Dog stuff.


Jen on the couch with two dogs

Jen (my morning staff) brought her dog to work today. He’s just recently adopted, five years old, easygoing, and enormous. BJ couldn’t exactly get him to play with her, but she still liked him, and he kept licking her ear, so I think they’re friends now.

In fact, they left ten minutes ago, and she’s just finally stopped whining and howling at the door after they left. She really likes him. Apparently he can come to work often from now on, so that’s what he’ll be doing. Which means BJ will have a friend (which is good because she’s of the social school of thought that if you don’t meet at least ten people every day you’re deprived of something essential).

The cat, on the other hand, can’t stand him. Of course. Her tail puffed up to an impressive degree before I even opened the door, and she turned spiky and growly as soon as he came in. He is enormous (125 lbs), and loves cats, and even he was intimidated enough by her to hide behind Jen.

(And just for an update on Joel, he presumably saw a doctor this morning and appears from his tracking system to now be in Canada which is a good sign.)

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

22 responses »

  1. Cats can hold their own easily with dogs. When I was 18 my parents had to stay temporarily in some holiday cottages that were based on a farm. On the farm were some kittens. One day two of the kittens came wandering into the cottages and the biggest one (still tiny) reached up and bashed one of our big border collies on the nose.
    My parents ended up with the two kittens and the one that did the bashing swiftly became very good friends with the dog he’d bashed. They would curl up together and go to sleep.
    I’m pleased your dog liked the visitor dog and I hope the cat feels more comfortable with him soon.

  2. I saw your video a couple of nights ago. I am so thankful to you for presenting it, as it gave me insight into my relationship with someone I am working with at school. Words cannot express how grateful I am to you for sharing of yourself, so that others might better understand some of your experiences in life.

    I am a high school teacher who has been working with a young woman, Chelsea, who just recently turned twenty. She can only remain in high school another year, but I am concerned she is not getting the correct help. However, my opinion does not count for much since I have only worked with her a short time. I guess I feel less tainted than others who have worked with for a long time; therefore, I can see things through clear eyes.

    She will not look me in the eyes unless I ask her to.

    She does not speak.

    There is one person, a speech therapist, who claims to facilitate her using a keyboard. I witnessed this one time. The therapist grasped her shoulder and underarm and Chelsea typed.

    The therapist is the only one who can get her to type consistently. She will type for a couple of other people; however, I am not convinced that they are not guiding her hand subconsciously. I want so much to believe she is, in fact, typing her own words, but I cannot help feeling doubtful—even with the speech therapist. When she grabs my hand, she only types random letters. She will also grab my hand and point to “yes” or “no,” but again I am not convinced she is aware of what she is doing.

    This past Friday, a week ago, I beseeched her to show me she understood me. For the first time she did seem to be pointing to “yes” and “not” appropriately.

    I feel so inadequate to help her. On the one hand, if she is cognizant then I need to help her practice writing. On the other hand, if she is not so cognizant then I am trying to pull a rabbit out of hat.

    Sometimes I feel like we are standing on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon trying to talk to one another. At least I am trying to talk to her, I am not sure if she is trying to talk to me.

    Based on what I have written, and your experience with Autism, might you offer any words of encouragement?

    I know this off the topic of your post, but I feel desperate, and so far, no one seems able to offer much in the way of practical solace.

  3. I think I saw that reply before somewhere. I hope it got posted.

    FC can be done wrong and it can be done right. And even if it’s being done wrong, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done right with the same person. I’m not an expert in that area, but I do know that much.

    I would if I were you find someone who’s not only familiar with FC, but familiar with best practices in FC, to talk to you about this.

    But I do know that regardless of whether she is really typing those things or not, there’s probably a lot she understands that she’s not being given credit for. A friend of mine always talks about making the least dangerous assumption: It’s less dangerous to assume someone understands all you say, than to assume that they don’t (provided you apply your assumption that they do understand to the real world, where even if they do understand they might not be able to follow through on what they understand in a way that you can recognize).

  4. I really am butting in to light-hearted posting and I feel like an oaf.

    You are correct, I commented to your March 3 (I think) post with a similar plea. I suggested the possibility of finding someone already accomplished at FC, someone like yourself who uses it effectively, and see if he or she would “interpret” for Chelsea and me.

    Recently, I hooked up with an Asperger/Autism site that uses chat rooms. I registered Chelsea and tried to get her to type, but she wouldn’t do it.

    Let me assure you I speak with her very respectfully and treat her as I would any other. The other day we went and sat under some trees on campus. I picked up a little stick, broke off little pieces, and sort of tossed the pieces over to her. Then I found a little stick and handed it to her, and then I pick up another stick I pretended to sword fight with her. She seems very happy most of the time and she seemed to enjoy the stick sword fight.

    Something has bothered me ever since I began working with Chelsea. I hope I can put it into words that will adequately explain my concern. I am thinking what I might do if I found myself “trapped” inside and it was difficult to express myself. It seems to me that I would attempt to “reach” the person interacting with me. I would try anything I could think of to signal the person that I am in here. If I were unable to speak, type, communicate in orthodox ways I would look for any way to get that person’s attention, something to signify my presence.

    I have spent time simply looking into Chelsea’s eyes, reminding her to look at me, and I have pleaded with her to somehow let me know she is here. She seems unaffected. BTW, she responds to speech quite accurately. When I ask her to do something, for the most part, she understands quite well.

    What is it that I am missing? Why is she not trying to reach me? Might she be trying to signal me but I have not figured out what her signal is yet? Did you ever find yourself wanting to reach someone but were unable? As you can see this is driving me crazy. I really believe (or want to believe) she is capable of communicating—if only I could get one lousy sentence from her.

    Forgive me, you are the only bona fide person I have found to give me insight in to her mind. You are a gift from heaven for those of us who struggle to understand the alternative way of thinking that is Autism.

    I am so sorry if I am intruding; I hope you will forgive my desperation. I promise to leave you alone now.

  5. The first time I went to visit my in-laws up in New Hampshire, I met a dog who also was “enormous twice” (who lived with my sister in law’s family, next door to my parents in law). When I first met Rose I was rather intimidated by her because she was so HUGE, I think as tall as my chest. But she turned out to be a real sugar puff so I got over that!

    I think it was either Rose, or maybe some other large dog, that was also really scared by the cat living with my parents in law. So it’s interesting to know that Rose isn’t the only BIG BIG dog that can get scared of a cat :-) Though I hope your cat at least learns to tolerate your new four-legged friend!

  6. I don’t actually use FC that often. Most of the time I type on my own without assistance. I only need FC when exhausted or overloaded enough that I have more trouble.

    I don’t know if she’s trying to “reach” you or not. I am not her. A lot of autistic people aren’t comfortable with eye contact. A lot of us respond indirectly rather than directly. We don’t necessarily want to talk to every single person we come into contact with, same as everyone else. I don’t know this person, I feel uncomfortable making too many guesses about another person I don’t even know.

    It’s not just autistic people who can’t speak who can tell you a lot about this, either. Donna Williams can speak but has a good deal to say on various communication stuff. I have an entire page of links, though, to autistic people who either full-time or part-time use non-speech communication as their primary communication method (I made it after people kept claiming that any given person was unique in that regard).

  7. That white colored dog in the photo is yours (BJ)? As for the other dog- man! hE’S HUGE!! I’ll bet he’s as big as i am! Heck, i weigh 125!

    Oh, in-case Mr. Hot-stuff (the dog) is interested, I have a little dog who would just go gaga over’em. In fact, we have quite a few eligable lassies around here. So, if he ever gets board, just give me a call (just kidding!) Besides, I imagine little BJ wouldn’t like that too much ^_’

    Anyway, cute post.

  8. To Goader (aka Steve):

    Are you sure you know what it would look like to “reach” Chelsea? It sounds to me like she communicates with you every day. She responds to your words. She smiles at your sword fight. Even when she does not respond to you directly, she moves, looks at things, breathes, responds to the world. Perhaps you could see all of her actions as Chelsea being in there. I am not sure why “one lousy sentence” should count more than the ordinary communication she engages in every day.

    If she is not showing any obvious signs of striving for linguistic communication, perhaps one possibility (among many) is that she doesn’t see linguistic communication as something to be specially striven for. Jim Sinclair has written that until xe was (12?) xe did not understand that speech was for communication and so did see much point in trying to learn it. And, as Amanda pointed out, many autistic people find eye contact highly uncomfortable, and it seems possible that Chelsea may not see staring long into your eyes as something to be specially striven for either.

    I’d second Amanda’s suggestion to read a lot of the first-person autism literature, whether by speaking or non-speaking autistics. You sound like you’re doing your best for Chelsea, but autism is foreign to most people’s experiences, and there is a great adjustment of intuitions that has to take place.

  9. goader/steve i have not read carefully and not sure if someone has already said this but maybe asking for eyecontact is a bad move. many auties can’t stand it, in varying degrees.

  10. Oh, sweet, those two dogs are just adorable. They look so happy: friends for life. My cat also didn’t want to make friends with our Labrador. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It is very cute if they do end up friends, though.

  11. Anna—

    I will continue to read first person writings about autism. You are right and I will strive to appreciate her overall communication with me.

    When I began working with Chelsea, I learned that she desired to write sayings and poetry for greeting card design, and that she ultimately wants to write a book on autism. Toward these ends, she has assignments in a creative writing class here on campus. In addition to my personal desire to communicate with her, my charge is to help her develop her writing skills. I am trying to figure out how to do it.


    Yes, I have learned much about the discomfort of eye contact. However, it is one of her Individual Education Plan objectives to encourage more eye contact from her. As I said earlier, I only began working with Chelsea a couple of months ago. This is one reason why I have concerns about her education and therapy plans.

  12. goader/steve Just curious: how did she tell someone those goals?

    If you ignored a part of her IEP in favor of other more important ones, what would happen? I have known some Special Ed teachers and I am pretty sure not always everything in the IEP manages to happen… I am more tolerant to eyecontact than a lot of autistics, but if someone stared into my eyes for long periods, that would freak me out and probably convince me that there was something wrong with the other person. (Sorry, this is just my opinion). I don’t even do that with my husband, but then we are both on the spectrum.

    I wonder if (warning: total conjecture sort of based on stuff I have read in various places) maybe she can’t see what’s in it for her to start communicating. If there were a clear benefit for her, maybe she would type. Otherwise, it’s just “perform on command”, and many young people justifiedly dislike that.

    I remember a family anecdote where a person didn’t talk (as a child) until he wanted to convey a very complex idea that could not be done by pointing and grunting. Then he came out with a full sentence, which probably scared the crap out of his mother.

  13. Originally, it was to encourage her to conform to neurotypical communication standards, where eye contact is considered being attentive. I see now that way of thinking is a misconception on my part.

    The other reason is that others have told me increasing eye contact is one of her behavioral objectives. Incongruities like this one have raised a red flag for me as to the effectiveness of her behavioral program. I am new working with her, while others have worked with her for years. Either I am naïve and do not understand her behavioral program, or she is not receiving adequate training to transition out of high school.

  14. N.—

    Apparently, she typed those desires (to design greeting cards and write a book) through FC with the speech therapist that has worked with her for years.

    I think I understand what you mean by she might not want to communicate at certain times; however, Chelsea always has much to type when the speech therapist she has worked with for many years facilitates her on the keyboard. It is almost like a switch: FC by the speech therapist and the words flow like water, FC by others or me and nothing but striking keys randomly. The speech therapist is very lucky to arrive on the day and time Chelsea is ready to communicate. Somehow, it seems reasonable for me to be a little suspicious of the FC provided by the only speech therapist able to elicit communication.

    Allow me to clarify, Chelsea and I were not having a staring contest. Rather, we maintained eye contact for a brief time while I spoke with her.

    When I ask her to give me eye contact, she does not appear to be in any discomfort. However, I realize that my observation of her behavior is not a good gauge of whether or not she is comfortable with eye contact.

    As for cherry picking the IEP, you hit the nail on the head. That is precisely my argument with my superiors when they tell me things like “this is what the mother wants and, this is how it has been done.” My point is that Chelsea is with us 7-1/2 hours per day, so why don’t we provide her transitional skills. The answer I get is the mother wants it done this way i.e. for her to attend regular classes. Therefore, I understand my superior’s point of view. Having somewhat of a rebellious nature, I tell them let’s do it anyway. After all, if she is attending regular classes, but if she is not producing any work, is that the best thing for her now.

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