Ian and Elizabeth discuss humanism



Although this blog is intended to promote Iris Johansson’s book A different childhood, I am again posting a transcript of Ian’s lessons with RPM instead because I want to spread the word about this wonderful  teaching method to everyone who has loved ones with autism. You and see more transcripts on my blog www.adifferentchildhood.com, as well as more information about the book, including reading a chapter from it. Here is the transcript of Ian’s lesson on Humanism. Elizabeth, the teacher is in italics, Ian in CAPS

Humanism refers to any philosophical, moral, political, artistic or scientific system with a human, not religious, frame of reference.  In humanism, some believe that the ideals of human existence can be fulfilled without regard to religion. The Humanist Manifesto of 1933 took the position that the universe was “self-created;” that mankind was a part of nature.  A manifesto is a written or verbal declaration of intentions, motives or views of the author.

  • Name two systems that humanism refers to. ART AND SCIENCE
  • What did the humanists believe?  BELIEVES SCIENCE NOT GOD DEFINES MAN
  • Why would a manifesto be helpful to talk about a controversial topic? ALLOWS A TOPIC TO BE CLEARLY DEFINED

Renaissance humanism refers to a revival of classical literature and philosophy that began at the end of the Middle Ages, or middle of the 14th century.  Renaissance humanism features several important intellectual figures, including Nicolaus Copernicus and Leonardo daVinci. Nicolaus Copernicus was a mathematician, economist and astronomer who declared that the earth orbited around the sun.  Though Copernicus wrote “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Sphere” several decades earlier, it was not published until his death in 1543 as his theory was in direct conflict with teachings of the Catholic Church.  Leonardo daVinci worked as an artist, musician, architect, inventor, engineer, anatomist and geometer.  In his drawing Vitruvian Man, daVinci superimposed two views of a nude man in a circle to illustrate mathematical proportions of the human body as described by Roman architect Vitruvius.  Vitruvian Man was said to reconcile the main two parts of our being; the physical and the intellectual.

  • What period of time does the 14th century refer to? 1500s (Ian used the number board to respond to this question)
  • Tell me one thing you learned about Copernicus.  HE HAD TROUBLE WITH THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
  • What was one of Leonardo daVinici’s occupations? PAINTER…..what is his famous painting?…MONA LISA
  • What was significant about the Vitruvian Man?  BLENDED BODY AND MIND
  • I showed Ian the picture (below) of the Vitruvian man and asked, “what impresses you about this picture?”….SYMMETRY OF THE BODY

The difference between humanist and religious theories are their understanding of what constitutes truth. The humanist regards truth as something constantly evolving.  Religious theory identifies a static, unchanging revelation from God as truth. A humanist is generally skeptical and open minded.  Religious theorists are often unwavering and live according to theological dogma.  Dogma is a principle or set of principles provided by any authority as incontrovertibly true.

  • What is the difference between humanism and religious theorists?  HUMANISTS DEFINE TRUTH VIA SCIENCE, RELIGIONISTS DEFINE TRUTH VIA GOD
  • Now that we have talked about both sides of the spectrum – where do you fall in terms of humanism and religious theory?  I CAN SEE MERIT IN BOTH SIDES

Creative Writing: The basic difference between humanism and religious theories is weather something can change or evolve over time.  In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue to prove that the world was not flat.  In 1543, Copernicus declared that the earth revolved around the sun; the planets did not revolve around our round world.  Each declaration required education, hypotheses, experiment and declaration to be introduced to an apprehensive audience.  

  1. Define a topic that you know a lot about.  
  2. Do you have a hypothesis or “new take” on that topic?  
  3. Given the chance, how would you research or experiment to determine if your hypothesis is correct?  
  4. In the event that your experiment yields proof of a breakthrough or new perspective, can you think of an audience that would be apprehensive about your findings? 


Ok, Ian, now you need to create a manifesto to go along with your findings.  Be sure to name your manifesto!









Ian communicating about happiness with Elizabeth, using RPM

This is another transcript from one of Ian’s RPM lesson with Elisabeth Vosseller. She is doing such amazing work with the RPM technique and it has opened up a such an unimaginable world for Ian and his family. Go to her website www.growingkidstherapy.com to learn more about the wonderful work she is doing with this amazing teaching method.
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We opened up the lesson by listening to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and having a little dance party.Who is this song by? PHARRELL WILLIAMS
Do you know what movie it is from? DESPICABLE MEHere are some quotes on happiness. What do these quotes mean to you? 

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” ~ Abraham Lincoln


“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Mahatma Gandhi


“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” Benjamin Franklin 

Who was Benjamin Franklin? AMERICAN STATESMAN

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” Helen Keller

Who was Helen Keller? A BLIND AND DEAF WOMAN
Creative Writing: What is your philosophy of happiness? Create a “User’s Guide to Happiness!” Be sure to state your definition of happiness and how one might achieve and sustain happiness! 



Ian’s and Elizabeth’s RPM session discussing books

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*I started the lesson with a little bit of history on the Middle Ages for some perspective. 

What event marks the beginning of the Middle Ages? FALL OF GREEK AND ROMAN EMPIRE

The Middle Ages saw the beginnings of a rebirth in literature. Early medieval books were painstakingly hand-copied and illustrated by monks. Paper was a rarity, with vellum, made from calf’s skin, and parchment, made from lamb’s skin, were the media of choice for writing. Students learning to write used wooden tablets covered in green or black wax. The greatest number of books during this era were bound with plain wooden boards, or with simple tooled leather for more expensive volumes.

How were books produced in the Middle Ages?  HANDWRITTEN BY MONKS

Tell me one thing they wrote on.  VELLUM…..what it vellum made from?….CALF SKIN

What did students write on?  WAX TABLETS

What do you write on? PAPER

How do you experience handwriting?  IT IS HARD FOR ME BECAUSE I CANNOT RELIABLY USE MY HANDS.

Wandering scholars and poets traveling to the Crusades learned of new writing styles. Courtly Love spawned a new interest in romantic prose. Troubadours sang in medieval courtyards about epic battles involving Roland, Arthur, and Charlemagne. Literature exploded from the universities as scholars began to question convention and write social commentary, as well as poetic fiction.

How did the Crusades influence literature in the Middle Ages?  EXPOSURE TO NEW PEOPLE AND PLAE IMPROVED CONTENT FOR WRITING

Language saw further development during the Middle Ages. Capital and lowercase letters were developed with rules for each. Books were treasures, rarely shown openly in a library, but rather, kept safely under lock and key. Finding someone who might loan you a book was a true friend. Some might rent out their books, while others, desperate for cash, might turn to the book as a valuable item to be pawned.

How did language evolve in the Middle Ages? UPPER AND LOWER CASE LETTERS WERE USED.

Why did people in the Middle Ages treasure books?  BECAUSE THEY WERE SO HARD TO MAKE

Do you think people still treasure books?  SOME PEOPLE DO, OTHERS DO NOT


Ian, would it surprise you if I told you that I have done this lesson with several other nonspeaking kids and 100% of them have told me the exact same thing – that they love books but can’t read independently because they can’t track the letters?  NO, I AM NOT SURPRISED BECAUSE I THINK WE ARE SIMILAR LIKE THAT.

I talked with Ian about audible books that he can listen to on his iPod or iPad (or other devices) that would allow him to listen to books so he can read independently.  I asked, “would you be interested in that?”  ENORMOUSLY

Ok, let’s talk about what genres interest you.  Before we do, can you tell me what genre means?  KIND

POETRY….any poets in particular?…..FROST, WHITMAN, HUGHES…..ok, I have a Hughes in mind, but just to be sure, can you tell me a first name?  LANGSTON….do any particular types of poetry appeal to you?  ALMOST ANYTHING EXCEPT ROMANCE






Ian and Elizabeth discuss Emily Dickinson

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Ian continues to astonish us with his incredible knowledge.  Here are his thoughts on Emily Dickinson and poetry!

*I read the poem to Ian in it’s entirety  ONCE, and then asked him questions.  Ian, we are going to read a poem by Emily Dickinson.  Before I read it to you, do you know anything about Emily Dickinson?  SHE WAS A RECLUSE

I started out with some biographical  information about Dickinson.  I talked about the fact the she corresponded with friends and asked what correspondence means…..WRITING LETTERS…..I asked him if he was interested in correspondence…YES…..who would you like to correspond with?…..OTHER KIDS WHO USE RPM

A Bird came down the Walk

by Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk/He did not know I saw/He bit an Angleworm in halves/And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew/From a convenient Grass/And then hopped sidewise to the Wall/To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes/That hurried all around/They looked like frightened Beads, I thought/He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,/I offered him a Crumb/And he unrolled his feathers/And rowed him softer home/Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam/Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon/Leap, splashless as they swim.

  1. What is your impression of this poem?  I LIKE IT A LOT….why?….IT MADE ME THINK OF NATURE AND HOW FRAGILE IT IS
  2.  A point of view is the way an author lets a reader “see” or “hear” what is happening.  What point of view does Dickinson give the reader? OBSERVER
  3. If you were with Emily Dickinson when she was observing this bird, what would you want to tell her.    I WOULD TELL HER NOT TO BE SAD THAT THE BIRD FLEW AWAY
  4. What message does this poem tell us about nature? THAT MAN CAN NOT CONTROL NATURE
  5. What emotion would you assign to this poem?  I WOULD BUST OUT IN TEARS IF THIS HAPPENED TO ME….why?…BECAUSE IT WOULD MAKE ME SAD

Ian, poets are very precise in their use of language.  Let’s work on precision.  Give me one word to describe 

Give me one word to describe  Emily Dickinson….LONELY

Give me one word to describe  Dad…STRONG

Give me one word to describe  Karl(brother)…FUNNY

Give me one word to describe  Mom…UNWAVERING

Give me one word to describe  Deborah…TALKATIVE

Give me one word to describe  Yourself…CONTEMPLATIVE

Give me one word to describe  the process of learning RPM….TRANSFORMATIVE

Ian, I do believe that you are quite contemplative and a keen observer.  Tell me what you have observed and how it might inspire your poetry.


Tell me some random things that you wonder about:



Elizabeth and Ian discuss Damon and Pythias

(Ian’s words are in CAPS)

According to the Greek story, Damon and Pythias grew up in Sicily, and they were always best friends. One day when the two of them were visiting the city of Syracuse Pythias made some remarks that were considered to be insults to the king of Syracuse, and the king got very angry. The king had Pythias arrested and sentenced him to death.

What country is this story from?  GREEK

What is it a story about?  FRIENDSHIP

Where did Damon and Pythias go?  SYRACUSE

What happened while the friends were in Syracuse?  KING OF SYRACUSE WAS INSULTED AND SENTENCED PYTHES TO DEATH  (I pointed out the correct spelling -Pythias- to Ian.  This was a great phonetic attempt of such a hard name!)

What does ins ult mean? NOT NICE WORDS

How does an insult make someone feel? ANGRY

What do you think of the King’s reaction to Pythias’ insult?  A LITTLE EXTREME

What do you think would be an appropriate punishment?  NO DESERVE DEATH….

what punishment would you give instead?….TIME OUT (love it!)

Pythias said, “Couldn’t I just go home and tell my  family what happened and say goodbye?” But the king said, “Why should I trust that you would come back to face your punishment?” Damon said, “I will stay with you while Pythias goes home to say goodbye. If he doesn’t come back, I will accept his punishment.” The king couldn’t believe anyone would trust their friend so much. But he agreed to let Pythias go. He was supposed to be back in one month. If he wasn’t back by the end of the month, the king would kill Damon instead.

What did the friends feel for each other?  TRUST

What does trust mean? HAVE FAITH

Pythias went home, and said goodbye and set out to return to face his punishment. But on the way back, his ship was attacked by pirates. Pythias tried to explain to the pirates, but they just threw him overboard. Pythias swam to shore, but then he didn’t have any money or a horse or any way of getting back to Damon. He was so worried that Damon would be killed! He started to run as fast as he could towards the king’s palace.

What happened on Pythias’ return to Syracuse? ON WAY BACK WAS KIDNAPPED BY PIRATES

Why was he worried? DID NOT WANT DAMON TO DIE

Meanwhile the king was telling Damon, “See! Pythias has abandoned you. I told you he’d never come back.” But Damon knew his friend would never leave him to be killed. Damon knew Pythias would not abandon him. On the last day, the king had Damon tied up and took him outside into the courtyard of the palace to be killed. But Damon was still not worried. He knew Pythias would come. And sure enough, just as Damon was about to be killed, Pythias came running in. He was filthy dirty and his clothes were all in rags from swimming in the ocean. And he had lost his shoes and had to run barefoot the whole way. But he was so happy to have come on time! He cried out, “See! I have come back. Let Damon go! I am ready to take his place now.” 

How do you think Damon felt when Pythias returned? RELIEVED

How do you think the king felt?  SHOCKED

What do you think happened next? KING KILLED PYTHIAS

But the king was so impressed by this great friendship that he did not kill Pythias after all. Instead, he kept both the friends at his court so they could give him good advice.

Why did the king keep Damon and Pythias as advisors?  HE WAS IMPRESSED

Let’s talk about friendship.  What does friendship mean to you? Describe your ideal friend.


what would you like to do with a friend?  LISTEN TO MUSIC.

Why do you think it has been tricky for you to make a friend?  BECAUSE I CANNOT TALK.



Ian’s eighth RPM Lesson


This is the transcript of Ian’s eighth lesson in RPM with Elizabeth, and the third day of his journey into the world of communication. Elizabeth’s words are in italics and Ian’s in CAPS.

Subject of the lesson: Kyle Thompson, photographer

Kyle Thompson was born in Chicago on January 11th, 1992. He began taking photographs at the age of nineteen after finding interest in nearby abandoned houses. His work is mostly composed of surreal and bizarre self portraits, often taking place in empty forests and abandoned homes. He has no formal education in photography.  

What is the name of the person we are talking about?  KYLE

What does he do?  PHOTOGRAPHER

Where did I tell you that I found the inspiration for this lesson? FACEBOOK

What is facebook?  SOCIAL MEDIA

Do you have a facebook account? NO

Do you want one?  YES….(this may be something to consider as Ian is able to use the letter board at home.  I have RPM clients on FB and there are others out there who really enjoy using FB just like the rest of us)

Why didn’t Kyle use models for his photos?  ANXIETY


What makes you anxious?  CHANGES IN ROUTINE


How old is Kyle? .……… *I broke this down for Ian, had him subtract 1992 from 2014….22…..then asked him to calculate how much older Kyle is than Ian…..7 YEARS

Where does he take many of his photographs? ABANDONED HOUSES

What does abandoned mean?  HOMES THAT ARE EMPTY

What does bizarre mean?  STRANGE

How did Kyle learn to take pictures?  TOOK PICTURES A LOT

Have you ever taught yourself something?  I TAUGHT MYSELF HOW TO LEARN…..how?….BY LISTENING

Let’s talk about Kyle’s photographs.  (I showed Ian the pictures above and asked him to pick one that resonated with him.  He picked the top left photo).  I LIKE THIS PICTURE BECAUSE HE IS EMERGING FROM THE SWAMPY WATERS.  IT IS LIKE THE WAY I FEEL.  I AM EMERGING FROM THE SWAMP OF SILENCE.  (Beautiful!!!! Great metaphor!)

Kyle’s photographs have gone viral on the internet.  He has gone from a pizza delivery man to a professional photographer in a few years.

What does viral mean?  SEEN ON INTERNET

What inspiration can you take from Kyle’s life?  EVEN WHEN YOU FACE HARD CHALLENGES YOU CAN SUCCEED

Ian learning RPM

First I should say a few words about the Rapid Prompting Method. It was developed by Soma Mukhopadhyay, (see her website here) the mother of an autistic boy. It is based on using a letter board that the student uses to spell out the words he wants to say. The rapid prompting part is that the teacher prompts the student to quickly find the next letter by touch, or voice, or nudge, or noise, or whatever stimulus she has found that the student reacts to. The idea is to establish a rhythm that keeps the communication flow going, and definitely not to do the pointing for the student. Another aspect of the method is that the pointing practice is done with challenging academic material rather than mindless spelling exercises. Therefore in her work with Ian, the teacher Elizabeth (see her website here) uses topics like  “Confucianism”, “photography”, “astronomy”, “humanism”,  “Emily Dickinson”, etc. She gives a brief introduction to the topic and then asks Ian questions about it. The following is an example from the session on Confucianism:

…Confucius taught anyone who was eager to learn. His ideas, called Confucianism, stress the need to develop responsibility and moral character through rigid rules of behavior.

How was Confucius different as an educator? HE TAUGHT ANYONE WHO WANTED TO LEARN

What were the principles of Confucianism? STRICT RULES OF BEHAVIOR

Confucianism is not, properly speaking, a religion; it’s a way of behaving, so you’ll do the right things.

How does philosophy differ from religion? SECULAR VERSUS RELIGIOUS

The most important things to Confucius were peace and order. Why do you think peace and order are important for a society? FOR SOCIETY TO WORK PEOPLE OR GROUPS NEED TO GET ALONG


Chapter 2 from A different childhood

Copyright Iris Johansson 2007

Chapter 2

School Days

(Iris in the eyes of others)

When my brother had to start school, a year before my formal start, he was super scared, his face turned white, he had a stomach ache, got sick and threw up. Father went with him and took me along. Every day for a couple of weeks we were in the school with my brother. His phobia didn’t get better, but it was August and Father was needed at home for the harvest. He hated leaving him in the school in this condition, and he couldn’t let the grain go to waste either, so he put me on a chair next to him and said: “Now you have Iris here, so I am sure it will be ok. She will go with you and sit next to you so you won’t have any problems with your stomach.” He accepted this and I ended up sitting in the amazing world of school.


It was the best school semester of my life. Nobody focused on me. I sat and looked at all the letters, all the pictures that the children drew, heard the hymn they sang in the morning and other songs, was with them outside during recess, and sat among all the other kids. The one called ma’am, I heard her voice the most, and sometimes there came fantastic stories I could play with in my own world. Strange new words that formed light, colors and shapes that I could play with inside. I got to participate in all the nice things there, the reading aloud together, all the stories that ma’am told, I could watch all the games and the calisthenics between the desks; I got to eat milk and sandwiches in the cloak room. I got to be in my world and at the same time be present in the ordinary world in my way, and nobody expected anything or demanded anything of me. The other children used to play at our house, so I and my behaviors were not unknown, and children don’t judge, unless grownups teach them to.


My brother probably didn’t need me for very long, but I got to sit there the entire semester anyway. But after the Christmas break I was not allowed to continue. Father tried to arrange it so I could stay there, but with my peculiarities and my strange development I was seen as anything but ready for school. Father said I wouldn’t be much better a year later, but it didn’t help. After one semester school was irreversibly over for me and then I regressed and got depression.


I started to wet myself again, stopped responding to attention from others, and resumed some stereotypy: I flapped my hands, spun my head, drooled, resisted undressing, and ran away every day. Father was worried, but decided to give me all possible care and kept at it with a lot of effort until summer came. He often asked: “Iris, what is it with you? What should we do with you? Now you are just as difficult as when you were little, and we can’t have that.” But I couldn’t answer, in my world there was no answer, there was only empty and nothing and I didn’t know what was missing, only that it was empty.


The summer after this spring semester turned out to be a nice time. It was like I knew I would start school in the fall and I became lighter and lighter in my mood and easier to handle. Father was glad that it was easier make contact with me, and I didn’t go into my state as often, or as soon after contact. I wet myself less often and ate better.


I started school, but it wasn’t the same as before. Now I had to sit at a desk, sit like ma’am wanted, and I was supposed to perform, which was completely incomprehensible to me. At the first opportunity I ran over and sat down where I sat during the first semester and ma’am came and brought me back to the desk. Ma’am got irritated and upset, thought me defiant and careless and punished me often by sending me out to the cloak room. I liked that a lot.  I could sit there with my ear to the wall and hear everything happening in the class room. I often went Out and floated into the class room and was there in their atmosphere. It was lovely. Then I could float about among the word pictures; to A as in ape, B as in banana.


It took a while before I could stop humming, and since I always used to make some sound to keep me company, it was strange to not hear them. Father had taught me if I wanted to stay in school I had to hum on the inside instead of the outside, and this I had learned to do. I sat there and sounded inside and then others didn’t mind, and I got to stay.


Then there was the bell that ma’am rang. As soon as it happened the kids went into motion and ran away. In the beginning I didn’t understand it, but after a few months it dawned on me that the sound meant that if you were inside you were supposed to go out, and if you were outside you were supposed to go in. Not so that I thought it, or that it would have worked if I was alone, but passively I knew it. That’s how it often was, somewhere inside I knew what different things meant, but I couldn’t translate it into any appropriate action or show that I understood.


And then there were the questions. Somebody asked me something and I often knew the answer when it was about some everyday concrete thing. But I never knew what I should do with it, and this led me to start dancing, spinning, rambling, or screaming instead. This inner state where things connect indiscriminately instead of naturally has been the hardest thing for me to get straightened out. It took many years into adulthood before I succeeded in organizing things so they hung together sensibly.


I was also wont to provoke ma’am like when she had just thought of something she was going to sausage-stuff the students with. When I saw what she was about to say, before she formulated it in words, I could pick any word at all, that had nothing to do with her thoughts, and then this word came out of her mouth, “dress”, or “blue paint”, which made her really confused. If I was really mean I could get her to say a cuss word, and then she was crushed for the rest of the day. But it was risky to try to stick in a word that was too much in conflict with her own morals and values, because then she might come to a dead stop, and say nothing at all. Then she would start over, frustrated and irritated, and eventually some unfortunate child who wasn’t paying attention received the brunt of her irritation. She never connected any of this to me.


I had learned this trick of influencing people to keep my mother from killing me. When I made her crazy and got her impulses going she was unable to control them. She was frustrated because I wasn’t a normal child and sometimes got the urge to attack me or kill me. For that reason she never wanted to be alone with me and just said: “take her away” instead of doing something to me. That way I was protected from being hurt by my mother. But when I was around seven or eight I figured out that I could divert her anger away from me. When her impulse came, there was a kind of space between her and me where I could stick in something, for example a thought about the “stove”, or “the water faucet is running”, or “somebody is coming”. Then she got distracted and turned her attention to it instead of against me. She didn’t feel manipulated, but was happy that her impulse had been diverted.


In my world there was only one thing of each kind. One person had one name, another had another. If somebody’s name was Erik and there was another named Erik, only the first one existed. The other one fell away. Then you had to say Erik Eriksson and Erik Andersson. It was so difficult to generalize, because if there already was one, you couldn’t in the same sentence mean something else by it.


This also became my problem in school. First we learned A for apes, B for banana. No problem, I knew the alphabet before I started school. But when the apes and bananas and the citrus were put together to form completely different words; when you had to think completely differently, it became chaotic for me and I developed a bunch of strange reactions. Then ma’am sent me out in the hall so I would calm down, and I sat there and became calm. The problem was that I missed learning to read. I didn’t grasp that the letters were abstract symbols that could be combined to form different words, and it took until I was fourteen before I figured that out.  Ma’am didn’t understand how to help me, she just got frustrated. She was sixty-four years old and she had never had a student she couldn’t teach to read and write. I was an abomination that destroyed her peace of mind because I was so strange and incomprehensible.


Ma’am was concerned and called for a meeting. Father was there and said he was sure I learned stuff even if I couldn’t produce results. Ma’am said she had been a teacher all her life and she would indeed make sure that even I would learn to read and write. If not, I was retarded and then I should be in a special and not a normal class. It offended her greatly that I was such a spoiled child who wouldn’t submit to the rules like everybody else.


She said she indeed remembered Father as a pupil, and his willfulness, and she certainly remembered what he had done when mother came to the school, how he had chased the other kids with his wooden clog and how he had let mother sit beside him though they were in different grades. She understood that a headstrong person like him couldn’t have anything except a headstrong child, and it was a wonder that my brother was as capable and normal as he was.



She tried to get me classified as retarded with the help of various experts, but that didn’t succeed because Father did not go along with it. He agreed that there was something the matter with me, that I was under developed, but not that I was retarded. He had dealt with retarded persons so he knew they were unintelligent all the time.  But with me it was different; I was especially talented in some areas and completely impossible and undeveloped in others. He couldn’t say what, but something was different about me.


The experts got together do some tests on me. Father asked to sit in a corner of the room since then they would find out what I actually knew, but this was not allowed. He had to sit in the waiting room. I was in with the experts and they gave me tasks which I didn’t bother to do. According to the tests, I was completely incapable and undeveloped, but they could see that I really wasn’t, so they understood that it involved some kind of immaturity. They tried to get Father to sign off that I was retarded and he refused. In my papers it says that I am “underdeveloped”, with quotation marks.


Father’s view that I wasn’t retarded was based on his realization that I did understand, and also that I was able to do most practical chores, although most often it didn’t occur to me to do them.  Sometimes when he had the time and inspiration, he tested me. He got out all the clothes I was to wear and laid them out in the hall. Then he stood in the doorway talking with someone. Simultaneously he concentrated on me and thought intensively “Undershirt, undershirt, undershirt….”, and after a bunch of rituals, climbing in the stairs, waving of hands, uttering of sounds, I got the undershirt on. He continued with panties, socks, long pants, sweater, shoes, and overcoat. After about 45 minutes of sending these directions out in the atmosphere he got me dressed.  Then he knew that I was able, but there was something wrong that caused me to not do it automatically or understand that I should do it because it was too cold to be naked.


Another of the many times I was to be tested Father again asked if he could sit in a corner of the room. He explained that I didn’t see the point of answering all these questions, but if he could be in the room, even if I couldn’t see him, it would become apparent how much I actually knew. They viewed this as manipulation, and hence he was not allowed. They only got one answer out of me, and from that they could tell that I understood more than a retarded person.


And since I could answer one question correctly they thought I was trying to provoke them by not answering the others also. They tried to entice me with rewards, but this caused me to be so intolerable that they gave me the reward without me performing anything. They tried with punishment, i.e.  just sitting there quietly and looking annoyed, and then I just started laughing since I enjoyed myself in that situation.


On this occasion Father got a lot of criticism. They considered it his fault that I was the way I was, that I was spoiled and was just faking. They were agitated and frustrated because it seemed like a cat and mouse game to them. Father said again if he could sit in the room without looking at me and without saying a word they would get the result they were after, but this they absolutely could not accept. Moreover, their prestige was now involved so the struggle with me was one they intended to win.

The test was supposed to take two hours, but they kept at it all day, not stopping until their quitting time. On one occasion when they were relaxing and talking amongst themselves I was sitting in front of a game with asymmetric triangles, and in no time at all I had laid them correctly. When they noticed it and started looking at me I lost my concentration, but they could see it was correct. This was a riddle for them. They understood nothing.


The way it was in my world, when the charge in the atmosphere became orderly and familiar to me, which could take five hours, I became grounded within myself and then I thought it was fun with all the triangles, and it came naturally to place them in order to make a big triangle.


This puzzled them and created even more question-marks around my development difficulties. One of the experts understood why Father didn’t want to sign a paper and have me declared stupid.  She realized that he understood that I wasn’t normally developed, nor well functioning, so under-developed was probably a better word than retarded. She said something to him to the effect that I did have intelligence but that I had a peculiar way of using it. This satisfied him, because that’s how he saw it also.


This was characteristic for me. One moment I didn’t seem to understand anything at all, and the next I displayed brilliant insight. Father had experienced this many times. I could motor-talk, fantasize, and recount and create all kinds of absurd conjunctions, all the way from the universe to the most everyday trivia. If you listened carefully you noticed that not much escaped me, but my way of using what I had picked up was nonsensical. In the middle of all the rambling I might pop out with the solution to a problem that they had wrestled with for a long time. That single sensible sentence I could address to Father and say it in such a way that he, in that moment, could not imagine that there was anything wrong with me. And a few minutes later I was into my word jumble again, and then it was clear that something was off.


Father refused to put me in a special class. Not because he was against a special class, but because then I would have to be transported to the city and be with a lot of strange new people, and he knew this I could not handle. He finished the meeting by saying: “There is a law that says that children have to attend school for seven years, but this law doesn’t say what they have to learn, so then she’ll have to stay in the first grade for seven years if she doesn’t learn what you require for her to be promoted. In any case she will not go someplace where she can’t orient herself, because that would harm her and this I will not subject her to. I don’t care if she amounts to anything, but she will at least have a good life and not become shy and anxious like her cousin.” With that the discussion was over and that’s how it became.



Nobody knew what my problem was, and in those days in the countryside there were no acronym diagnoses, so therefore Father’s “underdeveloped” was allowed to stand.


I got promoted. Not because I learned anything or could provide any kind of evidence for it, but because ma’am didn’t want me in her next first grade class but instead wanted to be rid of me as soon as possible. And so she accepted that I was like I was.


We went to a B-school (a school with several classes in one room), so the first year my brother and I were in the same class room, and this was good for me. Partly because I got to go with him to and from school, partly because he was responsible for me putting on clothes when I went outside and ate my lunch in the cloak room during recess. It was like it had been the previous year and that was secure and pleasant for me. I often sat and observed when my brother and his buddies played and I felt like I was with them the same way I was with them when I sat on the milk platform at home. I never understood when recess was over and I didn’t connect the teacher’s ringing a bell with the idea that we were supposed to go inside. Those kinds of connections were unintelligible for me. Not until my brother said explicitly to me that bell ringing was equal to inside did I get it programmed into my skull. When that had been done I had no problem following that procedure.


That’s how it was for most things. If somebody said how it was supposed to be in a way that I could program in I was able to do exactly what was expected of me. But when I tried to learn it on my own because “she ought to be able to do this at her age”, and when on top of that, different rules applied in different contexts, then it didn’t work. My learning system was very awkward and my memory system even more messed up. As a result, although I knew everything that the others knew, I couldn’t use the knowledge in any sensible way, and it was the using of it that counted. It was about using it, but also about using it in a “normal” way. It didn’t click for me because I could never grasp what was normal, how it needed to be for all unspoken expectations to be fulfilled.


We had a Christmas party. All of us children stood in two files in the cloak room with the parents somewhat behind. Ma’am stood beside me and just before we were to go in she couldn’t resist saying to me: “Try to show now that you can go directly to your desk” and wagged her finger. If she hadn’t said that I would have gone directly to my desk, but her turning towards me and talking to me without pre-warning made me completely rigid. It got cramped in my body, and the whole room pressed in on me and I entered another reality that made it impossible for me to go directly to the desk. I was forced to find some way to make my body happy again so that I would be able to go to my desk. When the other kids began going inside, first the one file, and then the other, I started to whirl around and round and whirled myself to the other end of the cloak room and back again and I whirled into the class room behind the last child in the file. Ma’am couldn’t say anything because with the parents there she had to smile the whole time. The whirling was finished and when the other kids went directly to their desks, I made a right turn and walked behind the teacher’s pulpit and the organ, which was forbidden territory. Then I squeezed myself in behind the long bench with instructional materials that stood in front of the windows. In each window I drummed a couple of times on the window sill. When I had got furthest back in the class room and drummed on the last window sill my body felt glad again and then I could squeeze behind the materials bench again and go to my desk. I sat down without waiting for the order from ma’am and then all the other kids also did it, and ma’am became all red in the face. If the parents hadn’t been there she would have told us all to stand up and wait for her to tell us to sit down, but she knew I wouldn’t comply so she was forced to bite the sour apple and accept that for a brief moment she had lost power in the class room.


I had waged this kind of battle with my mother thousands of times. When she ordered me to do something it made it completely impossible for me to do as she said, because then I would get annihilated by climbing into a dark empty space, or catch fire or blow up. During that time there were two states for me. Either I was in the emptiness, which for me was the same as dead. It wasn’t something I was actually afraid of, but it wasn’t life. Or else I was in a state where I heard and saw and was aware of my surroundings, which I liked better. Actually I wanted nothing more than to do as mother said, but when she ordered me I lost my grip on that consciousness and went into the emptiness again. And it was like being forced to go to sleep while I was having fun. To avoid this and remain in the consciousness I had to wave my hands, or whirl, or hum, or motor-talk and to keep doing it until mother had stopped thinking about what I was supposed to do. Then first, was it possible for me to approach it. I felt that I had to do it, just not in a “normal” way and not as long as mother was expecting it. What mother usually didn’t notice was that I eventually did as she said. And the times she noticed it she still wasn’t satisfied because I hadn’t done her way.


As an adult I still have this behavior pattern but in place of whirling or doing other things that scare or provoke people I have learned for example to ask a question that causes the other person to lose focus on what she just said, and I have learned to do so naturally and pleasantly that she usually doesn’t realize what happened. And when she has lost her focus on what she said I can do what she asked me to do.


The second year when my brother and his class had moved to another school, Father practiced walking to the school with me. He took the dog along, and it learned the way and to follow me. So that year the dog went with me and turned around at the road crossing.  He sat on his side and waited for me to get inside the school yard, and when it was time to go home he was sitting in the same place waiting for me to come out from the school yard. This arrangement only worked if I came across the road. If I went in another direction, the dog sat there and barked all he could but he didn’t follow me. It was too far from home for Father to hear the dog barking, so then it might take a while before I got home.


I often went to a small dam where there was a tree with a big branch growing out over the water. There, I sat in hiding and rocked myself Out into the real world. Other times I went into the woods and sat under a spruce tree that I loved. Eventually I went home. Father had followed me a few times and knew where I went so he waited strategically the hours I normally was away. I always went the same way home, and the dog sat faithfully and waited until I came.


A few weeks into the new school year a new boy started in my class. He was short and skinny. As a child he had dumped a pot of hot water on himself so his chest and arms were scarred. He had an under-bite and poor vision. He had an atmosphere that I liked. There was something about him that awoke me out of my state of floating in somebody’s presence without making contact.


I could sit and watch him during the periods and follow what he learned. I saw when he understood things and could enter it in my lists. In this way I became more cooperative and pleasant for ma’am, even though it in no way was sufficient.


Then there was a doctor’s examination and they found that he needed glasses. His dad had arthritis and couldn’t work, and his mother had to take care of him and everything else so they couldn’t afford to buy glasses for the son. Then the county stepped in. he got a pair of “county-round” glasses, which he got teased and bullied for.


There was a boy in the first grade, big and tall, red haired and freckled, who took the lead in bullying. He got a few others with him and tormented my class mate every day, especially after school when it was time to go home, since then the risk of detection was less.


One day when I passed the school after a few dream hours in the woods, my class mate sat in the ditch and cried. His glasses were stomped to pieces and he didn’t dare to go home with them. He told me that the big first grader, together with some other boys, had laid in wait for him behind the school yard hedge and beat him up, and that didn’t matter, but they had stomped on and broken his glasses that he got from the county, and this he was in despair over.


From the place where he sat you could see the road going in a wide half circle through the open fields. I saw the red haired boy leisurely making his way home. I took a shortcut across the field so that I caught up with him before he made it to the houses and rushed right at him. I beat and beat him till he lay on the ground and begged and pleaded. I stopped but by then he had a black eye and a bloody lip, and he was all dirty from his red hair to his shoes. He was half a head taller than me and lots stronger, but he was stunned by the rage that hit him.


Then I went back to the class mate and told him to go home and said that I would tell Father about it and he was sure to fix it. He did so and I ran home to the barn and related the story. To start with he didn’t understand anything and thought it was my usual fantasies, but he sensed that there was something else in what I was telling him, something unusually real, so he asked me to tell it to him again, several times. I told the same story several different ways, but with the same gist.   The boy’s broken glasses, the one who did it, that he got beat up by me, and also a bunch of other details that had no proportions.


A short while later, the father of the beaten boy called and berated him about his daughter that was so wild and violent that she attacked his son. Father asked him if he thought that there was a reason for it but he maintained that I had just been mean and wanted to do harm. He had indeed heard about me through ma’am so everybody knew very well that I was peculiar and liable to do anything: throw tantrums and scream, bite and kick.


Father asked the man to come with him to my class mate so they could straighten things out. No, that was not possible, that had nothing to do with this matter. Father told him they were poor people, that they had gotten their son’s glasses from the county, that they couldn’t afford to buy new ones, and father wanted absolutely that the boy be able to tell his story in a safe environment, namely his home.


Father took me along and we went home to my class mate. We waited there some hours but the father and the other boy never showed up so my class mate told his story to his parents, Father, and me. Then it came out that the boys, with the big one in the lead, had harassed him ever since he got to the school, and that they made sport of getting him to cry, and this  time he had managed to not cry and then they took his glasses instead and stomped on them.


A few days later Father was called to the principal’s office. He went there and told the whole story. The principal had received a report from the boy’s father and now I was to be punished. Father straightened everything out and got the principal to write a report so that my class mate got new glasses and that was the end of the matter. Any punishment for me didn’t happen either.


After this event the bully-boys had respect for me and stopped bullying my class mate, despite the fact that I long since lost my focus on the issue and would not have reconnected to it if they had continued. The spirit in the school had changed and I was present in another way, even if I didn’t behave any differently than before.


I got up earlier in the morning than anyone else. If mother had taken away my Iris-smelling clothes and put out new clean ones, the normal spectacle ensued. If she had put out a flannel shirt I turned it inside out because it was softest on the outside and I wanted to have that next to my body. This was not acceptable and we would have a struggle that could last half an hour. I also wanted the buttons in the back so that the collar came above the knitted sweater at the throat; there was also a fight about that every time.


Mother didn’t understand how much trouble I had with my sense of touch. If it wasn’t nice and soft it would be intolerable, unpleasant, and anxious for me. Because of this super sensitivity, if somebody caressed me with a light touch it was like fire in my body and I got totally freaked out, threw myself backwards and screamed. I always avoided that kind of contact and therefore I always had an urge or need to lean against something.


When the clothes were “broken in” they were soft and they smelled of someone known, that I called Iris, and then it was easy and pleasant for me to put them on and be in them. When I came home from school I was able to change to different Iris-clothes and that also worked for me. But every time mother changed them and I got new clean clothes it was the same hell for me. But she thought I was just defiant and stubborn, that I just wanted to make trouble for her and create a scene to get attention. Such was not the case. That’s not what motivated me; it was the discomfort with my skin that caused my reactions.


The same difficulty arose when I had to start to wear shoes in the fall. I couldn’t stand shoes, so I put on booths. Mother wanted me to wear shoes when the weather was nice; she was ashamed of me when I walked in boots in warm sunny weather. Then I would normally go barefoot, but that wouldn’t do at school.  Ma’am complained about it and mother hassled me. Father tried to get me to wear shoes but that didn’t work any better. He didn’t understand either that my feet hurt so much it was unbearable to wear shoes, that I got all preoccupied inside and it became a kind of anguish that caused everything else to disappear from my world. This struggle continued until I was eleven. Then I inherited a pair of leather shoes that were just right, that were made of real leather and fit like a glove.


The same story took place when winter came and I was supposed to wear snow boots. They were just as uncomfortable as shoes and I put on my rubber boots instead. Mother considered it too  cold and she didn’t intend to be embarrassed by not getting me to wear snow boots. She put heavy wool socks on my feet so I couldn’t fit in the rubber boots, but then I took my brother’s which were bigger, and to her chagrin I was wearing  rubber boots anyway. After a week she finally won the battle and I accepted the snow boots. The thing was, I didn’t have a lot of perseverance, so sooner or later the function that had created the resistance got turned off. It had to do with my inner focus and nobody knew, including me, when it would shift, but it did shift all of a sudden.


Different periods came with different hang-ups, some simple that my surroundings could ignore as  eccentricities, and others that were more difficult to deal with which they were forced to confront me with, and this was hard for whomever had to do it. It only lasted for a time because after a while it got integrated into my patterns and then it didn’t bother me anymore. It could come back, but then only for short periods.


I was very dependent on ma’am having a structure: that she did things the same way every day. The important thing was not that she told us her plan for the day and stuck to it. The important thing was that she had a structure within herself.  When she did have that, it came out in the atmosphere where I could see it, and then I could be present in my own way in the class. But when she didn’t have a structure, like when she had a cold or was preoccupied with her own problems, no structure came out in the atmosphere and I wound up in the emptiness.


The content wasn’t too important, it could vary, I liked that, but the pattern needed to be the same. When we got to school we put our outer garments in the cloak room, and were in our stocking feet or slippers. Then everyone lined up in a file and went inside when ma’am opened the door and rang the bell. Everybody said: “Good morning ma’am” and she answered: “Good morning” and said the name of the pupil. I didn’t answer but I waited anyway for this event every day. Then we sat down on command and ma’am told us if there was somebody who was ill. Then she read a verse and we sang a hymn. The hymn was written on the board so everyone could read the text. It was changed every week, so it was about forty hymns per year that were used.


I didn’t sing but I learned the words and played with them in my mind, let them pass in review as long patterns forming the strangest shapes. At my confirmation I could recite all the hymns that had been used during my school years, but without understanding the religious meaning. Connecting to something as abstract as an invisible god that somehow constrained people’s thinking, acting, and doing, that fell outside my range.


There was nearly always somebody who misbehaved during the first hour of the morning and it often ended with himher getting some form of punishment, dunce cap on in the corner, or sitting in the cloak room until recess, later to be allowed inside and receive the admonishment from ma’am. I loved these kinds of interruptions. It got like fireworks in the atmosphere and I could be floating around in it while it lasted. Then ma’am took over command, and if nothing else happened to enrich the atmosphere, my stereotypy soon started. I waved my hands, pulled the skin off my lip, jerked my head sideways.  Then ma’am usually got irritated, or some class mate complained to her. Then she dealt with me, and after a while there was movement in the atmosphere and I could stop.


Thus the second school year elapsed with many small incidents. Like my mother, Ma’am was disturbed by my mere presence and wished the whole time that I wasn’t there, or rather that my disposition was like the other children’s. But it wasn’t and Father tried to tell her the only thing was to ignore the disposition I had. But this they couldn’t, they got frustrated and irritated and felt I was the one that caused their discomfort.


In a way I needed to have somebody in an emotional state, whatever the emotions were, so that I could be present and participate in the ordinary life. Otherwise I ended up in my own world and was far away from contact with the human sphere, and that was even more irritating for ma’am, because then she knew that I didn’t learn anything essential. I never knew that people distinguished between positive and negative feelings. Since I didn’t experience them myself, I thought one kind was just as good as the other.


School was good for me and I learned a lot, even if it wasn’t what was intended, i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic. I learned to copy words, almost like drawing a picture of an object in the room; the word I drew was just a picture and I knew what the picture meant, but I was not receptive to learning.  I observed what was around me but did not participate in the sense that impulses and initiatives arose in my mind that would cause me to respond, learn, and have new insights. The little that I memorized was mostly parrot knowledge. Then it was over when it was over, and I had no reconnection to it later so as to be able to repeat it in a test or in practices. Then I would do something completely different, because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do; what was expected of me. It was a great source of irritation for ma’am because she mainly thought that I was sassing and provoking her. She felt hurt and offended and thought me rude and inconsiderate since I had no regard for her feelings. This was true. This I didn’t know how to do. I didn’t understand a whit about that you could get such feelings, or that they were negative.


At graduation ma’am cried and said this was the worst school year of her life and moreover it was her last before retirement. She said she had not been able to manage me and that I was a blot on her professional pride as a teacher. I didn’t grasp that this was something negative so I was quite pleased that she talked about me and mentioned my name several times. It got very light and beautiful in the atmosphere. People commented later on how I could look so pleased about having been such an affliction for the teacher.


The third school year we attended another school and there we rode the bus. My brother had already been going there for a year and ridden the bus so that was no problem; he was responsible for me getting on and off the bus, going and coming.


There were pupils from several communities, so we went from being a small class to one of about 30 students.  It was hard for me because there was so much new all at the same time. A new teacher, new students, a new school all in combination often caused me to escape to a bath house in the park and sit on a boulder behind it. There I could sit and be in my own world.  When the lesson had been under way for a while some of the others came to get me and I followed them inside. The new teacher had heard about how strange I was, and Father had met her and gone through most of my behaviors and how best to deal with them. She had no prestige vested in having it done her way and this made it easier for me to be in her atmosphere. She was a joyful person and quite boisterous and this made the atmosphere around her animated.


We sat two by two which suited me very nicely; I could copy my seat mate’s exercise book. She was left handed so it was easy to see her word pictures or figure pictures since her hand was not in the way. Consequently it was not clear what I knew and didn’t know, because what I turned in was often ok even if it suffered from the same errors that the other girl had. Fortunately she was very good and made few errors so it wasn’t too obvious that I copied her.


As for reading, I didn’t know how to put letters together but I was good at listening and remembering.  If had reading homework, my brother read it to me a couple of times while I was looking at the book memorizing the word pictures I looked at, and eventually I learned the whole thing by heart. The problem was when I had to read aloud and had missed some little word like “and” or “it”. If the teacher stopped me then I couldn’t continue on, but had to start over from the beginning.  What saved me was that the teacher didn’t have the patience to listen to it again, but let the reading be continued by someone else, and this way I got along ok.


I had this teacher in the third and fourth grade, and was considered an anomaly but was allowed to participate anyway. The teacher had heard Father’s way of thinking about remedial class and she understood him, so it was no problem for her to let me continue.


Then it was time for yet a new school and a new teacher, a man who had a master’s degree. We were the same students as before so that was a known, but there was a whole new atmosphere around this teacher. He thought I was interesting and he said already one of the first days: “I have no idea what’s the matter with you but I will really try to make sure that you can learn what you are supposed to so I can give a report on you also.” Then he placed me in the first row, just below where he usually stood and he always had his focus on me when he was talking to the class. It was a brand new experience that I had not had before.  A person who was interested in me without being frustrated or irritated or wanting to train me to be something other than what I was, that was like a new world. Sure, Father had the same attitude but it was still something special, I had never met anyone else with interest in me, a real interest in trying to understand me.


He told the class that since I had some difficulty understanding the material by reading it myself he would go through it all during class and that this would make it easier for all the others as well, since they would need to only brush up on it at home. It got me some brownie points with the class that they got a new method of teaching that made it easier for everyone. It also turned out that the weaker students could absorb the knowledge more easily and thereby got better grades.


Now I know that wasn’t the whole truth. I have since realized, after many years of study and mentoring in schools, that he was an extremely capable pedagogue, who was able to use himself in the teaching process in a remarkable way, that is still just as unique. He had the ability to sense what the individual students needed to best be able to learn and to incorporate this in his teaching method, giving all the students the best chance of learning. For him there were no difficult students, only challenges to be mastered and turned into strengths.


He could see exactly what he needed to say and do to make the stuff he was talking about comprehensible for me. And he knew how to do it with the whole class involved. The class understood in the “small field” while I understood in the “bigger field”. And this was something entirely new to me. He knew he was a good teacher, but unlike Emma and Fil, he wasn’t aware of being present in the real world at the same time he was talking in the ordinary world.


He didn’t care about my tics and my stereotypy. He didn’t allow himself to be influenced or distracted by them, he was in tune with me the whole time even though he didn’t get any answers from me.


He could see when I hadn’t understood and then he repeated it again in a different way. During tests, he took me with him to the supply room while the others were writing in the class room. There he read the questions to me and let me talk. When I said something that could be used as the answer he wrote it down, and continued like that throughout the test. When this was done he gave me a blank sheet of paper and I copied what he had written down, and he accepted that as my response to the test. He did the same thing in all the subjects; in this way I got a functional work book. He couldn’t figure me out, on the one hand I had memory like an elephant and could describe details that most of the other kids promptly forgot, and on the other hand I seemed completely lost and couldn’t answer the simplest question.


In Swedish class he gave different composition topics for us to write about. I made a bunch of incomprehensible word pictures that neither he nor I could read. Then he had me stand by the lectern and tell a story and he wrote it down as fast as he could. He knew if he asked me to pause, I would start on a whole new story, which he did not want. Then I had to copy what he had written on my paper and he accepted that as my composition. “It was told by you, composed by you, written by you, so I can use it as the basis for your grade.”


In math it was more difficult but he gave me a template to fill in and then he read out the numbers over and over in different ways, and let me do it over until it was somewhat correct, then he accepted it as the answer. The whole time he was trying to find the entry point for me to get the concept, and he accepted what I managed to accomplish with his help as good enough. He succeeded in making me believe that I wasn’t completely stupid, just had an awkward way of learning.


When I started fifth grade with him I had turned eleven during the spring. My year from ten to eleven had been revolutionary.  It was during this time that I discovered that people were people, that something existed that was specifically human, that humans could have a different connection with each other than with animals. This was so transformative for me that I ended up in a different world than the ordinary world I had been a part of before. I started to see people as individuals and tried to understand them and what they said, thought, and felt; what they meant by what they said and how to understand the point of talking with others.


I discovered that boys were something other than girls and that there was something special between boys and girls that created light and movement in the atmosphere. I didn’t understand what it was but it attracted me because it was so alive. I discovered that girls behaved differently when there were boys with them than when there were just girls or grownups, and that boys also became different when there were girls nearby and no adults watching. There was something about the contents of what was said also. Boys said a bunch of things for no reason and sense of where it came from, and the girls did the same, both to each other and to the boys. I realized it was something I didn’t understand and I didn’t have a clue how to find out what it was. It was something that other people had that I lacked, an ability that I didn’t comprehend, or how I could get it. That’s the mystery that I have been dealing with the rest of my life.


I had learned that if I could think of nothing to say I could listen to the talk around me and seize on a word I recognized and start talking about it as a topic. I could tell what I knew, I could listen to what others knew, I could ask questions. I figured out that you could ask in different ways. One way so you got a yes or a no answer, which was uninteresting, therefore I was always pondering how to ask so the other person would have to explain what heshe knew. This caused me to end up in some strange conversations with people, and I thought it was great fun. Some thought I was batty and others that I was interesting, in any case it allowed me to be included.


There were four girls around me paired two by two, and I was the fifth wheel. For me, in my world, I was included just by being in the same place. I didn’t understand that friendship was a different kind of relationship than the one I was part of. The others were strong willed and sometimes their wills collided and one or the other of the pairs broke up. Then I was always there for the one that was left out. I didn’t have a will of my own, I always wanted what the other one wanted, so with me there was never any conflict about what we would do.


The girl that most often came in conflict with some of the others became especially important to me. She knew everything about how to be and act, how to dress to be in, and how one should be as a girl. She was thin, cute, happy and cheerful, and a lot of kids collected around her, especially boys.


Father knew I didn’t have a good self-preservation instinct, and he realized that I could easily be exploited sexually by boys. But every time I met a guy that made a pass at me and I seemed to be attracted to him I did like my mother had taught me: Can I see him across the kitchen table for the rest of my life? Most of time the answer was no and then I knew I shouldn’t be alone with that boy. If it was somebody I could imagine across the kitchen table then the next step was to invite him home to talk with Father, and then a lot of them disappeared voluntarily, and there were very few left.


Father had confidence in that girl so she got the assignment to never leave me alone, but always go with me home. And that’s how it was; we were never apart from each other if there were boys. What she did when she was with others or by herself I don’t know, but she and I never separated and we always rode home together.


We had sports and different types of exercises and games in school. With individual exercises I might succeed sometimes but often I did something completely wrong and this caused the teacher to demonstrate with me as the guinea pig.  First he did it himself, then he demonstrated with me, holding me and getting me to do it as he intended. This was fun and I liked gym very much. I thought I knew how to do it but if I tried it by myself, without his atmosphere and spirit, there were no impulses that steered me the right way.


When we were playing handball I did not understand the rules. I kept throwing the ball in all kinds of directions, which interrupted the game so nobody wanted me on their team. Then the teacher told me to “Shoot at the goal keeper”, so I did. Wherever I was on the field I aimed at and shot with all my might at the goalie; they were hard balls so the goalies did not like to stand in the way of them. I didn’t realize that the goal was where the ball was supposed to end up so wherever the goalie was heshe got the ball thrown at himher. This made me popular and all the teams wanted me and I was placed strategically and became the goal shooter.


During the two years under the kindly guidance of my teacher I found out what the reference for life was, and I discovered the value of life, that human values were connected to life. During this period my interest for everything having to do with life and everything one could learn about it grew. I developed a conception of our globe, how big it was, that it was round, where it was located in the universe, that there were people that lived in different places and that life on Greenland, for example, was different from life in Sweden, about America and the emigration, about Africa and imperialism, about the Soviet Union and the cold war, about Sweden as a great power. I absorbed it all like a sponge and I loved collecting all the data I could get access to. Then I could use them when I wanted to talk and in this way I could communicate.


The teacher told us about the peanuts in Africa. The authorities accepted only peanuts as payment for taxes and this forced the farmers to raise peanuts instead of something they could eat themselves, and this led to malnutrition. I was fascinated by how it was possible for it to be like that. In the real reality I could see how they could farm in a better way. Why didn’t people fix things when they noticed how bad they were? I talked for weeks about this but noticed in my class mates that they didn’t give a damn. They often said: “So what? That’s just how it is. Why should we worry about that, there are much more fun things to do.”


I didn’t get this at all. I couldn’t imagine anything more enjoyable in all the world than collecting all this data, organize it into lists in my head and use them to communicate with.  The friends around me thought I was impossible, they often asked me to talk about something else, or be quiet. They said what I talked about was boring and preferred gossiping about others.


Father was the only one who liked this and relished it with me. He listened patiently to everything I told him about what I had learned and how I thought about it. He asked questions and didn’t seem to be the least bit bored. When I came home from school I went with him in the barn for a couple of hours and told him everything I had heard in school. He smiled and smiled and couldn’t hide his joy at these –in his eyes- strides. He thought that I had grasped something essential in life. He said if I wanted to know about life I could ask old people to talk about their lives. Farmor and farfar had died that year so it was too late to talk with them, but I thought if somebody else shows up I will do that.


Now I started to think through all that Fil had told me, all that Emma had told and much that Father had told about his grandfather. Now I could think in a different way. I started to understand contexts and put different things together and discover that this led to new thoughts. It seemed like the world changed with each new discovery and I relished all the stuff there was to know and understand.


Not far from our place was an estate that had a brick factory. In the wintertime there were some hobos living on top of the ovens and they were responsible for keeping the ovens fired and at the correct temperature for making bricks. If they did a good job, the squire gave them a meal each day. My brother went there and hung out with them and sometimes I got to go along. He said that they drank and could be violent and you had to watch out for the DTs, and that they might paw on small girls. I didn’t know what pawing was but I understood that it was a no-no. Later I have realized that the risk was minimal with a kid that threw a tantrum if you just touched her so I didn’t really have anything to watch out for.


I went there, stood and waited by the doorstep until somebody came and asked what I wanted, and then I said I wanted them to tell about their life. This they were happy to do, they were loquacious and talked much about their lives and their history. They knew who I was because they had been at our place for a meal now and then. They had worked there a few days and got some beer, so they knew I was the parsonage girl.


For them I could tell about everything I had learned in school. They had all the time in the world to listen, and if I brought a basket of food, “goodies” they said, I could partake of all their stories.


My older cousin, who had the same problem as I, only worse, was often with these men. He had tics and flapped his hands in front of his face and looked in porno magazines, since they had plenty of those. Compared to today they were like Ladies Home Journal, but in those days they were very daring and forbidden.


The winter before I turned twelve in the spring, I got to hear on those evenings about a side of life that I didn’t know existed. One of the men had lost his parents when he was six. He had been sold to a farmer who was very mean and beat him. He had escaped with a hobo that came there and since then he had been on the road. The first few years he kept away so he wouldn’t get caught and sent back, and he got better and better at getting food. As a ten-year old he had arrived here and lived on top of the ovens. Looking back, I guess he was about thirty years old, but he was so dirty and ragged that he looked much older.


The remarkable thing was that these men were willing to talk about all the misery they had experienced in life, how many beatings they’d gotten, about all the drinking and fighting they’d done, about how they had starved and suffered, how nobody wanted anything to do with them, how they couldn’t get work every day. Many of them had nightmares and couldn’t sleep, others saw ghosts in the middle of the day, and could unexpectedly be struck by panic and terror. And still they had a will to live, a joy in life, a light cheerfulness. They were quick to joke and laugh, quick to play and goof around, even about the most serious.


They cared for each other and took good care of those who were incapacitated, those who were too psychotic to know what they were doing and the trouble they created. There was a different spirit of caring than was found in normal homes, that I could discern.


One of them was a “tattare”. This meant he had gypsy background, but he had broken with his “baggage”, as he called it, and had wanted to be a normal decent Swede. Unfortunately, he had not succeeded. He couldn’t get a job because he was so dark skinned and looked so foreign. That was something very suspicious in Sweden. He didn’t know how to read and write and didn’t know how to behave since he was brought up with different manners and customs.  He used to sneak into the church on Sundays, go up in the balcony and sit on the steps going up to the bell tower so that nobody would see him. He had talked to Father and liked him very much because Father wasn’t judgmental and condemning like other Swedes he had met.


The reason he broke off from his family was that his mother had fallen in love with a Swede when he was little and abandoned her husband and him. He was seven then and his father was a violent drunk who at any time would tear him out of bed and beat him black and blue without reason. It was so humiliating that he couldn’t stand it. He asked for help but everyone looked the other way, and a few years later he left. He went from house to house and did day labor, but he was not allowed to stay. Everyone thought he was a thief but he had not stolen a thing in his life. The years from fourteen to sixteen were tough, but then he met an old hobo and got to accompany him here the first time. The old man was dead now but he remembered him and his stories, and he liked to tell them.


Two things most of them had in common. They had all lost their home and their mother early in life, and they all drank liquor, home-brew that they got hold of on different farms where they did day labor. Those who had the capacity to work did, and came back with the liquor ration that they all shared. They said it was the only fun they had when I asked why they drank.


Few of them had attended school and knew how to read and write, but two were very well read. They had attended the university, and become crazy, as they said, and therefore hit the road as hobos. They told about a life of drinking and carousing with the other students, how they never slept and partied all night, how they had had women, the kind that “lived off their body”, and they had gone to lectures.


One of them was an aristocrat. He came from a fine family but had been very unhappy as a child. When he talked about it I understood that he had had similar problems to mine. But he hadn’t had a father that protected him from being punished for his strange behavior. He was raised by a nanny who for practical purposes became his mother. When he started school she disappeared from his life, and after that his life became nothing but a great agony. Without her he was lost and didn’t know how to behave and he was punished every time he made a mistake. When he was fifteen he ran away together with some hobos who had been there doing day work. He stayed in hiding for several days, and then he swapped clothes with one of them so as to not be recognized. He never looked his family up again.


Another was the child of a businessman and had a mother who went insane when he was little. He loved her, for she loved him and they played and joked, but when he was five she was sent to an asylum and the father remarried a very mean woman who tormented him terribly. He never saw his real mother again and he still grieved for her. When he was ten and ready to start real-school he was sent to a boarding school where he stayed until he had done his matriculation exam. After that he got a room in Lund and started at the university, but then his insanity emerged and he was expelled. That’s when the two men met and became hobos together.


The summer after this winter of enlightenment was completely different for me from the previous.  I think it had to do with the different hormone flow in my body, and that something had happened with my consciousness which made it possible for me to understand reality in a different way. I also discovered how little I understood which made me realize that I needed to learn a lot things.


For the first time I met an older boy who could touch me in a way that wasn’t unpleasant. We sat in a ditch and talked for many hours and he held me and it was pleasant. Hour after hour passed by and it was morning when I went home. When I got home they had locked my entrance door and I had to come in through mother’s and Father’s bedroom and got chastised thoroughly by mother. Father turned in the bed to look at me and happened to bump into my knee so I fell backwards into the closet with a crash. He burst into laughter which he tried to hide by putting the pillow over his face, but the whole bed was shaking; then I got to go to my room to sleep.


I devoted that summer to discovering closeness, to touch and be touched and not throw a reflex tantrum as soon as somebody wanted to have contact.  My difficulty was that I had no clue how you should be or do. I asked all the others what they thought and how they got information, but they just said that they knew, or that it was self-evident, but it wasn’t for me. At least I got to know a bunch of boys and we, the strong willed girl and I, had an enormously good time.


Then the last school year started. It was the same school building I had gone to my first years, but then I had been in elementary school. Now I was going to be in high school.


The teacher was an old man who was also the principal. Both my Father and mother had had him as their teacher and he was just as stupid then as he was now.


He showed from the beginning that he didn’t like me. He had of course had a lot of contacts with my elementary school teachers, and he considered me the dumbest student you could imagine. He told me he would teach me to behave, and he certainly didn’t intend to tolerate any peculiarities and privileges that I had had with my other teacher. He said he had indeed received reports that he was very dissatisfied with. He thought I was spoiled, and it was time that I learned to know my place.


He also considered me stupid, unintelligent, uneducated, and it was only because of stupidity that I hadn’t learned to read, write and do arithmetic like the others. Later I understood that he was scared of me, but I couldn’t understand that then.


Every time I asked something or answered something his face got all purple and he spit nasty words at me. I didn’t understand the nasty words so I asked him what they meant and then he got even angrier and thought I was making fun of him, but actually I did not understand. This caused my class mates to laugh at him, and the he got even more enraged. In the beginning of the semester I sat furthest back, but he brought my desk to the front and let me sit there as punishment.  He stood there hanging over me when he was talking to the class and this was very unpleasant. He got altogether too close and I had an outburst. Then he took both the desk and me and threw us out into the cloak room. I sat closest to the door, so it was easily done. I put the desk back up, put in everything that had fallen out and went home.


I went straight to the barn and told Father what had happened so he would be prepared if the teacher called. This he did, but the version he gave was very different from mine. But Father, who had had him as a teacher himself and disliked him, believed me more than him so he had no success in trying to make common cause with Father against me. This drove him crazy.


Unfortunately for him and fortunately for me he developed a hernia a couple of months into the semester. He ended up in the hospital and had an operation. Then he developed peritonitis and took sick leave for the rest of the semester. We got a young new graduate as a substitute.


The class had now been reduced to half since the remainder had transferred to the prep school after sixth grade, so we were a small group of sixteen students, and all of us were poor at reading, writing, and arithmetic. This meant the motivation was very low, and with the old teacher, who was a gratifying object of provocation and troublemaking, the class had developed accordingly.


This meant zero respect for the teachers, chaos in the classroom, few who were not tardy. Nobody did their home-work and nobody did the assignments during class. We mostly ran around buzzing with each other.


The substitute grabbed me by my clothes and held me against the wall and said: “I respectfully don’t care if you can read and write, but you need to be clear about one thing: you will not disrupt a single one of my classes again.” Then he let me go and added: “I understand that you have difficulties, and if you want help with learning to read and write, I’ll be glad to help you.  We won’t have time for it while I am the substitute here, but the elementary school near here will be changed into a special school, and I am a newly trained special teacher and I can help you after you have finished this school. That school starts this fall.”


I couldn’t answer then but as time passed it became more and more clear for me that he was a good human being and that he understood something that others didn’t understand, and in the fall I started with him to learn what I didn’t know.


The teacher had me say the letters in all the words in a text. Then he had me sound all the words. Then I had to read through the whole thing straight and finally I could read and understand parts of it. To practice he gave me an assignment to read two hundred words every day. It didn’t matter what I read so long as I understood the contents. My brother counted out two hundred words in the daily paper and put brackets around them and then I had to struggle through it. First say all the letters, then read the letters as words, then read the words as sentences.


When I returned to the teacher, I didn’t have to read through what I had practiced, instead he read it and had me tell him the contents in my own words. It was difficult, it hurt terribly, the anxiety made me climb the walls, but he just sat there and waited, and corrected some home- work while he waited. He never said anything about whether it was right or wrong, good or bad, only that it was good that I kept at it.


In the beginning I mostly rambled, and got very little of the contents, but he was not satisfied with that. I had to go home and reread and think through what I was going to tell. It couldn’t be word for word, it had to be my own words. It took me half a year to learn to stick to the contents, to not make things up, add to or take away, to not guess as soon as I got stuck.


Then he said I was to write two hundred words each day. I had no idea from where I was going to get the things to write. He said I couldn’t copy from something, that I had to write it from my own head. I got totally confused. There was nothing in my head to write. Then he said I could address somebody, write it like a letter to somebody if that was easier. Then I went home and looked in the children’s magazine Kamratposten. There were fifty personal ads. I picked thirty-one of them and then I wrote a letter each day to them. For two years each of them got a letter per month from me. Some answered, a few I still have contact with, but most of them never answered. That didn’t matter, so long as I had somebody to write to. How they could interpret my hieroglyphics with all the misspellings, and butchered sentences, I don’t know but most of them thought it was ok, they have told me later.


The teacher didn’t care if I spelled correctly or not, he thought the important thing was that I wrote and that I could keep it up a long time. The same with the reading, but after about a year he said it was time for me to try reading some books. That seemed like an insurmountable challenge but I asked where I could get the books from. He said I could go home and pick any book and start with it. At home there were no books, since there was no one who was into reading, but one of the uncles read wild-west mysteries so I borrowed one from him. It was a series of books about two buddies named Bill and Ben who took the law into their own hands when they thought the sheriff was too mild with the crooks.


I spent one year struggling through many of the wild-west books, and eventually I found it to be quite enjoyable. Each time I had finished a book I had to give it to the teacher to read and then he had me tell him what I had grasped of the contents.


As for arithmetic, it mostly amounted to practical application of counting money, and measures for baking a cake, or following a recipe when cooking a meal. To learn to do a reasonableness check if it was dollars or cents for a product, tens or hundreds. To understand the

reasonableness of whether it was liter or milliliter that was intended in a recipe. He helped me understand the difference in length between a meter, a kilometer, and a mile as well as the smaller measures. We paced, walked, biked, measured and played store. He taught me to read fact books and think in terms of scale when looking at a map. That mathematics was a description of reality with a special language made me understand the point of knowing mathematics and I have had a lot of benefit from this. He also thought me chronology as applied to the sequence of events in history. We started with kings and then he switched over to all kinds of other subjects, modes of dress, life styles, means of livelihood. He got me to understand the difference between here and now and what had been before and what is coming later, that they were completely different ways to think. This I had not realized before.


After two years he said I had learned enough that I could continue on my own. I still read with difficulty and had to reread three times before I grasped the contents, but on the bright side I then retained the contents for the rest of my life, as he said, so it worked out. I could write freely from my head although I spelled like a rake, and after all, there are many who never write at all, and he thought it was better to write even it wasn’t flawless. He gave me a dictionary and he wanted me to read each word many times and write it two hundred times on paper. If I did this with every word in the dictionary, I would eventually be able to spell correctly. This I did. I practiced for many years exactly as he had said and I actually learned how to spell those words most of the time. On the other hand the word order wasn’t especially good and grammatically it was a catastrophe, but slowly, slowly, my self-confidence grew in these areas.















Review of The autistic brain by Temple Grandin

This is a meaty book which provides and informed update of the current state of the art in autism research. It is a popular science book about brain research written by the research subject herself and gives a brisk and informative review of the state of the art in brain scanning with illustrations of the findings in the author’s brain. It reviews the latest findings in the genetics of autism and reports on the identification of genes associated with autism.  The author delves at length on the issue of sensory problems experienced by autistics and  decries the limited interest of researchers in this stressful issue for many autistics. She reviews the different diagnostic testing techniques and the labels they cause to be attached to people and appeals to people on the spectrum, and their loved ones, to resist being defined by a label. She talks about the employment possibilities for autistics and gives examples where their peculiar idiosyncrasies  turn out to be a competitive advantage. All packed into a narrative infused with Dr. Grandin’s life experience as a high functioning autistic.

As the grandfather of an autistic boy and as a friend of the autistic Iris Johansson, who I think of as the Temple Grandin of Sweden, I was intensely interested in the contents of this informative book. As the translator of Johansson’s book “A different childhood” I was particularly interested in Dr. Grandin’s discussion of the sensory problems experienced by many autistics, the visual and auditory processing issues in particular. In this context I was disappointed to not find any comments about synesthesia which I believe is often associated with autism. On this subject, the book by Johansson is a particularly rich source of material, describing her synesthesia (perceiving her mother’s anger or grandmother’s scolding as beautiful light-shows that delighted her), her out of body-like experiences (seeing her body sitting on the ground as she herself was swooping around in the sky with her spirit friends), her tactile problems (wearing her flannel shirt inside out and backwards to minimize the unbearable irritation of rough fabric).

As Dr. Grandin emphasizes, there are many variations in the autistic experience, but also many characteristic similarities. One way to possibly think about it is that what’s common is the areas in which autistic differ from neurotypicals, but the way they are different varies greatly. For instance, Dr Grandin refers several times to her poor short term memory, while for other autistics super memory is their most notable characteristic. Overall this book is well worth your time, even if you are not associated with anyone on the spectrum. If you are, then it is a book that belongs in your library.


Accommodation and autonomy


In this video Iris is talking about accommodation. Accommodation in this case refers to conflict style, defined as follows by Mind Tools: 

Accommodating: This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave. However people may not return favors, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.

Iris is talking about the case where an individual is somehow stuck in this as her life-style, i.e. to always be accommodating.

She describes the signs of being in this style: the state of basic  discontent which is always in need of something more or different to fill this need and therefore makes the individual prone to accommodate others so that they will provide this something which fills this need. But the satisfaction is only temporary because the need never goes away, and the same exchange is repeated. The key is that the accommodating individual gets something out of the exchange that she needs, and because she continually needs this she is continually accommodating. Typically what she needs is the approval of the other person. Iris uses the example of your friend asking you to bring her a glass of water. If you are in the accommodating style you comply, even if it was inconvenient for you just then, but you expect something in return. Maybe, in this case is just her appreciation. If you don’t get it you feel cheated out of something. If she uses it to water the flower pot, or says it tasted bad you feel insulted or rejected. On the other hand if you are in autonomy mode and she asks for the water, you look inside yourself and  ask: “am I doing something else now or can just as easily go and fetch the water, then OK I do it” and I don’t look for anything in return because I don’t need anything, I am already satisfied within myself. Then I don’t care what she does with the water, I have nothing vested in it. On the other hand  if I am getting a little tired of fetching water for her, because I don’t get out of it what I need, then I shift over into the mode of defiance; go and get your own water you demanding person. But this is not autonomy either, because my level of satisfaction is still determined by her.

Now, autonomy doesn’t have to mean I am totally self-sufficient. I may still find it more interesting and enjoyable to be in a togetherness with you but in a style of cooperation. Then we can both discuss something we are both interested in, like the theory of Dark Energy that those guys got the Nobel prize for. In our discussion, we share our ideas and understandings, and your thoughts get added to mine and I get the benefit of sharing my thoughts with you, and we are both enriched by it.

So how is this different  from the exchange involving the water glass? There you get the benefit of the water and I get the benefit of your appreciation. The difference is that in that case I had no interest in the water, I involved myself in it only to accommodate you. Furthermore, I still continue to have the need for you appreciation. In the other case we are both interested in dark energy and  get our satisfaction from exploring that topic, and sharing it is just a way to make it more interesting and enjoyable.