem, recopied by memory as we took the photo she wanted for her blog post.

April 29, 2013

Schuyler's New Tool

This afternoon, over at the 504:
Most of all, accommodating the social integration challenges of assistive technology gives Schuyler and kids like her the possibility of a measure of independence and self-determination. Those are goals that are both persistent and tenuous. For Schuyler and her friends, self-advocacy is vital, but it flutters through their lives on gossamer wings. It's delicate, and it falls apart so easily.

April 26, 2013

A Question of Trust

I have trust issues. I know this. I'm working on that.

Recently I posted a piece for Parenting.com ("The Negotiating Season") describing my perception of the IEP process. I didn't intend to present it as anything other than my own perspective, but looking back on it now, I guess I did kind of voice it in terms of a near-universal experience. I'm not terribly apologetic about that; my own conversations with countless parents has led me to the pretty solid conclusion that if anything, we've got it better than almost every other special needs family in the world. So, you know, yay for us, but boo to the bigger picture.

It wasn't long before a special educator chimed in ("Negotiating Season? Not quite.") to offer her thoughts. It wasn't rudely done at all, I'm pleased to say. She certainly does have a different perspective, and this is an important dialogue. I'm glad she wrote it.

If I have any quibble with her post, it would probably be the same one that I identified in my own essay. She presents her own experience as something of a universal one. She responded in particular to my point about the inherent conflict between the parent/family position and that of the school:

Me:
As parents, we advocate for our kids receiving as much in the way of services as we can get, and we do so knowing that our success could very well mean fewer resources for other students. That sounds harsh, but we shouldn't worry too much about that, because the school's position is the opposite. Giving each student as little as they can in the way of individual resources means more for everyone. It's an awkward dance that shouldn't be about money and resources but absolutely is.


Um, no. We do not sit at the table thinking, "let's give each student as little as we can because that means more resources for everyone." We sit there and think about what will be best for each individual student. As teachers we are passionate about your child- we want your child to succeed and we want your child to make unbelievable gains. We also know that some things that look like they will be beneficial actually can be a determinate to your child's learning. Some services look great but will hinder your child's ability to scaffold his/her learning, transfer skills and be independent. And then there is the legal aspect that we are, in fact, held to. Schools are required to provide what is considered a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE). Sadly appropriate doesn't always transfer to your child achieving their full potential. This "appropriate" piece stumps us too. It's not us, it's the law and the courts and how the word appropriate is determined. But many of us, if we think there is a way, will fight for you.

I think that sounds wonderful. I also think it sounds like a rare thing. Like, unicorn-level rare.

Look, I've met a great many dedicated parent advocates over the years, and I've met a lot of fantastic therapists as well. And I've met and spoken with and worked with many very good special educators. The head of Schuyler's current team is one of the best yet. She listens, really listens, and she's willing to try things that are out of her comfort zone. If she were the person calling the shots for Schuyler, we'd really be accomplishing something.

But there's a hard reality at play. As we've been learning (or relearning, really) lately, the decision-making process is often in the hands of people who make those decisions based on some very dubious criteria. Not just money, either. Things like territorialism, personal bias, and a condescending disregard for dumb old parents in the process. If I ever allowed myself to believe that the kinds of short-sighted decisions that I chronicled in my book were a thing of the past, I'd be setting Schuyler up for an ambush. And I've been guilty of not taking up the fight with enough energy, particularly in the past few years. We're all paying for my failure now.

Here's an example, and I apologize in advance, because it is both long and detailed. This week, in preparation for Schuyler's IEP, I requested that an outside consultant be brought in to speak to the district's team about issues both AAC-focused and big picture. The response I received almost immediately from the district's assistive technology leader was disheartening.

Our request wasn't even considered. It didn't even make it to the IEP meeting. It was dismissed out of hand. The members of Schuyler's team have already received all the training they need, I was informed. And if dumb dad needed more training on how to use Schuyler's AAC (the same system she's been using since 2005), the AT leader would be happy to provide that instruction herself. There's no need for anyone from the outside, because what could this experienced team possibly learn from someone outside the district?

But the thing is, this district's assistive technology team has been failing Schuyler in various ways both large and small since she came to middle school. It's taken a while for that to become apparent since the special education team at Schuyler's school has been so good at helping Schuyler, but the fact remains that in two years, the focus of Schuyler's communication has shifted away from her AAC. Without the support of the AT team, and without an eye to a future in which she will require a more nuanced and comprehensive way to communicate expressively, she's been allowed to get by on her verbal communication, making herself understood in context and losing much of her proficiency on her device.

How does this happen to a kid like Schuyler, someone who has been, almost literally, a poster child for assistive tech? The answer might just partially lie in the fact that over the past two years, the only contact I've had with her assistive tech team leader has been that condescending, "there there, dad" email I received earlier this week. Until I floated the possibility of having someone with a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective on communication come in to speak to Schuyler's team, the district's AT team was perfectly okay with seeing Schuyler a few times a year and not even formulating any kind of plan for addressing her growing awareness of her difference and her subsequent reluctance to use conspicuous speech technology. They didn't even come up with the plan to switch her to the iPad, and until she began showing success with it, they were actually on record as not officially supporting it.

The point of this long-winded rant is simply this. We are in one of the top school districts in the country, and this kind of thing still happens here. This district has money, and has experience, and a sincere desire to do the right thing. And yet after all this time, here we are, trying to get professionals who have worked with Schuyler since kindergarten to listen, to pay attention to what we want and what we believe Schuyler needs. Bruised egos and stepped-on toes still drive policy from time to time, here in this best of all possible worlds.

Most parents have it worse. Most IEP meetings are charged with anxiety because team members don't understand each others' perspectives. Parents don't feel heard, and teachers don't feel respected. But the fact remains that unless a parent has the resources to bring lawyers, guns and money, they are usually in a position of disadvantage.

So yeah. We'd love it if we didn't feel the need to prepare for a fight before the IEP meeting. We'd also like a pony.

Ultimately, even in a competent district like ours, I don't think my point about the different things we bring to the table is all that problematic. It's a simple statement of the reality of allocating limited resources. We're like dinosaurs, in a way. You've got your meat eaters and you've got your plant eaters, and they're all part of the ecosystem. It's probably not much fun to always be searching for food and killing the crap out of everything; that sounds like a lot of work with not a lot of down time. And it definitely sucks to be constantly on alert, just waiting for some carnivore to jump up and bite your face. But everyone's got their part to play.

Special needs parents are probably herbivores. But we do have T-rex dreams.

April 22, 2013

GUEST POST: The Queen of Monsters

Note: Schuyler and I were talking the other day about how she's going to use her new iPad Mini to express herself. She said she wants to write ("Like you, Daddy-O!"), and I asked her if she wanted to put together a little something for my blog. She said yes.

I helped her spell two words and I helped her clarify one concept that she was having trouble expressing, but otherwise it's exactly as she wrote it. (Before she changed it, she referred to her voice and her brain together as her "word box", which I thought was fascinating.) She even picked (and helped create) the picture.

Now, I'm not sure how to say this next part without sounding like kind of a dick. I'm not posting this for Schuyler because it's sweet, or cute, or precious, or least of all inspirational. If that's what you get from it, then you're missing the point. She's finding her expressive voice. There are some very revealing passages that you're going to miss if you simply think it's cute.

And that would be an incredible shame.




My name is Schuyler Rummel-Hudson and I am a 7th grader in Robinson middle school and I play the drums and the marimba. I like to draw and paint pictures with my friends. I feel happy about talk to my friends with my I-pad mini.

I feel about help others and teachers in my school and everywhere in the world!

I feel different about talk like this and I was born with my voice and my brain.

I feel sad I can't talk like my friends and I feel mad I don't have a voice.

I feel happy using my I-pad mini for the talk with my friends and my teachers and my family.

I going to get great use in the future I grow older. I want to be artist with my mom and I wants to help people are hurt. I wants to write a book about sea monsters and huge and mean monsters with my dad.

I wants people to know me is I love monsters and Greek stories. When I was little girl I feel tiny and alone and now I feel HUGE! I am going to BIG things with my family and my life in the world.

Your author,

Schuyler Rummel- Hudson :)

April 16, 2013

After Wooster, Part One: Vox humana

There's a great deal I could take away from my visit to the College of Wooster to give a speech last week.

I could share stories about good work being done by extraordinary people, or interesting new technologies and how they are being implemented by educators and therapists and companies like PRC (whose headquarters I visited and who couldn't have been nicer to me). The truth is, I took away more than I could ever explain. Wooster was a transformative experience. I showed up on Monday one person; I left on Wednesday a wholly different one.

But what I really want to talk about is dignity. Self-determination. What it means to be human, and to have value, and to recognize that value. And what it truly means to communicate.

Because this is the work being done. Its not about speech technology, or therapy, or language systems. Not entirely, or even mostly.

In part, it's about tools. After Wooster, I am more convinced than ever that the key to successfully unlocking communication among the nonverbal like Schuyler lies in giving them a toolbox that is bursting with options, many of them self-driven and perhaps hard for most of us to grasp, and then to get out of the way and let them take the lead in how they can most effectively and comfortably make themselves truly heard. That sounds obvious, but in fact it's an idea that frequently gets lost.

Many of us are out there trying to help our kids or our students or clients, and far too often we want so much to give them a magic pill that we ignore how we ourselves communicate, not just through spoken words, but through facial expressions, gestures, miming ("I said I'm walking against the wind! Also, I'm trapped in a box! Come on..."), text messaging, note passing, whatever. We don't think about this toolbox because we're accustomed to having a spoken language default. And I suppose we think in terms of a primary tool when we try to assist our nonverbal charges, to the point that we really only give them one or two big, impressive tools to be used in specific ways, dictated externally by others to somehow enable and allow expression of what's within. God knows I've been a serial offender in this regard. More ways to communicate means more options, and more possibilities. Using one tool does not make you less likely to use another. ("If he uses AAC/sign language/whatever, he won't be compelled to develop verbal speech.") It's a popular misconception, and it simply doesn't work that way.

The reality of communication defies the magic pill. Lindsey Cargill, speech language pathologist at the Helping Hands Center for Special Needs (and tireless advocate), points to a 1976 study by Mele Koneya and Alton Barber. It shows that a person's message is comprised of 55% body language and 38% facial expression and intonation. That leaves just 7% for the actual words themselves. Another study from 2009 shows that gestures are processed in the same part of the brain as spoken language, illustrating that gestures themselves are linguistic in nature. A third study found that kids with autism who gesture are judged socially to be more communicatively competent than their peers.

The other tools matter. And we need to pay attention to them, and treat them with seriousness when they are hard to read most of all. Depending on a single method of communication, one that we deem to be somehow appropriate or ideal, ignores the reality of how we communicate.

It can be complicated, too. In a way, Schuyler is the perfect illustration of how those tools really do matter. Her reluctance to use her AAC has grown over the past few years, in large part I believe because in everyday social situations, she brings all her tools to play. Facial expressions, gestures (oh, the gestures) and her intonation have been doing the heavy lifting for a while now. She's reached a critical point where she needs to seriously refocus on AAC to give her the ability to independently express herself more comprehensively and creatively.

How did that happen? How did a kid as deeply invested in assistive speech technology reach a point where she needs to recommit her efforts (and more to the point, the efforts of her team) to robustly utilize her speech technology? I believe it's because she has embraced the temptation to "pass" as much as she can as neurotypical, as most of the time, she's succeeded. I never want her to feel like she needs to pass, to hide who she is, but she's a thirteen year-old girl in the world of middle school. The pressure to fit in is enormous.

For Schuyler, and for a lot of nonverbal young people, there's a contradiction to be sorted out. She wants to be like everyone else, but at her age, communication has become central to that for her peers. Thirteen year-old girls talk, a lot. And it's a very specific kind of talk. It's constant, and seemingly random but loaded with subtext. For Schuyler to be a part of her peer group, she's going to have to find a way to truly join that conversation, and that is probably going to mean embracing her speech technology in a way that she's reluctant to right now.

The tool sets her apart. The tool gives her a kind of comprehensive language that she otherwise lacks, but it does so at a different pace, and in a way that is inherently unnatural. Our challenge in the coming months is to refocus her, yes. But it is also going to be to reconvince her. That's going to take some work.

Which is fine. I think it's going to be okay. I believe in Schuyler, as always, and in the possibilities. I've become a big believer in her future, and in my own. Our whole world seems transformative now. It's a compelling feeling.

April 8, 2013

The Future Speaks

Today at Support for Special Needs:
This technology means a lot of things to a lot of people, but the universal power it holds is simple. It means independence. It means autonomy, of expression and self-determination.

April 5, 2013

Guest Author to Discuss Saga of Raising a Child Without Words


Guest Author to Discuss Saga of Raising a Child Without Words

Robert Rummel-Hudson, author of Schuyler’s Monster, will speak April 9 at The College of Wooster

April 4, 2013

Contact
John Finn - 330-263-2145 - Email

WOOSTER, Ohio — Robert Rummel-Hudson, author of Schuyler’s Monster: A Father's Journey with his Wordless Daughter, will share his story at The College of Wooster of Tuesday, April 9. His talk, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7:30 p.m. in Gault Recital Hall of Scheide Music Center (525 E. University St.). A book signing and a dessert reception will follow the event.

Schuyler’s Monster is the story of the relationship between a precious little girl and her family, particularly her father, struggling to find the answers to a child’s silent world. The book chronicles how their relationships formed without traditional language against the expectations of a doubting world.

Schuyler was diagnosed at 18 months of age with Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria (BPP), an extremely rare neurological disorder caused by a malformation of the brain that can affect the patient’s speech and fine motor control; cause partial paralysis of the facial muscles, tongue, jaws, and throat, as well as difficulties in speaking, chewing and swallowing; and result in sudden episodes of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, leading to possible grand mal seizures. Schuyler communicates through an Alternative Augmentative Communication Device (AAC), which is manufactured in Wooster by Prentke Romich.

Schuyler’s disability had a profound impact on her father, who went from a sarcastic, befuddled dad to a special-needs parent. Thrust into a battle against this rare and invisible disorder, Rummel-Hudson chronicles his own depression, his past family dysfunction, and the nagging suspicion that he was not the right person for the job. In the process, he discovers a sense of purpose and responsibility, and becomes the father and advocate that Schuyler needed to help fight her monster.

Rummel-Hudson’s lecture is sponsored by Wooster’s Department of Communication, the campus chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA), the Cultural Events Committee, and Cross Cultural Connections.
Additional information is available by phone (330-263-2647) or e-mail.

March 19, 2013

Finding Her Own Voice

Today at the 504:
It's one of the dirty secrets of assistive voice technology. There are a million good reasons to use it, and the innovations advance remarkably every day. But as one noted assistive tech innovator pointed out to me as we sat in an exhibition hall full of the latest technology, "Every piece of assistive tech equipment in this room says the same thing to the casual observer. It says 'I have a disability.'"

March 4, 2013

Traveling Companion

Today, at Support for Special Needs:
I see how Schuyler is at these conferences, and I get a glimpse of what her life might be like one day. I see in Schuyler a natural advocate, and one possible face of disability for the world. I know it’s frowned upon by many to use the word “inspiration” when it comes to those with disabilities, but that’s just what Schuyler can be. It’s not so much in a “gosh, what a plucky little trouper” kind of way so much as “all of this just might have a happy ending one day”. Parents of kids like Schuyler see a possible outcome, and maybe they’re not quite so afraid.

February 11, 2013

A Break from Passing

Today at Support for Special Needs:
"So Schuyler learns to pass, and I try to show her that she doesn't need to while at the same time helping her to construct this Potemkin village of outward normalcy as best as I can. It's complicated; I feel guilt when I assist her in building the mask, but I also sometimes wonder if by encouraging her to embrace her difference I'm not setting her on a path that, better or not, may very well contain more pain, more disappointment. Schuyler's own wishes are much clearer; she wants to be like everyone else. She all too frequently expresses the heartbreaking sentiment that she wants to talk like everyone else. When we do her homework or study for her tests, especially for the mainstream classes she attends, I can feel her frustration at not quite getting the things that she must be aware come so easily to her neurotypical classmates."


January 24, 2013

Two things. Three, if you count the chinchilla.

Two quick orders of business today.

First of all, I want to very publicly thank Dr. Janice Light from Penn State's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. I had the opportunity to speak to her class this morning about Schuyler and AAC and the experience of being a parent wielding a rubber sword. One of the very best things to come out of writing my book has been the opportunity to meet and speak with the young people who are heading out into the world to make a difference, to make THE difference, in the lives of people like Schuyler. They are my heroes, and it really is an honor and a privilege to share my own small insights with them.

Secondly, I'm happy to announce that I will be contributing to the new special needs blog, The 504, over at Parenting.com. You can read my introductory post, Meet Schuyler, Monster-Slayer. (It's sort of a "Hi, this is what I'm all about" post, so it's not exactly going to be new stuff for regular readers.) I'm happy that they've started this new project, and even happier that they've invited me to be a part of it.

Okay, that's it. Oh, and here's our new chinchilla, because as you may or may not know, chinchillas are exceptionally cool. (My Instagram and Facebook feeds are mostly about chinchillas these days, in no small part because it makes me happy, imagining everyone saying "What's with all the goddamn chinchilla stuff?" I gotta be me.)

Hello, Frida.

December 11, 2012

Hope is the thing with feathers and claws

Schuyler and I had a hard conversation tonight. It was an important one, and I'm not sure I got it wrong, exactly. But it was difficult for certain.

The day began with a parent/teacher conference, with Schuyler's history teacher. She'd shown a big grade point drop on her last report card that concerned us enough to meet with him and talk strategies and such. The meeting went really well, but an interesting and disheartening fact came up during our discussion. In talking about how she uses her iPad in class, he revealed that not only did she never use her AAC apps in class, but he wasn't even aware that they existed.

Schuyler's social anxieties about using assistive technology to communicate are as present as ever. They might just be reaching a critical point, which is so frustrating because she started off so strong and so enthusiastic about using it. Once she got to middle school, she became increasingly self-conscious about using it, and it has been a struggle to get her to do so ever since.

Schuyler doesn't truly believe that others can't understand her verbal speech. Those of us who live with her and love her manage to understand her pretty well, and perhaps it's been a mistake to coast on that comfort level. If her mother and father and godparents and family friends can understand her without her device, then the rest of the world should be able to as well.

But they don't, and as she has used her AAC less and less, her speech has become harder to understand. And the more difficulty the people around her have in understanding her, the more frustrated she gets, until she shuts down. It's a negative cycle that feeds on itself. And it's a cycle that we desperately need to break.

Her history teacher said he would ask her to show him the two apps she alternates between in class, and later I received an email from him. He reported that she seemed happy and excited to show the apps, but also said he wasn't sure if they had sound capabilities. "She wasn't sure, either," he said, which is absolutely untrue. She was pretending not to know, not to understand how these apps work. Apps that she probably comprehends better than I do.

I was frustrated. When she got home from school, I had her immediately sit down and take out her iPad.

"I want to you tell me something on your iPad. I don't care what. Just tell me something."

She typed for a few moments and then had it speak. "Sam Houston is a hero at the San Jacinto."

"That was great," I said. "So why did you act like you don't know how that app works with your teacher?"

Called out, Schuyler made a face that I know all too well. Sadness, mixed with petulance. She hemmed and hawed a little, but I kept pushing her. I could feel that we were both becoming deeply frustrated, but you know how it is when a situation reaches a critical point. Sometimes you're just going to have that conversation.

Finally she said, "I don't want to talk like this." She held up her iPad.

"Schuyler, how else are you going to talk so that people know what you're saying?"

She pointed at her throat angrily. "I want to talk with my voice like everyone else!"

"Well, you can't!"

Silence.

There it was. I just said it.

"I'm sorry, Schuyler. But you just can't. And you know that."

Looking back on it, I don't know if I was blunt or cruel. I felt horrible, even though I don't know if I was actually wrong to say it. Her expression was one of hurt, and for a minute or two I thought she was going to cry. But she didn't. She sat back on the couch with an expression like that of a boxer who just can't fight another round.

"I know, Daddy," she said quietly.

And she does know. She knows better than anyone. But in her extreme innocence that another might call naiveté, Schuyler clings to hope. She doesn't understand genetics or neuroscience. She can't google her condition and grasp what it means to have a congenital condition that will never change, or a brain that will never heal because her monster lives inside its very architecture.

To Schuyler there's always hope that one day, she'll wake up with a clear voice and a strong, unfogged mind, and all of this will be a bad memory. Schuyler will wake up just like all the girls in her classes, girls who are pretty like she is but so alien in their constant chatter and their ever-fluid interactions. Even the kids who are nice to her leave her behind to a certain degree. They don't tease her. Her teachers say that she is mostly beloved by her classmates. But she's tired of being a cherished pet. She doesn't want her difference to be accepted. She wants it to go the fuck away, forever.

Hope is sometimes all we have. Emily Dickinson describes it as the thing with feathers, perched in the soul and singing a wordless tune without fail. That may be true. It may also be the problem. Hope has given Schuyler a perfect dream, but in the absence of that dream's unlikely transformation to reality, she's left with an expectation that will probably never be met, and she's blind to the alternatives. Schuyler can't talk, not well enough to navigate the world, but she has tools at her disposal to find another path. Her hope might just be spoiling her chance to find her way out of the dark, into a light that is very different from the one that shines on the rest of us, but a light nonetheless.

I felt like kind of a horrible father tonight, like I was smothering hope. But I'm not sure that hope didn't have it coming, maybe just a little. In the further conversations we had later, Schuyler talked about her AAC apps and how they were her way to talk as best as she could. She hadn't arrived, and she may very well push it all away again tomorrow. But it's clear that whether or not she's ready to accept some hard truths, she is at the very least processing them.

Schuyler doesn't let go of her hopes very easily, and that is an almost entirely wonderful thing. Against all my instincts and all my own unreasonable hopes and dreams, however, I need her to find her way out of this particular hole that her hope has dug for her.

The last thing we did before Schuyler went to bed tonight was to try on her clothes for her band concert tomorrow evening. Crisp white shirt, pretty black twirly skirt, the works. Tomorrow she'll position herself beside a bass drum, and she'll communicate exactly what she wants to the world. The weird, wonderful little girl with the big drum and the fierce hope.

It's a moment where she won't need words. I only wish there were more of them in her world, and in her future.