I touched on this a little bit on my last post. But after I wrote it I realized I had more to say about the Star Trek: Next Generation episode “Darmok.”
If you haven’t seen it, I recommend watching it. It’s season 5 episode 2 and it’s available on Netflix and other streaming services. You can comfortably watch the episode without having watched any other Star Trek episode. All you need to know is that in the series, their Universal Translator usually makes communication with other species easy. In the Darmok episode, the UT translates the words into English, but the phrases that the aliens are saying make no sense. Captain Picard is sent to a planet to try to learn to talk to the alien captain. The alien’s language is allusion based. They use phrases that allude to famous stories in their history to communicate concepts. If you don’t know the history, it just sounds like jumbled words. But once you learn the story, it makes sense.
Isn’t that a great metaphor for a person who uses scripts for communication? What’s even better is in the episode Captain Picard learns the alien’s references and meanings, instead of forcing the alien to learn his way of speaking.
Lady Bug uses scripts in a similar way. Her memorized phrases might not be obvious in meaning to others; but I know what she means because I’ve been hearing her shows over and over….and over again. The context and feeling of an isolated phrase tells me what she’s thinking. Lots of times she’s scripted something in front of someone, I’ve responded to her meaning rather than her words, and the someone has said, “oh, is that what she was talking about?” It’s hard to think up examples because it’s our normal. But here’s one: “Okay, my day!” Those are all words that you know individually, but together probably don’t make a lot of sense. Until you know that Lady Bug uses the word “okay” at the beginning of a sentence to ask for something (I believe she’s saying what she wants the answer to be) and that she has a Signing Time dvd titled My Day. Knowing that, you can then figure out that she’s asking for the My Day dvd to watch. Or “Okay, a dress!” She’s not just asking to put clothes on, but to leave the house and go somewhere. You can put a dress on her in response, but she’s going to get confused and upset if you don’t also put her in the car and drive someplace.
Lady Bug also initiates scripted social interactions. She says a letter and then I am supposed to do a very specific sound/song/action. We developed these together over a year ago. She loves it. She loves being able to say something and knowing what I’m going to respond with. But if she tried to say it to someone else, they would have no idea what she meant by saying a random letter.
I wish we were not the only ones who understand what Lady Bug says. I think it would help prove to her that other people are worth initiating social contact with, if she saw that they understood the words coming out of her mouth. But it’s not a small thing to ask someone not living with her to learn her language. And autistic stereotypes to the contrary, she knows when someone doesn’t understand. Or at least interprets their hesitation as a “no.”
I guess my point of all this is that communication that doesn’t look like what you’re used to or immediately understand is still worthwhile communication. And that it is worth the time to learn to communicate with people like Lady Bug.
Oh, and the title of the post is from the Star Trek episode. It translates to “understanding.”