Thursday, October 23, 2008

Extended Metaphor

Back toward the beginning of October, I reported that Joy had suddenly begun to enjoy swinging again, after having gone suddenly "off" anything swinging-related the previous Christmas. It was, I said, akin to a sudden flipping of a switch somewhere inside her head. And I said that the switch-flipping metaphor was making a lot of sense to me, and you'd probably hear me using it again.

Well, here it is. Behold, the extended metaphor:

Mixer Board at Smart Studios
The above is a high-falutin' mixer board at Smart Studios, where JoyDad's band did the mixing work on their latest CD. (Smart Studios was founded by Butch Vig of Garbage, and has done work for Nirvana & Smashing Pumpkins as well).

But a sound board or light board would work too, anything with a bunch of flip switches and fader/dimmer switches and a variety of knobs.

Here's the thing. Sometimes with Joy, attributes or abilities or favorites change suddenly, like the flip of a two-position switch, as happened with the swinging. Sometimes we get a dimmer switch, like a strange fading of language that has happened in the last couple of weeks (she's basically using no words now). Meanwhile another dimmer switch for experimental vocalizations has been slowly turning on. The biting, fortunately, has faded off, and is now reduced to a rather cute occasional nibbling of toes. Expressing frustration by throwing things, meanwhile, has faded on.

When a whole bunch of switches slam to off all at once (or fade to off fairly rapidly), we call it a regression. But more often, faders are going in different directions, and we don't quite know if they're related, or what might be causing what.

I was talking with JoyDad about this and asked if I could use his photo, and he told me another really cool aspect about the board at Smart: the switches are motorized and you can actually see them moving as a recording plays. Cool, and a little spooky.

The fact that Joy's switches do go both ways feels spooky to me in general. Neurotypical kids, their switches don't do this as much, at least when it comes to learning. Likes and desires are a different matter, but once a kid learns words, you expect the words to be there. Once she can stack blocks, you don't figure you're going to find yourself teaching it all over again.

Cover of Look Me In the Eye, by John Elder RobisonI did have the thought to extend the metaphor still further, something about the hands of the Almighty dancing across Joy's mixer board or some such. But then I started reading Look Me In the Eye, by John Elder Robison, gifted writer and blogger and proud Aspergian. (Thank you, Jess, for nudging me to get reading on this!) I just got to the part where Robison writes about his engineering experiences doing audio and lights and over-the-top special effects work for a certain high-profile entertainment act. His description of working the light board in the chapter "One With The Machine" is, alas, too long to reproduce here, so I'll just quote one sentence:

It's just like playing a huge musical instrument, and your hands never stop moving on the dimmers.

So now my reverent image of omnipotent fingers on Joy's dimmer switches is hopelessly conflated with a mental picture of the young John Elder Robison working the lightboard in a huge arena... Sometimes metaphors extend in really wild directions!

Does the sound-board / light-board / mixer-board metaphor work for anyone else?


Niksmom said...

You know, I never really thought of the developmental trajectory this way until now. Interesting concept. It makes a certain amount of sense on one hand. BUT...I don't know that I think of Nik's shifts as much as regressions anymore. I liken it to an inabilty to fire on all cylinders at the same time especially when he's making marked progress (or, conversely, having major difficulty w/health) in some areas. Many therapists have said to me "Oh, yeah, most of my kiddos stop doing 'X' when they're really taking off with 'Y'."

So I guess what I'm saying is that I look at it more like fading/equalizing versus off/on functions. Does that make sense?

datri said...

That's a wonderful metaphor! A lot more accurate that a light switch, that's for sure!

mama edge said...

What I like about this metaphor is that my son, just like the board, is completely baffling and overwhelming in his complexity. I need a lot more training to figure out how he operates. If only he came with a manual, darn it.

John Robison said...

Well, Mama Mara, those fancy mixing consoles didn't come with much in the way of an owner's manual, either, back when I was in the business.

The secret to mixing consoles is that the channels are all the same. So you really just have a dozen knobs to figure out. They're just repeated 36 or 42 times, or however many channels the mixer has.

The secret is to figure the equivalent simplification trick for unraveling the kid.


JoyMama said...

Niksmom - good point about equalizing. I guess Joy's two major shifts that have really felt like "regressions" to us were times where we couldn't identify any respective areas of progress or health reasons that might be sapping her energies. But generally, as we're experiencing now, the shifts do seem to have some balance.

Datri - thanks! Yes, there's surely more than one switch going on, and more than two positions!

JoyMama said...

Mama Mara - Would like a manual, myself, yes. And then to have it accurately translated from whatever non-English language I'm sure it's written in.

John Elder Robison - thanks for joining in! Hmmm, simplification trick for unraveling the kid. I'm not sure I've even found my own yet, much less hers...

Holly's Mom said...

New to the blog, I was sent over by Quirky Mom.. Love this post.. my Dad did Pyro for Kiss, so that's pretty cool that that guys wrote that book and has that blog, i will have to ask my dad if he knows him.. i so get the switch thing, and I think it has a lot to do with what there focus is, like when holly is focused on walking and moving her language is very delayed, but when she is sick and doesn't have the energy to move around a lot, she starts to make a lot of vocalizations and new sounds, but then they dim as soon as she gets better, because well she just like to be on the move. great Metaphor, now it will be forever stuck in my head.

Maddy said...

You nailed it. Works for me. We still experience periods of regression [as I said = trade off] I also like the equalizer analogy. Certainly better than the two steps back one step forward!

Liz Ditz said...

I think the equalizer metaphor or image is really useful.

Kathy Sierra wrote about equalizers or slider boards as a way of generating ideas or products How to come up with Breakthrough Ideas.

You may find it useful to look at her thoughts through your lense...

JoyMama said...

Liz -- I love the synergy of blog-connections. Thanks for the comment and link.

How flexible and useful the equalizer metaphor can be! One aspect that makes Kathy's take on the sliders/faders quite different from mine for Joy is that in our case the sliders are descriptive of that which we already observe. In her product-development thinking, the real key is *adding* sliders (the right ones, of course).

We can't add sliders to Joy -- but it might be well to expand our perception of what dimensions we identify as sliders when we think of her development...

Good food for thought!