Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Lighthouse Room

 Overheard in passing:   "All they do is play in there."  "I can't wait till that lighthouse is gone."

In spite of this, my memories of this particular classroom experience are almost all positive. It starts and ends with the lighthouse, a structure made by some parent unknown to me and donated to my classroom when I first started what turned out to be my final years of teaching.

It was large and sturdy, taking up a significant portion of the room, but that was OK because we had very little in the way of furniture --- a comfy couch, a table or two, lots of books and toys, and no desks at all. Thanks to the efforts of a very insightful Occupational Therapist, we soon added a swing that was suspended from the ceiling and a sensory table that could be filled with water, sand, oatmeal, corn - or just about anything that might be fun to play with.

My students ranged in age from six to twelve, and had various labels and diagnoses.  All but one were mobile, and most could talk, feed themselves and participate in at least some of the regular education curriculum.  But their needs were great, and this particular school building hadn't yet had the experience of working to include kids who were seen as so very "challenging."

Yes, indeed, we DID play a lot. One thing all of these kids had in common was a serious deficit in their ability to entertain themselves and have fun.  On their IEP it was usually described in some terms related to age-appropriate social skills.  (You know the language, I am sure).   When we could provide proper support, they attended classes in a regular grade classroom.  When they had "down time" they were back in the special ed classroom with me.

We were located in the center of the building - my very favorite location - and other students and teachers walked past our room all day long.  Everyone could see the lighthouse as they passed, and everyone could see us "playing."

Jay was the one student who was not mobile due to Cerebral Palsy and he spent his day in a wheelchair. He had use of just one hand, and very little spoken language.  When he did speak, he was very hard to understand.  He was also the oldest of my students at that time, and magically captured the attention of two of his classmates in his regular fifth grade class.  Irene and Kate took a special liking to him, and just happened also to be leaders among their peers. They often gave up recess time to come and hang out with Jay, and in the process became acquainted with Jay's classmates in my room.

It didn't take long for other fifth graders to show a similar interest, and somewhere along the way we switched from being the "special ed room" to being known throughout the school as the "lighthouse room."  Then it spread to younger classes, until it became necessary to issue passes to the other regular education teachers to extend the privilege of visiting to others in the building.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought to set something like this up.  It just sort of happened, and it was a combination of Jay's friendly disposition along with the lighthouse itself and of course all the "fun" things we had in our room.  If you are working on age-appropriate social skills, nothing gets better than what Irene and Kate started.  

Unfortunately, there was a problem with timing in this too-good-to-be-true situation. Several of my students were successfully using Facilitated Communication throughout the day - to interact with all those visitors, of course, and also to participate in the regular education curriculum. Jay, for instance, had worked diligently with me the previous year to successfully complete a battery of standardized tests that all of our fourth graders had taken - and his results were impressive to all who were paying attention.

The problem came when my book (SEE US SMART!) was publishcd, and the controversy over FC reared its ugly head one more time.  The local newspaper got involved once again - and not in a positive way this time.  I was told to keep all further use of this method carefully under wraps, and use it only for academic work - not for socializing, and certainly not for discussing personal thoughts or feelings. 

More people were now paying attention, and it wasn't working in our favor.   As it turned out, we finished out that school year, and I moved to the middle school with Jay and a couple other students, as I eased myself toward retirement.  The lighthouse was removed soon afterward, but it's now over 20 years later and I am still trying to shine the light.

This link should take you to an earlier posting about this same classroom experience and an update about how things have changed at that school.     

Grandma Char's Lessons Learned: Thoughts about Inclusion (grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com)

(Credit to Vicki Hansen for this poem and image)


https://i.pinimg.com/736x/47/8d/f1/478df17fcf18508f1a0ddcd77f00f208--lighthouses-poem.jpg

Friday, November 18, 2022

A New Inclusion Experience

This is a story from 30 years ago, still filled with so much joy and sorrow that I almost can't find the words.  Maybe this is another lesson for me, one of many still being learned.  Just this week, I met with L, age about 30, who has come a very long way in his ability to use typing to bring about changes in his life and get his feelings out.  He was full of smiles, with what appeared to be a calm, relaxed body ready to answer our questions or share thoughts of his own.  But it didn't go that way, and in the hour we spent together he actually typed very little - just enough to help us understand that he was simply too full of mixed feelings to get the words organized enough to type them out. His earlier school experiences were a partial cause of his obvious distress, with typing never being included as part of his school day, and his intelligence never being recognized by teachers along the way. Sometimes it can be hard to find the words to describe your feelings.

My first real experience with inclusion in a regular elementary school had gone quite well, but then it happened that the particular school building needed "our" room for other purposes in the coming year, and we learned that we'd be moving to another school, another district nearby - where they happened to have a room available.  We took our final trip in the tan van to visit the new school - checked out the lunchroom and the playground, met a few of the folks who worked there, and decided we could make the best of things and find lots of good in our new surroundings.

We left behind the tan van, along with many staff members who had become good friends and strong advocates - the school secretary, the custodian, the only other special education teacher, and several regular education teachers who had made us feel welcome and at home.  I paid little or no attention to something else that I was personally leaving behind, something that would become a serious problem in a very short time.

I had been employed by the county for the many years I worked in the special, segregated school, and I was now going to be employed by the new district.  I became, after many years of teaching, a "probationary" teacher, with virtually no protection for my professional status.  I knew this, but I was certainly not worried. What could possibly go wrong?

As the new school year started, we were now in the district that was the home district for most of my students. There were several other special education classes already in that district; we were again located in a room that was right in the middle of a busy hallway; and the elementary level teachers were a very experienced, very caring group of educators.

About half of my students were able to attend regular classes for much of the day, with little or no extra support.  The ones who needed more support spent a greater part of the day with me in our room, but we also had more than one paraprofessional who could provide the help they needed when they did go to regular classes.  

This is where I was teaching when I first learned about Facilitated Communication (FC).  Since all of my students at that time were able to speak, and most could even write, it didn't seem at first that FC would be relevant, or helpful in any way.  Just a reminder - this teacher, who was at the time a brand new grandmother, had a lot to learn.

The local newspaper did an extensive story about what was happening back at our special school --- where so many of the nonspeaking students who had been our friends while we were there had finally found a voice through spelling on a letter board.  I shared the story and pictures with my students, and they were fascinated.  

We established a routine in our classroom, and as time went on also established ourselves as an integral part of this new environment.   And then one day, I tired using FC with just one of my students who was struggling to give an answer to a question. The support I provided to his hand allowed him to slow down his thinking process as well as his bodily impulses, and he found a way to successfully get his words out on the letter board.  Others were very interested and eager to give it a try as well.  

Before long, there were five students regularly choosing to use FC to answer questions both academic and emotional in nature.  We were having a great time, and one teacher in particular approached me to say that he didn't really know what we were doing in our room, but he sure had noticed a difference in my students when they were in his art class or in the hallways of the school. 

Gradually, I was able to increase the amount of time these five students were able to spend in regular classes, and thus make inclusion even more of a reality.  But some started to pull back; they wanted me with them in those classes so they could truly participate and show others how much they were understanding and learning when they were exposed to the "regular" curriculum.  

We did our best to make this work, and were just finding our groove, when PBS Frontline aired a devastating attack on the new phenomenon known as Facilitated Communication ---  essentially dismissing the method as a dangerous hoax.  This was followed by similar segments on all of the major TV networks.  I was immediately ordered by the parents of one student to stop using the letter board or FC. More quietly, school administrators started paying attention to what I was doing.

By the end of the school year, I was forced to resign, in spite of strong support from all the other parents, most of the teachers, and the teachers' union.  The truth was that as a probationary teacher I could be dismissed for virtually any reason.

It was an extremely painful departure, but I had no regrets about standing my ground and refusing to stop using FC.  I had found the courage I needed, and I had learned that administrative support can make or break a teaching situation.  I was also comfortably sure that that the parents who supported my efforts would never again allow their children to be seen as intellectually deficient. I swallowed my pride and joined the ranks of the unemployed for the first and only time in my career.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

Venturing out into the Real World

We called it mainstreaming at the time, and it was the first attempt at school inclusion in our rural county.  Because I had been rather outspoken about my concerns that we were behind the times in our "special" county-wide school, I was given the assignment of moving a small group of elementary students to a "regular" school about 20 miles away and doing my best to make it work.  I was young and full of both confidence and passion, but there were many, many lessons to be learned.

Several different small towns had been sending their students with special educational needs to the centrally located "segregated" school for many, many years.  The school we landed in was a small one, in a very close-knit, very conservative village of about 2000 people.  Only two of my eight students were residents of the town.  We were outsiders, and different, in just about every way.  To my mind, these were the easy ones - all could walk and talk; all could dress themselves and were independent in the bathroom; and all could easily and appropriately feed themselves in the lunchroom.  It didn't take long for me to realize that no one in this school saw us as anything resembling typical.  

But the blessings were many.  Our classroom was located right in the middle of the school - not in some isolated corridor, as often happened in these early days. The principal and regular education teachers were all supportive and made us feel welcome. We had desks, materials, and our very own computer. Because we were still a part of the county-wide special education cooperative, we also had access to a school van, which soon became a central part of our curriculum.

I was tasked with teaching these eager young students the "functional life skills" that had been carefully spelled out in the special school curriculum, while also working toward mainstreaming each of them into as many regular classes as possible.  I stumbled into a routine that included one day a week where we borrowed the van and went out into the community for some sort of real-life adventure.  Before the trip, we made lists of what was needed, studied maps to see where we might go, and packed our lunches for the day ahead. After the trip, we wrote up stories about our trips in the "tan van."  On a large easel outside our classroom, I posted the story each time we went - and because of our location, virtually everyone in the building walked past and often stopped in to comment on what we had written.

In November, we put on a play telling the story of the First Thanksgiving, and invited visitors in to see the play and enjoy some fall treats we had prepared.  As we became more and more comfortable in our new setting, the students became braver all the time about spending more of each day in the regular class to which they were assigned, and all of them took part in the holiday program in the gym at the end of December --- with their regular classes, and with me sitting proudly in the audience.

We did have one classroom aide assigned to us, but that wasn't really enough to support all eight of the students, who ranged from kindergarten through fourth grade, and were all assigned to different regular education classrooms.  Scheduling this support throughout the day/week was a new challenge for me that I hadn't figured on.  Nor had I given any thought at all to the critical importance of the unsung heroes who keep schools running -- not just the teachers, but the bus drivers, the secretary, nurse, janitor and even those who clean the building after the kids have left.  In this particular setting, they were incredibly helpful and supportive - to the students, and especially to me.  Without them, our experience would have very different indeed.

Unfortunately, logistics required us to move after just a very short stay to a different school, in a different small town, and start all over again.  Kids who really need stability often end up getting moved around like this when the projected numbers in one district allow a classroom to open up, or require one like ours to be reassigned for part of the regular school programming.  We took one last trip in our tan van to visit our new school, wrote up our story, and sadly left this one behind.

 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Unstuck (We Hope) and Back on Track

This is probably a good time for a couple housekeeping details, starting with an apology to anyone who is a regular follower of this blog, or who may have tried to post a comment or become a "friend" of the blog.  My techie skills are not as sharp as I might like, and in all these years I have not figured out how to make the site more user-friendly.  I generally post on both FaceBook and Twitter whenever I publish a new blog, but that isn't much help to those of you who are not on social media.  If someone has a suggestion to help out with this, it would be much appreciated.  Or, if you have additional comments or questions, please do email me at:   crbrandl777@gmail.com

One unresolved problem has been that links I have inserted into the blog postings only seem to work for a short period of time.  From now on, I will try another way to provide these links.

And then, when I started this blog, I was thinking it would be a chronological story of my journey as a teacher, as well as a grandma, and most recently a retired teacher still working part-time doing something I love (and now a great-grandma).  But, alas, my brain doesn't work that way, and there have been so many detours and side stories that any such order is long gone.  I have always been an abstract-random sort of person, and offer apologies once again to those of you who might prefer a little more order or structure.

And now, moving on. 

My personal history with special education and the movement toward inclusion has had an uncanny similarity to what has been true of the field in general, at least here in my home state of Wisconsin.  Sometimes it seems things were just meant to be - and I have been blessed to be a part of the progress we have experienced.  Have I mentioned that I was born in 1943, the year that Leo Kanner was credited with first describing what we know as autism? How's that for synchronicity?

I stumbled into a brand new college major, mostly because I was always trying to figure out how to afford the next step in my education.  For all of you who are much younger, it might be hard to believe that this was difficult at a time when tuition was a mere $150 per semester.  But it was!  In the middle of the 20th Century, schools were not required to provide an education to children with disabilities, although some had programs that were being taught by kindhearted teachers who were willing to give it a try.  Somewhere around 1964 (Was this maybe part of the Great Society?) funds became available to train teachers at the university level in the area of Special Education.  I applied for a grant and was one of three students accepted into the inaugural program at the University of Wisconsin.  When I graduated with my M.S. degree and Special Education certification n 1966, the three of us had our pick of schools throughout the state who were looking for people just like us.  

My very first teaching job was an elementary class for the "educable mentally retarded" (EMR) and we started out in a church basement room just a block away from the elementary school.  See link below for a description of that assignment.  Suffice it to say, we were not being "included" in any way at all, even once we were moved into the regular school.  

Along the way in my education, I spent time as a volunteer in a residential facility for kids with significant disabling conditions of great variety.  Most were confined to cribs, and those who were mobile spent most of their time in a stark, virtually empty day room.  There was no educational programming and no opportunity for inclusion of any kind, just relative safety, regular meals, and a clean bed to sleep in.

I also helped out in some classrooms that were contained in regular public school buildings.  Those programs at that time tended to be entirely self-contained, and the students, for the most part, would be labeled "Learning Disabled" today.  The curriculum was essentially a watered-down version of what was being taught in the regular classroom, and these kids spent no time at all with "regular" kids.

You may have heard statistics for the number of kids with autism, starting at about one in 10,000 --- most likely in the mid to late 1970's.  That is about the time I first became aware of the condition we now know as autism, with current numbers running at about one in fifty. 

The 1975 "Education for All" act opened schoolroom doors for students of all levels of intellectual functioning as well as all levels of need for support and accommodations, later known more popularly as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  In yet another coincidence in my life, I started working at almost exactly that time in another residential facility - one specifically designed for children between the ages of six and 18 with severe autism and/or childhood schizophrenia.  It broke my heart to think these kids weren't home with their families, especially when I realized that many of the families rarely came to visit, and the kids went home for a visit even more rarely.  But they were by far the most challenging students I have ever had the privilege to know --- and to learn from.We tried to provide something in the way of educational programming, but the main emphasis was on managing behavior.  All we had to offer in that regard at that time was medication (lots of it) and some variation of "B-Mod" --- our shorthand for behavior modification, using rewards and punishment (way too much of that).

By 1980, I was teaching in what is best described as a "segregated" school serving kids from across our county, between the ages of six and 18.  Once again, some of the students with learning disabilities were getting watered-down academics, but now they were joined by kids with some very significant needs who were getting mostly therapy and help with basic needs, with something new thrown in - functional life skills.  A large room in the school was converted to a fully furnished apartment where kids could practice things like setting the table, making a bed, sorting silverware or folding towels.  As a busy mother in my off-duty hours, I found myself wishing that my so-called "regular" kids at home could learn to do some of these things. But I also had to consider that most kids did not learn these tasks in a school setting.  It didn't help that many of them had significant motor impairments making these household tasks almost impossible for them. Obviously, there were still no opportunities for inclusion.

I started to question the value of what we were doing, becoming more aware all the time that we were warehousing these kids in a rather restrictive learning environment. Certainly some of them --- maybe all of them --- deserved a chance to be around typical children their own age.  Once I started voicing my doubts it wasn't long before I was challenged to put my money where my mouth was - and I was moved out into the real world with a group of  six students with autism, Down syndrome, and usually mild/moderate/severe "retardation" thrown in based on IQ scores.

Finally, we had some hope of being part of a regular school environment.  Many great, and some not so great experiences were to follow, and of course my education was just beginning.  

For more reading:

http://grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com/2009/03/special-education-in-early-years.html

 http://grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com/2011/04/autism-my-early-education.html

 http://grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com/2018/08/thoughts-about-inclusion.html

 http://grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com/2021/10/my-life-as-behaviorist-total-fail.html

http://grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com/2021/10/my-life-as-behaviorist-total-fail.html

 

Friday, July 22, 2022

Getting Stuck and Then Unstuck

I seem to have hit a long spell of writer's block. I think I know why. With all that is going on in the world, and being the news addict that I am, it is all too easy to get buried under all the bad news. In an effort to stay positive, I have tried avoiding negative stories of any kind. But it turns out that I have one or two not so pleasant stories to tell, and I don't seem to be able to go forward until I share them.  If you personally choose to wait for the happy stories to return, I will certainly understand.

For some time now, I have been thinking about endings, and unfortunately most of them have been sad. One of my mom's favorite sayings was "All good things must come to an end." I think she was trying to help me over moments like when the parade was over, or we put away the holiday decorations. I was not the easiest child to console at such times, as I recall. Things can end with a bang or a whimper, and in my career as a teacher, and especially when supporting folks who type to communicate, I have experienced both.

The easiest way to end a teacher-student or facilitator-typer partnership --- at least for me --- has been when one of us has moved away.  That was always sad, but it somehow seems natural, something to be expected in the normal course of  life.  Families move, teachers get reassigned, students move on to a new school, etc.  As a good friend reminded me many years ago when a favorite student was moving to a different city with her family, "There will always be more kids who need you."  

The hardest  for me have been the instances where a non-speaking individual has used Facilitated Communication to report some type of abuse in their lives, and either the school or the family makes an abrupt decision that there will be no more contact between the two of us.  Thankfully, this has been a very rare occurrence, and I will not be discussing these situations to protect the privacy of everyone involved.  It probably goes without saying that these were very painful experiences that I will remember always.

I don't know whether to consider the pandemic shutdown a "bang" or a "whimper" experience, but it certainly did bring an unexpected end to much of what I had been doing ever since my retirement from teaching. On Friday the 13th of March, 2020, I met with two young men for about an hour each. "T" was the first, and we were using extra precautions (masks and gloves) so we could have an almost-normal typing session.  T was obviously aware of what was in the daily news reports, and obviously concerned about my welfare.  This is what he had to say:

"I might make you get it. Please help lots of people get over their fear. I might be more informed but I still have lots of fear.  Please help more people know how important it is to be careful. I just think fear is not healthy.  I think people have good sense.  How can I be more careful. Please be more careful.  You help me very much."

And then I met with "R", who managed to sleep soundly for almost the complete hour we were together.  At the very end, he woke up just enough to type:  "Please please be more careful I don’t want you to get it."

At that time, I was meeting with about ten different individuals on a regular basis.  Some of them I have not seen since then; there were no goodbyes, no parting words, and little or no updates on how they are doing.  Others are part of my life once again, now that we are all vaccinated and feeling safer about meeting.  For those who have a communication partner in their lives, it is much less distressing to let go, but when I know that some no longer have access to FC, or any other means of communication, I am haunted by thoughts of what their lives are now like. 

One amazing young woman had told me via typing that she dreamed of an apartment of her own, maybe with a roommate, and a career that involved drawing cartoons or illustrating books. We met regularly for several years and then she had a psychotic break. I visited her in more than one hospital setting and in more than one "safe house" after she was discharged.  But we never typed together again.

An amazing young man - also after several years of regular visits - came to my office one day with his support worker, sat on the floor and started to cry.  When I was finally able to coax him to do some typing he told them that he would never be seeing me again. I tried to reassure him that all was well, but I was acutely aware that his school days were ending and no one had informed me of what the plans were after "graduation." It turned out that he was right.  I have not seen him since that day and never did hear anything from his family.

I hope this link works for you.  It is my story about three very special senior citizens who found their voice through typing later in life.  What fun it was getting to know them, and how sad was our parting.  

 http://grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com/2021/05/

Thanks to some forward thinking workers in an adult day program, and one very supportive guardian, I started using FC with one woman ("Linda") and soon was asked to give it a try with another ("Sharon"), and finally we added "Judy" to my weekly visit.  I was assured that in each case the woman's guardian had given full approval for these sessions, although I had only met the one who had gotten things started. I usually met separately with each woman for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on their level of interest and stamina that day.  Judy had a visitor one day who joined us for our session, and I was happy to give a demonstration of what we had been doing.  Little did I know that would be my final session with Judy. As best I was able to figure out, that visitor was from an agency working with the guardian, and somewhere along the line the old FC controversies must have surfaced.  Without involving me at all, the day program was told there would be no more typing sessions with me, and that was that. 

Ah, but Judy did not go quietly back into a life of silence.  I continued meeting with Sharon and Linda, but we had to be sure the room we used was locked and the window covered because Judy stayed close by, waiting for her turn. It broke my heart to hear her yelling outside the door and trying to get in.  As I left for the day, she would grab my hand and refuse to let go. 

Sharon was next. Once again, I was told that the guardian had insisted that all typing be stopped immediately, leaving me in the very awkward situation of having to walk past both Judy and Sharon when I arrived and when I left, in order to have my typing session with Linda.  Sharon was much quieter, even as Judy became louder and angrier, but it hurt me to see Sharon withdraw into silence in a far corner of the room, lost in thoughts she would never be able to share. 

For a brief moment in time, we had good things going.  I know I have touched many lives, and I try to hang onto that. I plan to continue doing what I can to help nonspeaking folks get their thoughts and feelings out for as long as I possibly can.  But there will always be pain and regret for those who have been silenced, and also for those whose voices have not yet been found.  

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Updated Resource List for Typing to Communicate

My earlier list of resources, posted in 2015, still has many active blogs and other sources of information and personal stories related to typing or spelling as a means of communication.  In the interim, many books have been published and many videos have been added.  A quick search of YouTube, for example, will yield many relevant videos.  A Google search or a visit to Wikipedia, on the other hand, will leave you in a state of total despair, since almost all references are negative in tone.    Here is an updated (but certainly not all-inclusive) list you may find interesting and/or helpful.

Some great new, or relatively new, resources for anyone interested in typing to communicate:

Websites

United for Communication Choice    https://unitedforcommunicationchoice.org

Communication First    www.communicationFIRST.org

International Association for Spelling as Communication   https://i-asc.org/

AutCom     http://www.autcom.org/

Every Voice Matters    http://www.everyvoicemattersatl.com/

Center on Disability and Inclusion (Syracuse University) https://disabilityinclusioncenter.syr.edu

Wellspring Guild   http://wellspringguild.org

Growing Kids Therapy   https://growingkidstherapy.com

Books

"Communication Alternatives in Autism" by Edlyn Pena

"Anatomy of Autism" by Diego Pena

"Leaders Around Me" by Edlyn Pena

“Ido in Autismland” by Ido Kedar

"In Two Worlds" by Ido Kedar

"Life in Letters" by Lia Assimakopoulos

“Hostage to Silence” by Brady Wright

“Real” by Carol Cujac and Peyton Goddard

“Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8” by Naoki Higashida

“The Autistic Mind Finally Speaks” by Gregory C. Tino

“Underestimated - An Autism Miracle” by J.B. Handley and Jamison Handley

“I Have Been Buried Under Years of Dust” by Valerie Gilpeer and Emily Grodon

“Typed Words Loud Voices” by Amy Sequenzia and Elizabeth j. Grace, eds.

“Autism: A New Perspective” by Andrea Libutti and Joao Carlos

“Nate’s Triumph” by Nathan Trainor

“The Reason I Jump” by Naoki Higashida

Any book by Tito Mukhoadhyay

Blogs

Jordyn's Rocky Journey    Jordyn Pallett    www.jordynsrockyjourney.wordpress.com

Dare to Listen   Gracie Lotharius     www.daretolisten.org

*Emma's Hope Book   Emma Zurcher-Long    www.emmashopebook.com

    * includes a VERY long list of other blogs to explore

Psychic Savant     Darcy Reed      www.psychicsavant.orgnew

Online videos

Vimeo:   My Voice: One Man's Journey to Overcome the Silence of Autism

YouTube:  Julie Sando, The Brain-Body Disconnect: Unlocking Purposeful Communication

YouTube:  Adriana 19 autism nonverbal typing

YouTube:  Timothy Typing Session

YouTube:   Emma Zurcher-Long

Films

‘The Reason I Jump” 

“Wretches and Jabberers”  (Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher)

“Autism is a World”  (Sue Rubin)

“Deej”  (D J Savarese)

“Speechless” (Fiacre Ryan)

       #######################################################

                                        And a link to the earlier list: 

https://grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com/2015/02/resource-list-for-typing-to-communicate.html

Friday, March 18, 2022

Today's Tribute to Esther

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day and I am always happy to celebrate.  My paternal grandmother (who I never met) was from Ireland, giving me just enough Irish blood to make the most of the day every year when it rolls around.  So, I wore green, listened to Irish music, and could almost taste that pint of Guinness I enjoyed when I had the great experience of visiting Ireland many years ago.

But it's not Patrick I want to write about at this time.  This also happens to be the time for the Jewish celebration of Purim.  I am not Jewish, nor am I a biblical scholar, but I have had reason to learn a little about the story of Esther, the central figure in this particular holiday.   Borrowing from Wikipedia, "Purim is a Jewish holiday which commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an official of the Achaemenid Empire who was planning to have all of Persia's Jewish subjects killed, as recounted in the Book of Esther." The king had chosen Esther as his wife because of her beauty and was unaware that she was Jewish. As plans for the slaughter progressed, she revealed her true identity and pleaded with him to let her people live.  She won him over, and the Jews were spared.  There is much more to the story, of course, but that is the essential plot - and outcome.

Again, from Wikipedia: "There is a spirit of liveliness and fun on Purim that is unparalleled on the Jewish calendar. If there were ever a day to 'let loose' and just be Jewish, this is it!" Now, that starts to sound like an Irish celebration, don't you think?  Maybe it's more than a coincidence that these two celebrations happen to overlap today.

Then there are the coincidences or parallels in my life.  Even as Queen, Esther was afraid to approach the king and plead for her people, but her uncle (or maybe he was her cousin) Mordecai begged her to try, saying she was the only one who could save them.

I have written previously about my personal Esther story (See links below), and how the phrase "Esther kids" crept into many of the typed conversations I have had over the years using Facilitated Communication with non-speaking or minimally speaking people of all ages.  One final Wikipedia reference that I find very interesting:  "Given the great historical link between Persian and Jewish history, modern day Persian Jews are called 'Esther's Children'."

It started with a typer or two giving the name "Esther" when they were asked to type the name of a relative, friend or pet and I, as the facilitator, had no idea of the correct answer.  Eventually several of my typers referred to themselves and the others as my "Esther kids."  They told me they were my angels and begged me to tell everyone that they are really very intelligent.  As time went on, I met new typers and moved more than once so that I was in entirely new communities.  Most of these individuals did not know each other and had never even lived in the same town or attended the same school. Some started to talk about the New Earth or moving into new dimensions.  They made it quite clear that they are here on a mission and I am the one they are depending upon to speak their wisdom for them.

Most recently, just yesterday in my typing session with my adult friend Nick, he typed the following: "Understand that people need to hear your story. The most important message is your Esther story. Great more people are now ready.  Hear me now. There are more messages all the time. Be not afraid to tell your stories. Hear me now. All of us are on the journey. There is now more love in the world. Hear me now. Great things are happening. . . . . you need to tell people who is Esther.  . . . Hope is understanding that Esther will be here to do God's world (work?). Warning that people don't love. Understand that other people do not get it. . . .  Be more bold. Knowledge is here.(Note: the phrase "Hear me now" is one of Nick's favorites and actually popped in more often than is shown here.  He says the phrase out loud and types it with no physical support from me.  For the rest of his typing I am providing light support to his hand or wrist.)

For all these years (almost 30 now), I have been afraid.  Much like that early Esther in the Bible, I wasn't willing to take the risk, to go out into the world and shake things up in the way they were suggesting. She had to face the king and I had to face all the long-standing beliefs about people with autism and other "differences" that caused them to be unable to use oral speech to communicate. But she had Mordecai and I now have Nick to prod me onward and give me the nudge I need.  

In my defense, Facilitated Communication has been challenged and discredited by the skeptics almost from the very beginning.  Many, many children have been denied access to this means of communication, and many others who actually started using it to express themselves have had it taken away because of all the controversy.  Mostly it has been hard (impossible?) for the decision-makers to believe the typed words are actually coming from the typer and not from some sort of ventriloquism on the part of the facilitator.  If someone like me adds to the discussion that some of these individuals, in addition to being highly intelligent, are also messengers from another dimension here to move all of us forward in our evolutionary journey - well, you can imagine the repercussions.  

So, here I am, daring to approach all who venture to this blog post, with a new and improved message from my Esther kids.  They are not only smart, but they are also here on a very important mission.  It has something to do with the journey we are all on - to a new and better world.  I can't tell you much in the way of specifics, but over and over again, I have been reminded that "the answer is love."    Can it be any simpler?  Does it get any better than that?  Enjoy the journey!

Grandma Char's Lessons Learned: My Esther Kids (grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com)

Grandma Char's Lessons Learned: The Search for Skallagrigg (grandmacharslessonslearned.blogspot.com)