I fumble for the phone, catching it on the third ring. My voice is blurry from sleep when I greet her, but she pays no attention. That's her way. She calls with a purpose, and nothing can interfere.
"I really need you to tell the people in the computer lab to stop messing with my computer. They keep turning the speech off."
I'm silent, doing my best to assimilate this. Computers, speech, waking up. Who am I supposed to tell, and why would they listen to me?
"What time is it?" I finally ask her.
"seven-ten," she responds, as if this is a perfectly acceptable time to call someone. The fact that I'm on central time, and so, an hour behind her, hasn't occurred to her.
"You know that means it's only after six here, right?" I ask.
She laughs a little. Maybe it's out of embarrassment, or, maybe it's just because she doesn't know what to say.
"I was sleeping!" I tell her, my voice taking on a bit more firmness.
"Oh. I didn't think of that. I was just really upset when the speech wouldn't turn on, and I thought I should call you because you can make them listen. You can make them stop screwing this up. It's driving me nuts, and I just want to scream at them."
She's talking faster now, her words running together in their urgency to escape. I imagine her brain is a jumble of disjointed thoughts, brought on by stress and sensory-overload. This is going to be a long conversation. I can tell.
"Hold on," I tell her, feeling a bit resigned. "Let me switch phones and make a cup of tea."
She waits impatiently while I grab the cordless phone, and, even as I perform a few of the necessary rituals that will bring me to full wakefulness, she's prattling on at me. I can't take it all in, and, right now, I don't even try. Her words are a torrent of discontent, of fear, of anxiety and rage. Eventually, we'll work on calming her down, but, for now, I need to wake up, and she needs to get this out of her system. Until she does, she won't hear anything I have to say. I'll just be another voice, intruding on her already overcrowded brain. My words will join the mass of sounds, smells, and feelings that have served to upset her so much this morning. Right now, that's not my purpose. Right now, I'm a sort of human trash can, a recepticle for her words and her feelings.
Finally, she winds down. Her voice slows. Her breathing calms, and, at long last, she falls silent.
"Katie," I say very, very calmly, "what do you suppose I can do about any of this?"
She thinks for a moment, and then, "Nothing, I guess. You're in Texas and I'm in Maryland."
"That's right. So, when you get upset like this, what do you think would be a more helpful way of dealing with it?"
"Um, um, well, I could, uh, find a member of the staff?" her voice rises at the end. She's not sure if this is the answer I'm looking for. With Katie, it's not really about what makes sense, or what common sense tells her is appropriate. For Katie, it's about pleasing people, and, right now, I'm the one she's trying to please.
I've served as a sort of mentor to this young woman for a few years now. She has asperger's syndrome, as well as a few other disabilities. All of these make social interactions a trial for her. She has no concept of how other people interpret her actions and her outbursts. She acts first, and, if we're lucky, she thinks later. Sometimes, she doesn't think at all, and she's left in quite a mess.
She learns best through role play and immitation. I can instruct her in the proper way to begin a conversation. For example, I told her that it wasn't polite to start complaining the second someone picked up the phone. There are certain things we do first. We greet the person. We ask how they are, or, if they have time to talk. Then, we tell them the reason for our call. Then, we listen to what they have to say. We don't just hang up after we've said our piece.
People tell me I should be flattered that Katie looks up to me so much, that she trusts me, that she listens to me. In truth, I'm not flattered at all. Sometimes, I'm irritable. Sometimes, I don't want to hear her complain about the same thing ten times over. Sometimes, I want to just slam down the phone, because, sometimes, no matter how hard she tries, her impulses take control, and all the carefully constructed tools for interpersonal interaction come crashing down. We're once again at the bottom of what sometimes seems an insurmountable mountain.
Still, I believe in Katie. I know she's capable of changing some of her behaviors. I know I'm not responsible for making these changes happen, but I do seem able to reach her in a way few others have managed to do. So, I push back the frustration, and we begin at the beginning. It's a slow process, this being immitated and sought after. But, when I answer the phone, and she asks me how I am, rather than immediately barraging me with an onslaught of words, I know we're making progress. This morning was not one of those times, but maybe tomorrow will be, and, if not tomorrow, maybe the next day.
This is my entry for week 12 of
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