Day-Jobs are something a lot of writers have, some teach, some are cool policemen, some are doctors, nurses, lawyers or editors of other people’s books.
I don’t really know what it would be like to be a nurse or a cool policeman. If I were to write a book where someone was one, there would be research involved. So I’m going to tell you a little bit about my day-job. Which is teaching in a school for people with autism.
I work with people who find it hard to use language. Sometimes they have ten words, sometimes a hundred, sometimes two. Sometimes more. But it’s the ones with fewer words that I admire the most. How hard it would be to negotiate the world with so little language. Like being in a foreign country all your life, only more.
One of the hard things about teaching someone who only speaks a certain amount of my language (words) is that you can never know what it’s like to be them. If I wanted to research being a lawyer, being an editor, or a detective who only solves cases involving sharks, I could ask a few of them what it was like. But every cool policeman is slightly different, so it’s hard to generalise.
Some books I’ve read:Loud Hands, Carly’s Voice help me to understand a little. The students tell me more. Websites like this one are great too. One of the things that comes up again and again is thinking in pictures. Being a visual thinker makes words a different language. When you see a painting sometimes, it’s moving and unsettling and beautiful. And it’s hard to put your thoughts or what you see into words exactly. Because the right ones aren’t there. They aren’t enough. And I think, for people who think visually, it’s like that, but much, much harder. Because our words are a code they have to learn to make us understand. And the code doesn’t make a lot of sense. Because pictures are simpler. Pictures are complete.
And however hard you work to help them learn, they are working harder. Which is humbling and motivating.
This is one tool that students with language difficulty use to help them express themselves. It mixes words and pictures, and was developed by a mother and her daughter, Grace. There are others. And as more and more voices from the Autism community write and make and share, we are learning how to do better.
As a writer, I think in words. They are what come easiest to me. I think the ten I’d need first would be: yes, no, help, book, coffee, go away, toilet and then the names of three people I love. But that wouldn’t be enough, would it? What do you think?