Despite what the New York Times and other critics say about memoir, I happen to love the genre—and not just because I write it myself. I love memoir because it grants me temporary access into someone else’s head. I learn things I never would have learned otherwise.
Take, for example, the post entitled Quiet Hands by Julia Bascom. Julia has autism, although I suspect most people reading her work would never guess. Or wouldn’t if she wrote about something other than what it means to grow up autistic in this country. I can’t get enough of her writing. I can’t get enough of it because she explains all the things my daughter Katie can’t yet explain.
Perhaps I should explain.
Unlike Julia, Katie doesn’t flap often, as many on the spectrum do, but she touches absolutely EVERYTHING. I’ve never told her “quiet hands,” but I have told her on many, many occasions to stop touching. Don’t put your hands in that stranger’s purse, don’t handle all the produce at the grocery store, don’t touch the tires on that monster truck, don’t touch the fragile things at Grandma’s house. I assumed her need to touch was based on a lack of social boundaries and nothing more.
Then I read Quiet Hands and realized that like Julia, Katie may use her hands to make sense of her world, a world that is more often than not painful and terrifyingly out-of-control. She uses her hands to gather and process information. So when I tell her to stop touching, what I am really saying is this: Stop expressing yourself. Or more bluntly, stop talking.
Or worse, I don’t want to hear what you are trying to say.
Or worse yet, you are broken and bad. I don’t accept you the way you are.
I had no idea, absolutely no idea, what I was telling her with my well-meaning words. Clearly I need to rethink my approach. There must be a better way to balance her needs with those of, well, pretty much everyone else.
What struck me when I read Quiet Hands was the memory of all the times the aides in Katie’s speech-intensive preschool program did hand-over-hand with her and how, even at 2, prior to her diagnosis, she fought it—fought it as if her life depended on it. I figured out pretty quickly that if you sat next to Katie and showed her what you wanted, she would copy your actions. No fighting involved. But I had to beg the aides to stop with the hand-over-hand. I literally had to beg until one of them agreed to try it my way and saw that it worked.
Even now, 5 years later, I still need to tell new therapists not to do the dreaded hand-over-hand. The response is, more often than not, but that’s how we’re supposed to do it. Some listen to me; most insist on doing it anyway. Katie responds so aggressively that they stop trying pretty quickly.
It makes me sad that she has to fight so hard to be heard. But thanks to Julia, I now understand what Katie is fighting for.
Until next time,