Language Translation

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Path of the Soul

As a child I could sing long before I could speak.  I would copy the sounds I was hearing and the words would come out of my mouth.  But they were just sounds to me, there was no meaning behind them.  In the baby book my mother kept for me, she wrote that my first word was "no!" at 21 months old.  (She wrote an explanation of the exclamation point saying, "I was so afraid Tara would never speak until one day I heard her screaming at the top of her lungs, "NO!"  Then I was afraid she'd never quit screaming it.)  I began speaking after that, but again, the words had no logical rhyme or reason to me.  They were just sounds and when I made the right ones, people were elated.  I liked that.

As I got older, I learned and my ability to make sense of the words increased.  I have to confess though, to this day I have experiences of being surprised by what a song means that I have sung since I was very little.  One time I was thinking about the first song I sang in public, and I remembered the very first time I sang it.  I was 3 years old and it was at the county fair.  I remember being on the stage and singing and the woman in the audience who was so sad.   The song I sang had a phrase in it, "That's all there is to little me."  Until about a year ago I always thought the phrasing meant, "That's all there is.  Too little me."

I have never seen the music and never read the words, so I had never seen the sentence structure or the punctuation.  The song is basically a body parts song.  You know, feet, toes, legs, hands, tummy, etc.  I honestly thought the song was reinforcing something I loathed.  Being the 10th of 11 children I was often told I was too little.  It would infuriate me because I have never felt little.  I never felt younger than about 30 for my entire life.  Only now do I feel like my body is becoming the age I am inside.  I thought the song was telling me I was too little and all there is, is this body made up of these parts, and that's it.  I hated that song until this realization.  Now I think it's adorable, even though I still have issues with the last phrase saying that's all there is to me, and it never even mentions that I have a spirit or an intellect - although it does say "I have a heart so I can love." 

Anyhow, once again I apologize for the tangent.  The point is, I may have been able to form the words and get them out of my mouth, but most of the time I had no clue what I was saying.  It's like singing in a foreign language that you don't speak.  You can shape the words and make the sound come out right, but you have absolutely no clue what those words mean.  They are just sounds.  Speaking was the same for me. 

After watching reactions, I knew what I should say and what I shouldn't say.  Then it was simply a matter of putting the sound out there.  It was like singing.  The piano sings.  The violin sings.  To me each note sounded the same as the formation of words did.  It was just music, that's all.    

Now, of course, my words have meaning to me.  I speak more slowly, not because of an impediment, but because I am particular about the words I wish to choose.  But, had you seen me as a child, I was a very different person.  I did not talk very often.  Mostly when someone was hurting or upsetting me, and then it was screaming almost always....very rarely was it talking or even yelling.  Other than that I was in my own world.  Occasionally I would come out of it and express an observation from the world I had been in.  Usually this observation was met with teasing and laughing.  So it became less and less common for me to open my mouth.

I have multiple report cards from my early years that state something like, "I worried about Tara at first, I thought she was going to be one of those non-attentive, troublesome students.  She came in and sat in the very back and didn't say a word to anyone, including me.  She never raised her hand.  Even when called on she would just stare blankly at me.  But her work has always been meticulous and she is a very good student.  She seems to hunger for knowledge, even though she does not show the typical signs of a curious student."

When kids in the neighborhood would come over to play, I would sit in the recliner in the living room and crochet while they all went outside and played with my sister.  I didn't want to play with them because it seemed like they were always being mean.  Of course, knowing what I know now, I realize it wasn't that at all.  I was just aware of things that were going on inside of people and I interpreted it all as if it were my fault and belonged on me.  So I'd sit in the living room, this little 6 year old girl and they'd tease "Hey Granny!" as they ran through out to the trampoline.  And who could blame them?  I had huge glasses that would slide down my nose, I was crocheting while sitting in a rocking chair.  If that isn't the classic granny picture, I don't know what is.  I couldn't see it then.

I would spend hours upon hours at the piano.  It spoke to me, sang to me, interacted with me on a level that no person ever had.  The piano was my best friend all of my growing up years.  It started when I was nearly 4.  There was a man by the name of Dr. Weinsinger who taught in our community.  He was a little stout man from Austria.  In the summer he would teach piano out of our home.  In exchange for using our home and piano, my older siblings received free lessons.

One day, after laying on the floor at my sister's feet during her lesson, something about it all just clicked.  It was nothing anyone said to me...I didn't comprehend most of what people said anyhow.  But, whatever it was that hit me, the piano just made sense to me that day.  After the lesson was over I climbed up onto the chair in front of the piano and began playing the song my 13 year old sister had just been learning.  Mom called from the kitchen, and then stopped mid-sentence when she saw me at the piano and not my sister.  (If we were wording this the way I heard it, I would say she stopped mid-noise, not mid-sentence.)

About 2 weeks later I began piano lessons with a woman who had been a concert pianist.  She was also the violin teacher for another sister of mine.  I spent 2 years with this teacher, learning technique and 1 song.  (Fur Elise by Beethoven)  I hated that song, actually I still do to this day.  It was the only piece I was allowed to work on during those 2 years, everything else was drills found in those hideous yellow books.  I accompanied my sister a couple of times, she on violin and me on the piano.

Shortly after turning 6 my mother let me stop taking lessons.  She tried a few other times throughout the years to get me to go back to a teacher, but it never lasted very long.  After 3 or 4 lessons I would just lose all interest in the piano.  It was my friend and my confidant.  I couldn't expect anyone else to understand that.

Those who knew me growing up would use words like self-righteous, calloused, unemotional, no feeling, off, odd, stupid, stuck up, retarded, etc. to describe me.  I was none of those things, except maybe unemotional, but I came across that way.  I still do sometimes.  I am learning to make more facial expressions, although my expressions rarely match what is really going on inside of me.  I am often asked what is wrong when I feel perfectly at peace and happy.  One time my husband picked up a mirror and showed me what my face looked like in that moment.  I shrugged and looked back at him.  He said, "Tara, can't you see...your face looks so angry."  Then I realized, he was looking at my face while I was looking at my eyes.  Oh!  Okay, when someone says face, they mean forget the eyes and look at my eyebrows and my eyelids and my mouth and my nose.  Got it.  Yeah.  When I tell someone to look at a person's face, I mean look the person in the eye.  I have to make a conscious effort to see a persons actual facial features, hair color, skin color, appearance of age, etc.

But that is who I am.  Being aware of the spectrum levels and how they are diagnosed, as a child I would have been labeled moderate, leaning towards the low end.  At age 28, at the time of my diagnosis, I was labeled "high-functioning Asperger."  If I were to go in today and not take the tests, but just visit with the doctor, he'd say I didn't even belong on the spectrum.

Am I a rare case?  I don't think so, but I don't have enough data to unequivocally say that all people on the spectrum can improve.  It is my personal belief that as we come to understand and integrate the special talents and gifts that these wonderful people have, they will be able to more fully interact with each person in their lives.  It is by embracing this way of thinking and living that I have been able to progress from where I was to where I am.

There were a lot of "accidental" things my mother did getting me into piano when I was 4.  Even though it was horrible because of the teacher, I had my tactile therapy that I needed.  Playing piano was and continues to be the best emotional release for me.  She also forced me to have eye contact with her.  If she was speaking to me and I was looking somewhere else she would literally pull my chin until my face was facing her.  If she had to she would hold my head there until I would give her my eyes.  She would force me into social situations that, while very hard for me, were also very good for me - not so much as a younger child, but as a teenager.

Now I'm not saying any parents should do those things.  I'm just saying that there were things that my mother, having no knowledge of the AS, expected of me.  Because they were expected I did it.  Those things have proven invaluable to me throughout my life and so I am grateful she did them.  They were hard, frustrating, and sometimes on the verge of abusive.  But they were just what I needed to prod me on my way to discovering the truths about the spectrum and about myself.

My last thing is a poem my mother used to quote to us.  She loved literature and quoted poetry often. 

A Psalm Of Life

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What the heart of the young man said to the psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
"Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,"
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time; -

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.

Thank you to all those who, having gone before, left footprints for me that my path might be that much easier.  I hope this blog can leave footprints for those who follow that we will continue to progress and, each helping the other, find the path we most deeply desire; the path of the soul.

*This is a blog about my own life and my own experience.  If you choose to follow anything written here, you do so without any claim on me for problems or complications that may arise.  I am not a doctor.  I have no degree.  I am not a professional.  This is my perspective and experience, that's all.  If you don't think you should do something on here, then don't.*


  1. With the few posts I've read thus far, I have to say that your writing and experiences have given me the most insight into my child's way of thinking. My daughter has autism and sometimes I wonder how she views and learns things, and your posts really are like a map to understanding her thinking. Thank you so much for blogging and sharing your stories!

  2. Hi Tara,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, it is very helpful to me as my daughter was diagnosed at age 11-12 on the spectrum as PDD-NOS although I always felt Aspergers was more appropriate. She is 16 now and for years I never understood why she would get so upset over little things and why little noises seem to be so over whelming at times and the public melt downs and odd repetitive behaviors and a host of other things. Although through my own research I have come to understand these things much better over the years I still could not fully understand how her mind works so sharing your experiences especially from the female perspective will give me a lot of insight. Thank you again for your courage to do so.

  3. Oh, I am so jealous! I have longed to have the piano click for me. I sang before speaking but words have always meant something. Always, even when I didn't know how to make words to respond. My son is a deliberate speaker... I appreciate that.

  4. This is so interesting to me. As I do have children with autism, music has always calmed them and allowed them to express themselves. All of my children love to come and sit by the piano with me from a very young age. I sit there and let them play. As they age, I teach them a little here and there. All of my children that are above the age of 5, play the piano quite well. The 5 year old is beginning to learn the basics from me. I remember having tantrums as a child, horrible tantrums/meltdowns, but once I started taking piano lessons, I was a completely different child. I began lessons at age 8. I focused on the piano. I did not always practice the "piano lesson" I was given, but would work on other pieces that I enjoyed. I would go to my lesson and fake the "piano lesson" song but because I had practiced other things my sight reading improved. Music was a release and calming to me. At age 10, my sister began teaching my piano teacher moved, and my sister was an adult at this point, and began teaching me lessons. Her methods were excellent--combining learning to read music with introducing chords and inverting them, as well as playing by ear, and from the heart. I could play every church song by the age of 10. At age 13, I began teaching piano lessons and have done so for the past 22 years. I played the piano for my junior and high school choirs growing up. As you know, I also played the piano for the college choirs. It was not you, Tara. Your teacher did not teach you correctly. You should be taught to read music (how the notes are aligned on the staffs, rhythm of notes, timing), learn chords and how to invert them, and if you can pick a tune up by ear, that is wonderful. Use it to your advantage. I think we use many senses to learn music--your eyes, ears, brain, etc...All these components work together to create beautiful music. I have taught many, many students over the years and the best method has been to teach them the components of reading music as I mentioned above--the staff alignment, rhythm, timing. Learning chords helps children see success in the left hand early on and you combine this by finding songs that the children enjoy instead of all the lesson books. I use a lesson book to teach musical concepts, but I send "music homework" home that is a few pieces of music that the child wants to learn to play. This method helps tremendously and children want to practice and are very successful, even at a young age. I think music is a gift and and a way for all to express our feelings. If you can learn sight reading, play by ear/heart, and learn chords, you could learn to write some beautiful music. I believe that is how the most famous composers that were truly inspirational learned and then they wrote eloquent pieces of music.