Friday, February 3, 2012

02.03.12 The Power of Words

Now that the holidays have passed and the resolutions have been both made and trespassed upon, we are ready for the new year and we have a fire in our belly. I have the pleasure and privledge of living with my family in a place that has a long history with and deep respect for words...and not just words for their own sake but for the nuanced meanings that they are capable of imparting, and the power that they wield when organized well. I live in a place where people are almost universally familiar with Thoreau and Emerson and Alcott, and respect the specificity that a particular word's meaning can bring to a description or an argument or an understanding....I live in a place where I am consistently reminded that one's words will far out-live and define a persons life long after that person's body has returned to the earth. Our words, it seems are what will be remembered, and if deeds are what we leave behind, then they too need to be spoken or written of to remain a part of the human story. So I find myself wondering if one has no words, will they be remembered? What kind of impact in the world can one have if there are no words to carry and lay down like so many bricks, eventually building a path to last into the future?
I spend a good deal of my time with Maxwell trying to understand what he wants or needs because he has no words. Max uses signs that are effective for communication if someone is paying attention, otherwise they float off into the ether like smoke in the wind, almost as though they didn't exist at all. This completely stresses me out. His signs are like little gifts and I want to be able to recieve every single one, not to mention reward his efforts with a response in the hopes of encouraging another try. The irony is that Max traces the steps of literary illuminaries almost everyday and yet can't add his two cents to the ongoing dialogue of life...and I imagine he would have a lot to say.Perhaps that is why people like myself have such a stong impulse to speak on behalf of children like Max, to insure their place in the memories of the communities in which they live. Parents of children like Max, children that have atypical means of communicating can make the mistake of speaking for their child in a way that channels this desire or rather this fear of inconsequence, and over-step their good intentions of communicating effectively on the child's behalf. Can you blame them? Words are powerful.
Maxwell has always used a method of sign communication which entails someone using either an exact or adapted sign on his body or in his hand. More recently we have been using simple signs in front of Maxwell's face, as he becomes better at using the limited fields of vision that he has. We are having limited success and think that he is capable of so much more. His educational team and I have talked about including another method which uses touch cards for different objects, conditions, or places...basically we will be creating cards that have a physical object or textured area that is representative of the object. It is an interesting task to set out for oneself, to make a unique texture for every noun or verb you can think of... and then glue it down to a card so Max can use it to request or identify something. I suppose we are lucky that Max doesn't have an enormous vocabulary! Words will be transformed into objects. We have used a method like this with Max until now, just not in such a structured way. The prospect of an expanded ability to communicate is very exciting. Communication is the key to everything....and it need not be with words. That much is so very clear! But I still can't help but think about the impact of his missing words...of how they could cut a path for him to travel or be relevant long after I am gone...In the meantime, I'll just keep writing!