Shared Meaning: Solace By Accident
    By Kim Wombles | June 11th 2012 07:31 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Instructor of English and psychology and mother to three on the autism spectrum.

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    "It takes more work to communicate with someone whose native language isn't the same as yours. And autism goes deeper than language and culture; autistic people are "foreigners" in any society. You're going to have to give up your assumptions about shared meanings." -- Jim Sinclair, "Don't Mourn For Us" 

    I'm rereading "Don't Mourn For Us," in tandem with "On Being a Cripple," for a comparison paper my comp 1 students will be writing tomorrow, and the quote above really hit me, especially given a situation my son and I navigated yesterday.

    Sinclair's words, I think, are helpful. Shared meanings. So much of our communication with each other is under the assumption that things and words mean the same things to each of us, but they don't. And this is not a disconnect between just autistic people and the people who interact with them, but a reality that all people share.

    Shared meanings. When it works, it's lovely, like when I said FUBAR in class, and my military students said in unison "fucked up beyond all repair." When it doesn't, like when I said, "I have a plan," and alluded to Cylons, only to draw blank stares, clearly shows what happens when meanings aren't shared: communication, at its deeper levels, doesn't happen--shared meanings don't occur. Closeness is not felt.

    Language is loaded. We forget that at our own peril. If we wish to build shared meanings, then we must learn to speak the same languages, which takes work.

    Rick and I decided about 18 months ago to get rid of satellite. We have the channels that the antenna picks up, Netflix, Hulu and the internet. Instead of keeping up on the latest shows, we've gone back and watched older shows with the kids so that we will have an overlapping subtext. Star Trek (all of them), Star Wars, Space Balls, all the shows that Rick and I share a deep love for and the dialogue that sprinkles our conversations: we wanted to bring our children in on that shared experience. Shared meaning.

    It also means entering their realm, as well. I can talk Sponge Bob, Phineas and Ferb, and other current cartoons with them and know where a piece of dialogue offered repetitively comes from. Shared meaning.

    When words suddenly jar and wound us, thrown at us carelessly or casually by one of our children on the spectrum, stopping to consider whether there's truly shared meaning underlying those words is a must. In truth, most of our discord in our relationships in general would be reduced if we stopped to consider that issue of shared meaning. If we aren't on the same page, then we need to stop and work to understand what the other person meant before we assume our meaning was his or hers.

    Maybe it won't lead to something as idyllic as world peace or anything, but it will save bruised feelings and broken relationships. It will work towards building shared meaning and never feeling like one is alone in the relationship.


    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Another impressive article, as usual Kim. Yesterday I came across this very moving CBN video called 'Autism Through the Eyes of an Autistic Child'  and I wondered if I could ask you to share what your opinion is of it? There is also apparently a book being promoted along with the video and this made me wonder just how authentic or even common this type of childhood autism being portrayed in this video and book really is? I'm not asking about the religious aspect of the video, that is probably a matter more of individual belief systems and not directly relevant to how people in general best cope with these effects and experiences of autism.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Thanks, Helen. I've written about Soma's Rapid Prompting Method, which is being used in the piece. Unfortunately, Soma's method is a watered down facilitated communication--the letter board can be moved around so that the individual touches the letter the holder wants--or you'll see facilitators finish a sentence or word before it's typed.
    If parents want to make sure that the communication from the child or person is authentic, then they need to put a keyboard or other AAC device in front of the kid and move away so that there's no potential the communication is co-opted. 

    Notice that the mother said her SIX year old typed out 'agony'--what happens here is that children who have not been taught how to read or write spontaneously write and spell perfectly--that doesn't really happen. 
    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” --MLK, Jr.