O.K., I admit it. I was a little star struck when I got the e-mail yesterday. When I saw her name in my inbox, I got a touch of the OH MY GOD I’M NINE AND TAYLOR SWIFT JUST CALLED TO INVITE ME OUT FOR ICE CREAM! You know, just a little.
But here’s the thing. This woman has changed our lives. No, not Taylor Swift. C’mon, keep up. And not since college have I thought it appropriate to call a twenty-one year-old girl a woman. No, the woman about whom I write has done something for which I can’t ever adequately begin to thank her. She has given my child a toolbox full of tools.
Without ever meeting my Brooke, she has helped her to begin to make sense of a world that would otherwise continue to confound her.
Michelle Garcia Winner is a hero in this house.
In addition to scores of every-day tools, Michelle has given us the language to talk about behavior in the context of expectation. When you have a child who either can’t control the way that that she acts (or reacts to her world), or who grew up having to rely on her behavior as a means of communication, it’s incredibly liberating to be able to talk about that behavior in terms of what is ‘expected’ vs ‘unexpected’, abandoning the intrinsic judgement in ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘not.’
So when I called Michelle’s office in Silicon Valley to ask about attending a local two-day conference that she is leading, I had to seize the moment. Despite the fact that the conference is so far beyond sold out that they are no longer accepting wait listers, the woman on the phone very sweetly hung in with me while I stuttered and asked her if she actually KNEW Michelle. “Um, Yes,” she answered. Like, duh. You think I answer her phone and have never met her? And she continued to bear with me while I tried to explain that there was a story that I just HAD to tell her because, well, I just HAD to. And despite the hint of ‘OH MY GOD, YOU MEAN YOU KNOW TAYLOR SWIFT LIKE PERSONALLY?’ in my voice, she even gave me her e-mail address and asked me to send the story along so that she could then pass it on to Michelle. So I did.
Here’s what I wrote:
Thanks so much for taking the time to pass this on. I’ve been dying to find a way to tell Michelle this little story. From an outsider’s perspective, it might seem fairly insignificant, but I’m confident that she’ll understand why it is anything but to our family.
My daughter is just shy of seven and a half and has pdd-nos. She has long struggled with, well – everything you’d expect her to struggle with, but employing language and identifying emotions have been two of her biggest challenges.
Meanwhile, we are Social Thinking junkies. Our school system employs Michelle’s curriculum for social pragmatics, our daughter’s private SLP subscribes to it as well, and our home life is peppered with the language of Social Thinking. We have glitches, not catastrophes, we use ‘whole body listening’, we ‘add-a-thought to keep dialogue alive, we are social detectives and most of all, we rely heavily on the concepts of expected vs unexpected behaviors.
This summer, our daughter attended an ESY program with an aide. One afternoon, she was obviously agitated and said, “B* I want to go home.” He was concerned and asked what was the matter. She looked at him very seriously, took her time, and finally responded. I thought her reply was worth passing on.
“B*, sometimes camp makes me feel unexpected.”
A heart-felt thank you to Michelle for understanding kids like mine and offering a road map to help them navigate an overwhelming world. The language of Social Thinking has quite literally changed our daughter’s life, and we are so grateful that she is gaining the skills that she needs to make her way.
Thank you so much!
She very kindly wrote back and told me how much she appreciated my sharing the story. She promised to pass it on to Michelle. Which she obviously did because Michelle then wrote back too. And SHE said that MY little story meant a lot to HER.
Don’t you just love gratitude?
So, Michelle, now that we’re like best friends forever, wanna call Taylor Swift and see if she wants to grab some ice cream?
~ Ed note: Michelle, if you’re reading this, please rest assured that it’s meant for a laugh and I’m not really a stalker. Though I guess that goes without saying. No autism mom could possibly find the time. ;)
~ Ed other note: When you link over to Michelle’s site, please don’t be scared off by lines like the following ~ “[Social Thinking] is best taught to students with near normal to way above normal verbal intelligence who have language skills. This is a language-based learning approach.”
Though some language is necessary in order for Social Thinking to be effective, the basics do not rely as heavily on sophisticated language as that sentence would imply. As you know, Brooke has had a great deal of difficulty with language and she has benefited greatly from the program.