Monday, June 2, 2014


Today my oldest daughter Ana hung out with Philip while I took my son Carlos to the dentist.  She is into music and was teaching him about music intervals and other music theory.  She would play two notes in succession on the piano and ask Philip to hum it to repeat it and then indicate on the letterboard the number interval.  She said he got everyone right just by listening.  She also said he could name songs that began with a certain interval.  She then read him an essay she wrote about music being a form of communication and about how ideas can be conveyed in different ways.  She mentioned how when she went to Haiti on a youth group missions trip, she learned that their language had only one word for feeling bad but the English language has many words for different kinds of feeling bad: upset, stressed, self-conscious, annoyed, bothered- to name some.  She mentioned that the Haitian culture, compared to ours, is more stoic and survival oriented.  She wondered if it was in some ways related to their language.  Ana wanted to ask Philip if words were the best way of conveying meaning, especially for someone such as he who cannot speak.  I wondered too.  Temple Grandin has said she thinks in pictures.  Many communication systems for autistic people revolve around this idea.  They rely on a person manipulating or pointing to a picture such as an object or an emoticon to express themselves.  I found that when Philip used this picture system, his communication was limited to requests.  He did not use this to share his point of view.  Some autistic people have said they do not put as much importance in words but rather think with their senses or in another experiential manner.  This is another intriguing thought.  Some of the play and relationship development therapies we tried emphasized reading each other's body language, expression, and behaviors.  Indeed this is a part of everyone's total communication.  Was it held to higher importance in Philip's mind?

I asked Philip what he thought about Ana's essay and the means we have to think and communicate.  Philip responded on his letterboard:

I think in words all the time.  I kind of get it that it is hard to think meaningfully without words.  Miss intention without words.  Dare to communicate without words.  You restrict some sorts of roles of communicating.  You cannot express thoughts and feelings well without words.  One day welcome some people who don't use words.  It is really hard for them.  No one, when they don't speak, likes not speaking.  I like being able to use words to communicate.  The end story is there are many ways to communicate but none are better than words.

I asked Philip, "When you were younger and couldn't communicate on your letterboard and people didn't know how smart you were, did you think in words?"

Philip: I was always thinking in words.

"Did you ever think in pictures like Temple Grandin?"

P: No I never thought in pictures.

"Do you ever think in music?"

P: Yes.  I write songs in my head, notably reaching out to God.  

"Do you write the lyrics, tune, or both?"

P: I write both lyrics and tune.

Words.  They are powerful.  To reiterate what Philip wrote, "The end story is there are many ways to communicate but none are better than words."

       Philip, around age 3, and Dad reading


  1. Beautiful Philip! We are learning so much from your words and the words of kids that I work with who also communicate on the letter board! We have so much more to learn from you! Thank you!

  2. Philip, you are such a generous young man for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! I cannot tell you how much I relish reading your words. You and the others, like my son, Oliver, have so much to teach us and I am so eager to learn. We cannot wait to meet you in July!!!

  3. Thank you Philip for teaching us. You are making a big difference in the autism community by doing this. Hope other kids find their words through RPM. With much love from the Philippines, more power to you and our heartfelt thanks!