Friday, June 26, 2009

Angels to the Rescue

I have a good excuse for taking a break from blogging all week: VBS. I guided a class of eight to ten--depending on the day--fifth and sixth grade girls, and it was more exhausting than herding cats. The sweetest moment occurred AFTER it ended. I was cleaning up my classroom while Pamela waited for me on the couch. Since I had no back-up plan for Pamela if she became unglued, I did not push her into anything. Whatever she did (usually, music and snack) was completely volunteer. Two girls from my class helped me clean up my room and then headed out into the hall, where other kids and adults were taking colored bulletin board paper off the walls.

Suddenly, Pamela jumped up and offered to help. I joined her, and we worked together to figure out what decorations to keep and what to rip. I started getting her to take tape off the wall and make a tape ball. She loved that, too. Then, she began helping the other kids take the paper off the wall, and I remembered my camera. I ran back to my classroom and grabbed the camera to capture her in action. The best moment of all was when she saw a girl jumping up to pull paper from above the doorway and Pamela tried a little problem solving! She gave the girl a boost, and even though her plan did not pan out, I was exhilarated!

Here is the coolest thing of all. The VBS coordinator had been talking to a friend on the phone saying, "I'm just going to come back on Sunday and clean things up. I am just way too tired to deal with it now." Five minutes later, the Holy Spirit called some angels into action. They eagerly and cheerfully took everything down and stuffed four large trashbags full of paper. The coordinator smiled with joy and relief as a living picture of "many hands make light work" unfolded before her eyes. Their zeal inspired her to join in and wrap up things very quickly.

The most important thing about VBS is not crafts, music, Bible lessons, memory verses, money, snacks, etc. What I cherish most is the relationships formed between all involved. Some warm memories I have:

  • One cheerfully joined our group every day even though she was a year older and spent more time at VBS preparations because of her mother's volunteerism.
  • Another wrote a sweet note to the new girl who came from out of state to attend VBS.
  • Pamela could not catch a toy during the toy toss and one who had two things gave the stretchy lizard to Pamela.
  • One quickly formed friendship with the girls from out of town.
  • Another helped these girls make the map for our poster featuring the Compassion International child my family sponsors to whom the class wrote letters.
  • One came back even though she skipped a day because of a sleepover.
  • Another livened up every moment with her energy and chatty nature.
  • One said her favorite moment when the class, on the spur of the moment, decided to make a craft for the kids in the nursery.
  • Another came for only one day and nursed a cold the rest of the week, so we signed a card for her.
  • One memorized verses effortlessly but did not mind sharing the limelight with others when the time came to recite for the assembly.
  • A boy joined our class for a day and managed to blend in well with the group without the typical boy-girl rivalry.

Every day ended with the exciting moment when three boys, representing each team (every class was divided into three colors), raced to the top and won according to the team points (based on points awarded according to their trail journals). I am amazed that our church goes through so much effort to make VBS unforgettable.

The final cool thing: the kids collected over $300 for a children's home in the area that takes in children with family issues.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Making Connections a la Charlotte Mason

Thursday, Pamela and I did our first picture talk on Monet, blending Charlotte Mason, RDI, and Visualizing and Verbalizing. Charlotte Mason was way ahead of the game in V&V because she suggested a portion of the out-of-door life for children under six must include "sight-seeing" and "picture-painting" (Volume 1, pages 45-51):
  • "The children will delight in this game of picture-painting all the more if the mother introduce it by describing some great picture gallery she has seen––pictures of mountains, of moors, of stormy seas, of ploughed fields, of little children at play, of an old woman knitting,––and goes on to say, that though she does not paint her pictures on canvas and have them put in frames, she carries about with her just such a picture gallery; for whenever she sees anything lovely or interesting, she looks at it until she has the picture in her mind's eye; and then she carries it away with her, her own for ever, a picture on view just when she wants it."
  • "At first the children will want a little help in the art of seeing. The mother will say, 'Look at the reflection of the trees! There might be a wood under the water. What do those standing up leaves remind you of?' And so on, until the children have noticed the salient points of the scene."
  • "She will even herself learn off two or three scenes, and describe them with closed eyes for the children's amusement; and such little mimics are they, and at the same time so sympathetic, that any graceful fanciful touch which she throws into her descriptions will be reproduced with variations in theirs."
  • "Find out all you can about that cottage at the foot of the hill; but do not pry about too much. Soon they are back, and there is a crowd of excited faces, and a hubbub of tongues, and random observations are shot breathlessly into the mother's ear."
  • "So exceedingly delightful is this faculty of taking mental photographs, exact images, of the beauties of Nature we go about the world for the refreshment of seeing, that it is worth while to exercise children in another way towards this end, bearing in mind, however, that they see the near and the minute, but can only be made with an effort to look at the wide and the distant."
  • "Get the children to look well at some patch of landscape, and then to shut their eyes and call up the picture before them, if any bit of it is blurred, they had better look again. When they have a perfect image before their eyes, let them say what they see."
  • "This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment,––when they ask, 'What is it?' and 'What is it for?'"
With a non-verbal child, foundations for this activity are built by exploring an area together, pointing, smiling, nodding, and sharing simple words with delighted facial expressions and joyful vocal tones . . . smelling flowers and listening for birds . . . filling the bird feeders and quietly watching friends arrive (even furry ones) . . . planting quick-growing seeds and checking their progress every day. . . leaving out sugar for ants and watching what they do . . . watching bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower . . . laying on the ground and studying the clouds . . . sitting on the porch watching a storm in all its glory . . . spying a shy little gecko (which may even bring on a GEICO commercial stim).

Charlotte Mason did not believe in formal lesson plans for young children (this blogger has great ideas for teaching without worksheets). Once they turn six or seven or eight, they were usually ready for short (no-more-than-15-minute) lessons like picture-talks. If you could reduce a lesson to boiler plate, it would be: review and preview, study, narrate (with materials put away), and discuss. We are not putting away the pictures because Pamela needs practice narrating what she sees; in time, I think she will be able to do a picture-talk exactly as described.

Review and Preview - Pamela shares what she remembers of Madame Monet in Japanese Costume, and I give her a little bit more background information about the Monets. First, Pamela remembered the woman, so I gave Pamela her name, Alice Monet, the wife of Claude Monet. She told me he was the husband, and I mentioned that he was an artist in France. Pamela remember that Alice wore the "butterfly red dress." I gave her a new vocabulary word for a Japanese dress, kimono. Then, we recalled the gestalt, "Alice was wearing a kimono and dancing with a fan."

Study - In a typical lesson, the child focuses full attention on a passage to read, a picture to see, or an object of nature to watch. Once the child is ready, you would put away the material and go to the next step. We are combining the steps of study and narration because Pamela is still working on her narration, or expressive language, which has improved so much in the past five years that she is almost ready to describe what she sees in her mind! (I encourage parents of non- and low-verbal children to never say never!)

Narrate - Pamela tells me what she sees. If she were narrating from memory, I would not interrupt her. Since we are practicing the art of verbally painting a picture, in this case Madame Gaudibert, I am asking questions only when she does not give enough information about an item. First, she talked about the woman's clothing, her hair. She described the background: the floor, the wall curtain, and a table with a vase.

Discuss - In our grand conversation, I point out what I see and comment on any differences. Then, we talk about what it reminds me of. We talked about the curtain being bigger than I imagined and the number of flowers. I introduced two new vocabulary words with gestures to illustrate them, shawl and bun. When Pamela said the lady reminded her of Topsy-Turvy, a movie about Gilbert and Sullivan set in the late 1800s, I nearly fell out of my chair! Pamela made a wonderful gestalt connection between the style of dress in Monet's picture to a movie set in the same time period! When I mentioned the late 1800s, she said, "19th century" and my mention of England caused her to guess, "London"--other neat connections. I told Pamela it reminded me of Laura Ingalls wedding dress, and she too lived in the late 1800s. In this clip, you see the science of relations in action, having a relationship with the object of study, making connections, and linking known (Topsy-Turvy and Laura) to unknown (Claude Monet). This kind of thinking transfers into long-term memory more easily (for greater detail on this process, read Dr. Carroll Smith's article "Is Sequencing and Ordering the Curriculum Important for Scaffolding Learning?".)

You may have been distracted by the balloon. If we were in a classroom where she might disturb other children, I would give Pamela something like play-dough for a fidget toy. The point of our activity was language development, and, as long as Pamela stayed on task, I did not worry about the balloon. The lovely consequence of my decision to let it alone is a recording of Pamela blowing up a balloon, tying it all by herself, and asking me to pop it--something, she would not and could not do two months ago!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Madame Monet in Japanese Costume

Pamela is doing many wonderful things, and I especially love how her language is suddenly blossoming. I suspect the association method gave her the mechanics, while RDI helped her become more self-motivated about sharing what she thinks. In RDI, we have been working on showing her how to give a big picture statement about a picture. Before leaving the conference, our consultant was ready for a slightly more abstract step: instead of drawing what she describes, I write down sentences. We follow the same process as before only Pamela dictates what I write, not what I draw.

Before leaving for the ChildLight USA Conference, something hit me! Why not use this as an opportunity to do picture-talks a al Charlotte Mason? I cut out eight pictures by Monet and Pamela picked one called Madame Monet in Japanese Costume. The video shows Pamela narrating what she sees and me asking questions so that I could better visualize what she said.

Our Collective Narration
"The woman wears a red dress. She is holding a big, white fan. She is dancing by herself. She stands on the peach and gray checkered floor. She has short, orange hair and a white face. Some fans are on the wall everywhere. The lady is Japanese. Her dress is decorated with small butterflies. It has a strong man with strong arms on the back. Two fans are on the floor. "

(Pamela's original words are red.)

I thought it might be helpful to adapt my lesson plan to the example Charlotte Mason gave in Home Education (pages 309-311).

1. To start a study of Monet's pictures.
2. To develop interest in Monet's works.
3. To practice giving a gestalt first (big picture).
4. To practice providing details about the subject and background.
5. To help Pamela see what I am seeing by the words I write and questions I ask.
6. To share what it reminds us of.

Modifications from Charlotte Mason:
1. Since the focus is language development and experience sharing, she will describe what she sees while studying the picture. Eventually, we will transition to her studying the picture for a few minutes and putting it away.
2. Since we are helping her with theory of mind, I will write what she describes and ask questions about details so that she can see what I am thinking.
3. I cannot give a preview of the picture because I do not know which picture she will pick. So, I will begin the next lesson by asking her to recall the previous picture. Then, I will tell her the story behind the previous picture to link the known (the last picture talk) with the unknown (the current picture talk).

1. Select and cut out eight pictures by Claude Monet. Let Pamela pick one without me knowing what it is.
2. Tell her that the artist is Monet and write his name.
3. Ask her to give me the big picture sentence. Write it down so she can check my work.
4. Ask her for the details. Ask questions for more clarity. Write it down for her to check.
5. When finished, let her read what I wrote to correct anything.
6. Look at the pictures and talk about anything we missed.
7. Go to the computer and look at a larger version. Talk about what the picture reminds us of. Make it the desktop until the next picture talk.

Tomorrow's Preview:

Before we do tomorrow's picture, I will link to the known (the Japanese lady) by telling her that artist (Claude Monet) lived in France. Sometimes he painted his family and friends. One day, his wife Alice tried on a Japanese dress called a kimono and Monet painted the picture of her.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"I Did It!" Pamela Glaser

Read more about Pamela's self-directed desensitization program for helping herself to tolerate slightly wet clothing and popping balloons.

P.S. Charlotte Mason was right about play, even for older children; play is vital to their development!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Math Questions

What image pops in your head when you see the following?

What image pops in your head when you see 2 x 3?

Can you give a concrete example of how 1/2 x 1/3 might look?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Gestalt, Geschmalt

Yesterday, I alluded to working on gestalt, or the big picture. Our consultant recently attended a Visualizing and Verbalizing workshop by Lindamood-Bell. What we are doing is very far removed from what the manual outlines, but I thought it only fair to give them a hat tip!

Gestalt, or a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, is the big picture and all its implications. We are working on the gestalt because, in order to store episodic memory effectively, we first need to be able to perceive the gestalt. During the day, we practice using. For example, Pamela wanted to don her swimsuit and play with the water hose. Since the weather has been chillier than expected, I remarked, "It might be too cold." She got upset because she did not understand I was referring to my episodic memory of this time last year being much warmer than temperatures for the last week. I explained, "The mornings are usually cooler than the afternoons." Then, she realized that I knew it was going to warm up and not stay too cool for water play.

According to Lindamood-Bell, children with language comprehension disorders have difficulty interpreting incoming language, making connections, and creating gestalt inferences with connections to the interpretation of incoming language. To tie it into episodic memory, we summarize little happenings during the day:
David woke up earlier today than yesterday.
Dad is going to work late.
Mom is getting ready for the conference.
You are still wearing pajamas!

Every day, I give Pamela a pile of pictures I cut out three weeks ago so I never know exactly what I am to draw. She picks one and starts off summarizing it. Typically, she forgets the verb and we work on including that. Her role is to describe to me what she sees, monitor what I am drawing, and let me know when I misunderstand. My role is to draw and ask questions when I need clarification. Whenever possible, I provide opportunities for her to work on nonverbal communication. When I first started doing this, I printed out this list of descriptive words to seek: what, size, color, number, shape, where, movement, mood, background, perspective, when, and sound. After we finish, we study the picture together and point out any differences. In the video clip below, Pamela is telling me how to draw a glass butterfly.

I also want to spotlight how we handle Pamela's aphasia. Even though she struggles with word retrieval, she does very well at communicating her thoughts until the word comes to mine. She is quite persistent in appraising my understanding (or lack thereof) and giving more information. She is even patient when I misunderstand her. We use specific strategies to help her when she is stuck and you can see how this works in the final video clip:
  • I give her first sound "p" for pin.
  • After she gets it once, I write it down on a paper near her so she can see and refer to it for next time.
  • I encourage her to use gestures and point.
  • I try to talk less, wait more, and give her good feedback with your face and gestures.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Never Say Never!

Lately I have been pondering the importance of working on dynamic communication to enable Pamela to live a fuller life than we had previously imagined. Working on nonverbal communication takes time, but lately we have seen some wonderful things!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away (1996 at an autism conference in Westchester, New York), I heard Dr. Eric Courchesne explain his MRI research on the cerebellum, which tends to be over-developed in individuals with autism. He believed that the regions affected were responsible for shifting attention in a timely manner. Most people take less than a second or two to turn their attention one stimulus to another. He found that, even when prompted to redirect their attention, some autistic children remained fixed while others took three to five seconds or longer to make the shift. Imagine the repercussions of that when starting a converstion with a child playing with a toy, or worse a three-way conversation. You know how frustrating it is to go in and out of range of your cell phone!

Like most people, I assumed that shifting attention was a lost cause, and our only hope was compensation. When we first added remediating Pamela's weaknesses to our long-implemented vision of building upon her strengths, I was skeptical. Now, I am convinced that remediation is a sound strategy and here is my evidence for those who cannot make a decision without hard evidence. We filmed this clip in March 2007, decorating Pamela's birthday cake. The most striking thing about it is how little Pamela shifts her attention to me.

For the past three weeks, we have been working on Pamela's ability to summarize to give a gestalt, or big picture sentence (another blog to follow on that whole process). Pamela stunned us with how well she rapidly shifts attention in a variety of interaction patterns, and I have no doubt how far she has come in the past two years!

Hint: if you have aging eyes, you might want to zoom to 200%. I think I shaved off the little vision acuity I have trying to study the raw footage! Here are the patterns I observed:

* Shifts from her picture to my drawing (and vice versa)
* Shifts from her picture to my face (and vice versa)
* Right shift to think (what five year olds do when concentrating)
* Tracks paper down
* Goes from relaxing to looking at my drawing
* Looks at my drawing and shifts to me when I speak, five times in a row (watch for the slight head movement as a tip off)

I gleaned through all of the drawing exercises we did and found more gems, such as Pamela's gestures (receptive and expressive).

She is also making stride in prosody (voice inflection and tone)!

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Courtship of Mr. Collins

When I explain what we are doing with Pamela, some people do not get the importance of nonverbal communication, viewing it as insignificant, impossible for autistic people, or cheating to get the right answer to instrumental questions. They even snort and roll their eyes, demonstrating the very point I am trying to make!

Most studies point to the fact that adults with autism, even those with college degrees, struggle for quality of life. Why are they having difficulty staying employed and living independently without assistance? Why do those who yearn for friends and marriage have to settle for living alone without friendships? Rising IQs do not change the outcome nor does learning to speak. Even under the best of circumstances, only one-fourth hold paid employment without extra support, held important social relationships, and maintained a high degree of independence in daily life.

Highly structured, repetition-driven programs often focus on instrumental interactions (using people to get something, not simply to share experiences), spoken language, and academics, ignoring the nuances of nearly item under social interaction in the DSM IV criteria:
  • Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
  • Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  • A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity
They often reinforce some of the impairments listed under communication by discouraging alternative modes of nonverbal communication, using scripts to initiate and sustain pseudo-conversations, and teaching make-believe in a way that strips it of its variety, spontaneity, and playfulness:
  • Delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
  • In individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • Stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
  • Lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
I am trying to balance between developing static intelligence (facts, procedures, mechanics of language) to help Pamela get through school and dynamic intelligence (experience sharing, flexible thinking, problem-solving) to have a life. When we overemphasize static intelligence, we end up with a talkative, smart person with autism. If you do not believe what happens when you ignore the nuances of relationships, I introduce to you, Reverend William Collins, the respectable, at times ridiculous rector of Hunsford in Kent, nephew and heir of Elizabeth Bennet's father, graduate of one of the Universities, about whom Jane Austen wrote,
MR. COLLINS was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society.
Why is Mr. Collins "one of the stupidest man in England"? (Note: I base this character sketch upon the 1996 Pride and Prejudice mini-series, which is ripe with opportunities for studying dynamic intelligence.)

Nonverbal Communication
Mr. Collins does not pay attention to the gestures, facial expressions, and noises (a la Lydia's snorts) very well, otherwise he would not have proposed to a woman who despised him (Elizabeth Bennet), ignored a woman who admired him (her sister Mary), and married a woman who only put up with him to avoid becoming a spinster (Charlotte Lucas). His gestures and facial expressions are almost as "unstudied" as the "little elegant compliments" with which he flatters the ladies.

Black-and-White Interpretation
Mr. Collins seems incapable of reading between the lines of dissembling remarks. His cousin Elizabeth words herself to sound complimentary but means something otherwise. When he asked for her permission to play cards, she smiled and said, "With all my heart," because she was glad to be rid of him. After he was invited to a ball, she questioned him with a serious tone, "Would your bishop approve?" hoping he would decline. On the occasion of their last visit to his patroness, Elizabeth mockingly said, "A very cruel deprivation. Indeed, I hardly know how I shall bear the loss of Lady Catherine's company," and he bought it, "You feel it keenly!" When he came to lecture the family after Lydia's fall from grace, Elizabeth dissuaded him from staying any longer, "You may fell that it would be unwise for you to stay any longer now. I always feel that a clergyman cannot be too careful, especially one so fortunate as to enjoy the condescension and the patronage of the Lady Catherine de Bourgh" and he credited her for her thoughtfulness!

Narrow Range of Topics
To boost his self-esteem and preserve his job, Mr. Collins discusses one topic and one topic only: his noble patroness the Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He often unwittingly insults his listeners when he lauds her wealth, possessions, and condescension. He practically stalked Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield ball when he found out who Darcy was.

Mr. Collins' courtship reveals how instrumental he is in his interactions with women. When he proposed to Elizabeth, he told her his number one reason for marrying was at the recommendation of Lady Catherine! He also believed it important to set the example for his parish and it might make him happy in the process. He felt obligated to marry one of the Bennet girls because he was to inherit their father's property. As an afterthought, he mentioned his violent affections for her, never bothering to read her expressions of dismay. When she refused, he pointed out the benefits of marrying him: not only did he have money, situation, and connections, but she might end up as a spinster if he refused.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Michael, the Gnew Member of Our Family

Lately, I have been trying to assess Pamela's level of curiosity by stating a bare sentence and giving her the opportunity to think and ask questions (or not). Yesterday, I was standing outside our bedroom watching Pamela sift through old pictures, and I said, "I am going outside." Before she could blink, Steve, who was sitting on our bed using the laptop, called out, "Why?" Well, at least Steve showed curiosity! So, I walked over to him and explained what I was doing. Then, I repeated my statement and Pamela asked, "What are you doing?" YES! I told her I was hanging clothes.

Today, Steve and I were sitting in the kitchen when the door bell rang. He went to the front door by going outside because the glass door is sticking badly right now. I walked through the house to the door and said, "Someone is at the door." Pamela, who was surfing the net, did not say anything (which is fine because experience sharing is not pestering someone until they feel coerced into responding). I walked to the window where the computer is, simply looked out, and watched Steve carry a box. She said, "Package for dad. Is it toilet?" Even though I knew it was Michael, a gnome with a berry basket, I used vocal intonation to indicate a mystery and headed to the kitchen.

Pamela was not interested enough to follow, which was okay. Experience sharing is invitational, not mandatory. Steve opened the box and placed Michael and, about ten minutes later, Pamela sauntered into the kitchen. She pointed to the box and said, "What is it?" I replied, "A gnome," purposely leaving out details. Pamela then asked, "Where is it?" I turned my head in the direction of the birdbath and looked at the statue. She headed out the door, and Steve and I followed. I told Pamela, "His name is Michael."

Pamela observed, "Basket." I was about to comment on the basket when Steve asked, "Do you know what the gnome is doing?" (He is still a novice in guiding experience sharing through declarative language and broadband communication.) Pamela said, "Smoking!" which was an interesting comment that I would have liked to pursue down a rabbit trail, but Steve said, "No, he is bringing good luck. Gnomes are supposed to bring good luck." Then, he asked, "Do you know what the basket is for? Berries."

Steve is still learning the fine art of using declarative language to guide experience sharing. Because he spends so much time in the business world tell people what to do, he has a hard time shutting that down when he comes home and flipping the switch to declarative talk.

When Pamela mentioned basket, we could have said things like:

The basket is empty.
I wonder what the basket is for.
That basket is small.
That basket reminds me of one that Oma gave me.

When Pamela mentioned smoking, we could have said things like:

Ew! Nasty!
I wonder if we need a no puffin sign (inside joke).
Just like the boy in Flipper.
I don't see a pipe!

I know how hard it is to have a nonverbal child with autism or a low verbal child, living in fear of not ever hearing a single word. It is so tempting to try to jumpstart spoken language without laying a foundation of nonverbal communication and emphasize purely instrumental communication because it is easier to teach with the clear structure: a direct, black-and-white question have only a few possible answers, and sometimes only one response. Instrumental interactions go very well the the typical learning style of an autistic child, too! Once a child has the mechanics of language down, answering questions truly requires very little thought and only exercises the static parts of the brain, which are usually highly developed in a person with autism. An analogy would be what happens when a weightlifter only targets certain muscles: others atrophy and the person loses flexibility or the body appears uneven in muscle development.

One of the exercises suggested in Chapter 3 of The RDI Book, which covers dynamic communication, is to watch an clip from a foreign film that is not action-packed, without subtitles, and analyze the nonverbal communication. I watched about three minutes of a movie that Steve loved back in the early 1990s: Caro Diario, available as instant play at Netflix. I watched from 1 hour 6 minutes to 1 hour 8 minutes 30 seconds on the Netflix viewer, covering up the subtitles with a piece of paper.

The gestalt of my interpretation of the nonverbal communication is a very serious man is sharing an important piece of writing with two other men, one of whom says something so provocative that the serious man fled in terror and escaped by ferry boat. The details that gave me this big picture view are as follows: two men are writing, very peacefully and calmly, while one man watches them and asks a question. The older man looks at the questioner and explains what he is writing. He finds it so important he shifts attention to the other writer to make sure he is also listening and reads what he wrote. He emphasizes his words, gesturing with his writing hand, and looks up to make sure the questioner is listening. His very pointed and direct facial expression tells me he is passionate about his topic. He recites from memory and stares down the questioner, who gazes intensely with very little change in his expression and acknowledges the speaker with gentle head nods. His eyes shift to the left momentarily and refocus on the speaker. The other writer is also listening with his head tilted as if he were considering the speaker's words carefully, leaning his body toward the speaker and shifting his body slightly. When the speaker is finished, the questioner slightly arches his eyebrows with a slight smirk on his face as he shares something I believe to be provocative. He turns his head back and forth as if to shake his head no slightly. The scene suddenly shifts to the speaker fleeing down the hill with his luggage, ranting and raving, as if running away from the plague. He is grunting and growling in anger as he runs toward a ferry that is about to leave what I assume is an island with no bridges because he is yelling desperately for them to wait for him. He barely leaps on the boat just in time.

Then, I uncovered the subtitles and watched the scene again. I typed up the transcript, and it hit me that the literal words are silly and pointless and do not match the nonverbal communication at all. The letter writer is really reading his letter to the Pope, justifying why watching soap operas promotes family unity. He recites from memory the television schedule, but then reflects he can go without television for a few days. The questioner tells him that the island has no electricity and therefore no television, and the dramatic cut shows the writer sprinting to the only means possible of leaving the island.

Questioner: Are you working?

Diary Writer: I'm writing my diary for now, but . . .

Letter Writer: I'm writing a letter to the Pope because he excommunicated soap operas. He says they harm family togetherness. 'Dear Holy Father, Forgive me, but you are wrong, our families are more and more withdrawn. Thanks to soap operas, we express interest in other, faraway families with whom we share problems, dramas and joys.' Ines, a Secretary, 10:30 A.M. Flamingo Road, 12:50 P.M. Falconcrest, 2:00 P.M. Maria, 2:25 P.M. Santa Barbara, same time, different channel. Celeste, 4:25 P.M. The Bold and Beautiful, 7:15 P.M. I can go a few days without TV, but I don't miss it.

Questioner: On this island, there's no electricity. There's no TV here.

Letter Writer: Television! Elevator! Telephone! Hot water! Wait for me! Television! How can you live without TV? Stop! H. Magnus Enzensberger stirs my pity when he says TV transmits nothingness! Stop! Karl Popper, you're mistaken. TV is not a monster corrupting children. Children don't become moronic watching TV. They daydream. As in old times they daydreamed listening to fables and legends.

What did I learn from this experience? I learned that nonverbal communication can sometimes paint a very different picture from the actual words. The two put together give an entirely new meaning. In this case, the foreboding, serious nonverbals combined with the silly, pointless verbal is what makes the scene absolutely hilarious to me! The mismatch heightens the humor of the scene.

It is no wonder people with autism are confused when they take our words at face value! Often, what we say is not really what we mean . . .