Flying Dragon Therapy

Very often I heard a news, amplified through media and parents’ internet lists, about a new and exciting  therapy for autism.  Equally often, I heard members of scientifically oriented groups vehemently protesting the fact that some sort of activity has been called a “therapy” without any rigorous research to support such claim. On one side we have emotional, strong testimonials of alternative “therapies’ ” believers on the other side we have cold and sobering calls for proofs that expensive treatments deliver on their promise.

I never participated in such discussions because I  was not able to form a strong opinion on those issues that wouldn’t include many  conditionally tainted words such as  “if” , “but”, and “however”. Moreover, it  often happens that the things are not what they seem or what they are called.

Flying Dragon Therapy

When Robert was four years old, he didn’t know any receptive labels and used less than five expressive words to ask for juice, bubbles, and something else.  For his fourth birthday he got  a windup toy which I will call “Dragonfly” , as I had forgotten its name long ago.  It was a plastic dragon standing on a plastic rock. When you pulled energetically the string, whose end was sticking out of the rock, the dragon lifted its wings and flew across the room.    How fascinating!

Robert was hooked.  He wanted Dragon to fly over, and over, and over.  Yet he was not able to pull the string strongly and/or quickly enough to make it fly.  It is possible, that he was also afraid that the Dragon  might fly in the wrong direction and hurt him. He kept on bringing the toy to me so I would make it fly.  I did, but not before Robert said the word “fly” or his approximations of that sound. Robert kept saying “fly” louder and clearer and I kept on releasing the Dragon into the air.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Flying Dragon was improving Robert’s speech.  But of course it was the fact that  the dragon was used by me as a powerful reinforcer motivating Robert to “talk” that caused this development.  On the other hand, it might be that Robert  used the word “fly” as a strong reinforcer to motivate me to make the Dragon fly.  After all, he controlled this event. He prompted me into action by handing me the toy. He rewarded me with a word “fly” every time I properly pulled the string.

Of course, I would call it ABA therapy, but there are people who would keep on calling this ” Flying Dragon Therapy”  and for a good reason.

I wonder if some of the alternative therapies – like horseback therapy or sensory integration therapy do not use similar mechanism to the Flying Dragon Therapy.  And if so, how to interpret or evaluate them?

It’s OK, It’s OK

Robert cannot always avoid confrontations with other people, but he  tries. There are things that Robert wants to keep in certain places and/or in a certain way. I don’t understand rationale behind his choices as he never explains himself. Sometimes I can convince him to do something differently, sometimes I cannot.

There were times when I kept Robert’s white T-shirts and his underwear in one drawer and all of his   pajamas   in another.  Yet at some point in time, coinciding with Robert’s learning to fold and put away  laundry, I started noticing that all the white shirts found their way to the drawer with pajamas while abandoned pieces of underwear enjoyed the extra space in an emptied drawer.  So, a few times I explained to Robert this problem and demonstrated where to place all the intimate clothes.  Every time I did that, Robert not only didn’t protest but softly and quickly repeated, “It’s OK, It’s OK”  and left his bedroom with me. Every time,  I felt a great satisfaction that  Robert’s  “irrational behavior ”  was suppressed under unbeatable logic of my arguments.

And yet, five-minute, an hour, or a day later  I found out that the white T-shirts were again suffocating  pajamas’ in their drawers while  the deserted underwear lingered  in an almost empty drawer.    I never noticed, Robert made sure that I didn’t,  when exactly he was able to change the content of the two drawers.   I switched them back  but so did he.   We played this game of switching for a few days. Finally I gave up.  I pretended I didn’t notice anything and Robert pretended to believe that I didn’t notice.
Neither of us had a stomach for confrontation….

Learning Through Observation

The sad truth is that I didn’t observe Robert carefully enough to list all the things he learned by observing other people’s actions.  But still,  quite a few things I remember vividly.

1. He learned to pour water for a neighbor’s cat, Louis.  The cat kept on crossing a dangerous parking lot with a road passing right through it, to visit our townhouse.  Once, I gave the cat a bowl of water.  The next time Louis came for the visit, three years old Robert immediately placed a dish filled with water in front of Louis.

2.Somehow, by the time he was 10 years old, he knew where to put the dishes from the dishwater or  in which closet or chest’s drawer he should place  clean laundry.

3.  As he observed our house, Robert came to his own conclusions about where many items should be kept. No matter where I left the car keys, Robert always put them in my purse.  The cordless phone and, later, cell phones were always in the same places as Robert made it his job to carry them to the locations he chose for them.

However, he never bothered with placing his sister’s items in  specific places.  Since Amanda always left her keys, wallets, and phones in completely different locations,  there was no way for Robert to learn a proper way of managing this chaos and finding a way to establish order.  So, as of today, neither Robert’s dad nor I have to look for our keys or phones.  Amanda, however, has to search the house almost daily in the most distressing circumstances to find needed items.

3. After assisting me with preparation of  his favorite food:  poblano peppers stuffed with cheese or  eggplant parmeasano, Robert learned to do most of the cooking of the pepper and all the cooking for eggplant. I didn’t have to teach him.  He observed.

So yes, children with autism do learn through observation. It is possible that they learn differently.  It is a pity, however,  that we do not observe them closely enough to learn how they observe and how they learn from their observations.

Relative Intelligence

Many parents of children with autism have difficulties accepting their children’s low scores on intelligence tests. Sometimes they hope that a different test might paint a “better”picture of their son’s or daughter’s abilities. For instance, if the parents attribute low quotient to the child’s lack of language they might insist on tests that eliminate or reduce verbal components.

I have to state, that I am not sure if there is an IQ test that doesn’t  involve language.These doubts are born from my increasing uncertainty of what language is. For instance: visual patterns, visual sequencing – how do they relate to language?

Although those “non-verbal” tests might not increase IQs, the parents are right when they reject abysmal scores as an indicator of child’s abilities.  Yet, the scores don’t lie either. What they, however, do is to measure the depth of a chasm dividing tester representing society at large and a child with autism (disability). They measure the disconnect of the two worlds.

And that is NOT an indicator of a child’s abilities but it is an indicator of how the society views the child.

Now we enter a tricky part. The way the society perceives the child’s abilities DOES affect that child’s performance and so the low IQ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I still cannot forget my son’s teacher in a school year 2009/2010 (I won’t mention her name.) who after learning about  low results of the neuropsychological testing, stopped teaching my son altogether.  From that time on she was giving him only packets of word searches.  She placed him in a separate desk and demanded that he worked alone on those while she was busy with other students or.her computer.  To make matter worse, she didn’t allow my son’s aid to teach him either!.  I think she didn’t see the point.

I had to add the sentence about the classroom teacher not allowing the aid to work with my son.  I know it doesn’t add to the chain of arguments, but the pain this teacher caused doesn’t go away.  She wasted many months of my son’s life.  She caused him to regress and she caused me a great distress as I watched helplessly my son’ s confusion. 

Since those low scores came in, every IEP started with description of my son’s skills  with the strong emphasis on their  extremely low “negligible” level..  For every teacher after this test, that description became an excuse not to teach my son.

And yet at the same time when at school  Robert  was expelled to the separate desk with packets of word searches, at home he was learning to find common denominators, to read various graphs, to count elapsed time, to find times in different time zones and much more.  He was learning at home while wasting his time at school.

I cannot help but wonder, how much more he would know today had he been taught at school at least half as intensively as he was at home.


Contradictions 1

Myth 1

Children with autism do not learn through observation.

  I am not sure if that was one of the ABA trained teachers or her clinical supervisor who told me that.   Most probably, it was a teacher quoting a very respectable clinical researcher.
 It might be that it was an argument against any approach to teaching that would not follow strictly ABA’s principles.  Maybe, that was an argument against inclusion even in limited format. Inclusion has a meaning if a child is capable of learning through observation from his/her peers.  If the child is not able to learn from members of the  group, then the  inclusion only separates that child even more. .  Unfortunately, it might be that a child is capable of learning from his/her peers but the well-meaning teachers do not realize that or are not able to provide  setting or support for such learning.  Instead,  they separate that child from other students and in many unsettling ways  reduce  learning  opportunities.  And thus they make sure that the above statement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In 2006 I was teaching Robert at home for over four months. The circumstances which forced me to do that are painful.  Describing them still brings up bitterness I am not ready to confront yet.   During that homeschooling time, Robert made a lot of academic progress learning things I never believed he could grasp.  His behavior also improved dramatically and that allowed us to  make many community trips.   We shopped together. We deposited cans and bottles. We frequented many restaurants.  We often went to movies, museums, and parks. Robert got his ATM cards  and was learning to write checks.  During this time, Robert started  swimming lessons and horseback riding lessons.   Yet, I was constantly told that to develop social skills, Robert needed to be at school with other children.   So,  in November of 2006, Robertbegan to attend a self-contained classroom in local High School for two hours every day.  Although I knew that part of his school day would be spent  with  his  one on one teacher’s aide,  I also believed that he would receive a short group instruction. First of all, that was what he had done the  previous year. Secondly, I always saw his pencil and wallet on one of the desks so  I assumed that he was sitting  among other students. Moreover, at least in mathematics his academic skills were not below the class average.

Next  year, we extended Robert’s hours in the classroom to three or three and a half.  Why shouldn’t we?  Everything went so well.  He was a part of the group. Although, I became concerned when I learned that Robert was excluded from the field trip to bowling alley. That would mean that he was NOT a part of the group.

It was in the beginning of his third year in this classroom when I finally understood that my son was ALWAYS working one on one with his aide and that he NEVER was a part of any group. He never received a group instruction.

What social skills could he learn from such a setting?  What concept of self could be developed in such arrangement?  That he was distinctly different?  That he didn’t belong to the group? What image of Robert was formed in other students minds?  That he was different, thus that he  should be treated differently?

Robert was in the classroom but there was no reason for him to observe other children.  He was NOT ONE OF THEM.  His days were filled with one on one work with his aid.  If anything, to be successful at school, he should have tuned out the rest of the classroom, he should have ignored his (?) peers and attend only to his one on one teacher.  How he could learn through observation if there was no reason for him to observe…Watching other children and the main teacher working with them could be only distracting to him, to the other teacher, to other students…

This arrangement didn’t allow the  teacher to observe Robert closely and learn about him.    So it was not surprising that when she planned a field trip to a bowling alley to give OTHER students the opportunity to practice counting averages of their scores, she didn’t include Robert.  She didn’t know that Robert was counting averages during the time he was home schooled.  Such trip would offer him a chance for practical application of the emerging concept, he worked very hard to learn.

But he didn’t go.

Robert didn’t learn any social skills through observation of his peers because he didn’t have a chance to observe.  The teacher didn’t learn much about Robert through observation, because she chose not to observe him to closely.  He had his teacher aide after all.

The new teacher that started working in this classroom the third  year,  changed the delivery of instruction. She  included Robert in many groups throughout the day.  Different ones for math,  reading, or science. Finally, that school year, Robert became a part of the class he had been attending for two previous year. That was the best year in whole Robert’s education. He started to learn through observation because  what he observed meant something for him.

Unfortunately, that teacher, who almost every day stayed 1-3 hours after school to prepare materials for next day,  was laid off, without any reason, by the end of the year, by the high school principal. A new, young teacher was hired and my son lost opportunities to learn through observation.  But that was already expected. The Myth was kept alive….



The first time Robert, four years old at that time, ran toward a glass patio doors I screamed hysterically .  “Robert, Stop! NO! Robert NO!. But Robert didn’t stop.  He bumped into the  door.  “No Robert.  You cannot do that.  NO! It is dangerous.  Never do that again!”  I was approaching him quickly, nonetheless he managed to take a step or two from the door and bump into it again.  I screamed again, “No, Robert, no” .  He turned to me to, I am sure of that, examine my facial expression. I reacted strongly to what he did and he did notice.

I moved the sofa placing it in front of the patio door. Robert found a replacement object for bumping: the front door.   He bumped into the door a few times.  I didn’t mind. It was  NOT made of glass.  Soon, Robert lost interest in bumping into flat, vertical  surfaces, so after a few weeks, when Robert was at school, I put the  sofa back into its old place.


When Robert came from school he took off his shoes and a  jacket and…ran into the glass door.  I saw him running, but my legs were no match for his. I couldn’t catch him.  Well, I  could scream.  But by then, I knew better.  My scream would not stop Robert.  If anything it would have propelled him and strengthen his resolve to bump into glass panel.  So I kept quiet and preparing myself for the next move.  Immediately after hitting the glass Robert, as I anticipated,  looked at me to check my reaction.

I offered him the most uninterested expression I could create.  As if I didn’t notice that forceful, energetic wallop.  I made a face which emitted dull indifference.  I think that for a fraction of a second, just a fraction, I observed a confused disenchantment on Robert’s face.

But maybe I am exaggerating my acting skills.

Robert never repeated that behavior again.  It helped that I kept the sofa in front of the patio door for another year.

Ten years later, when Robert was in the Collaborative Program, he was left alone in a large room.  He seemed to be in distress.  Maybe from pain.  Maybe from feeling like a big disappointment.  He bang on the window of the temporary, modular classroom.  He broke the glass.  He didn’t hurt himself.  Today, I think that he begged for help.  Then, I didn’t know what to think.  I knew that the teacher treated  Robert with exasperated exhaustion and that never bodes well for the object of such feelings. Oh, well…


In the first month of 1996 Robert (a couple of months short of his fourth birthday) started dumping the  buckets of Lego blocks on the floor. I didn’t know then and I don’t know now why he was doing that.  There was no way he could explain me the reasons behind his actions and there was no way I could persuade him not to do that.  Although at that time, Robert was already receiving ABA therapy,  I either didn’t hear about Functional Analysis of Behavior or considered it inapplicable. Just month before I had broken my leg on the small patch of ice and  still little uneasy I treaded lightly around the  house.  Hundreds of small blocks were not a small nuisance.  Functional Analysis of Behavior takes a lot of time as it requires careful observation of what has happened before the behavior (Antecedent) and what happens after (Consequence) to understand this ABC’s pattern (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence).  That would also mean that the behavior would need to repeat itself many times before FAB could be completed and its recommendations applied.  Based on the circumstances in which these incidents happened it was impossible to determine  Robert’s reasons.

He did it once when I was washing dishes in the kitchen and although I observed him through the opening in the wall, I didn’t interact with him.  So it could be that Robert wanted my attention.

Once it happened during his discrete trail session where almost too much attention was paid to him.  So it could be that Robert wanted to escape the drills.

Since at least once I saw him jumping excitedly after blocks hit the floor with rattling noise, it also could be that he got sensory reinforcement.

No matter what was behind this behavior, it had to stop.  The sooner the better.  When Robert dumped the blocks in the presence of his therapist, Evelyn, she decided to use overcorrection – which simply meant that Robert had to clean up the mess he made.  Of course, he didn’t want to.  Evelyn went on her knees.  Robert got on his knees.  Evelyn held Robert’s hand in her hand.  Slowly and with great effort she picked up all the blocks using Robert’s uncooperative hand.  As I remember her and myself neither of us held Robert, but we were bent over him closely enough so he couldn’t swing his head and hit us with it.  It was something he was pretty skillful at doing.

As soon as Evelyn and Robert finished, Robert got up, grabbed the pail and  deposited its content in front of my feet. So it was my turn to do what Evelyn just demonstrated to me.  Except it was much harder than it seemed. It was especially confusing to know the exact distance – not be too close to Robert and obstruct his movements and not be  too far as that would  leave enough room for Robert to swing his  head like a weapon.  After all blocks were  back in the bucket, Robert calmly returned to his desk for another session of discrete trails. While I felt a little shaken by this experience, Robert didn’t show any sign of distress.

Yet, as soon as Evelyn left, Robert ran for the bucket again and aiming for the biggest impact dumped the blocks next to me. So I repeated my previous actions, although it was much harder without Evelyn watching me and giving me pointers.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t leave him enough room to move, so I gave him too much room and paid for it.  Still, we finished.  The last few blocks Robert picked up all on his own, motivated to quickly finish the task and do something else.

That was the last time he purposefully dropped the blocks or anything else on the floor.

Well, not exactly. It was the last time for the next eight/nine years.  When he was almost 12 years old, new waves of destructive behaviors like a tsunami kept on washing whole boxes of math counters, books, crayons  from  tables, desks, and shelves. They were coming sporadically but with full force over a period of 6-8 months.   Robert still couldn’t explain anything.  This time, however,  we wouldn’t  dare to use overcorrection the same way we used it before.

He was too big, too strong, and too angry…

Still, for over  eight years following the winter of 1995 Robert never purposefully dumped anything on the floor.

His experiments with breaking Christmas ornaments, I described somewhere else on this blog, belong to a different category.  They were clearly motivated by Robert’s need to research both gravity and the hidden lives of spheres.  

All the Bubbles in the World

Little bottles with pink, blue, or green soapy bubble solutions were calling on Robert from the shelves of every toy or grocery store.  They called  in the same way the honey jars were calling Winnie the Pooh.  It seemed that as soon as we entered the store, Robert was able to localize the bottles, even if they were placed in the opposite corner of the store.  He must had either heard them, smelled them, or felt their mystical vibrations because as soon as I turned my attention to items on my grocery list or to a developmental toy I was considering buying,  Robert was out of his seat in a shopping cart and off on his quest for bubbles. Don’t ask me how this tiny peanut could climb out of the shopping cart and disappear among store alleys in a fraction of second.  I didn’t turn from him for longer than that.  My hands could still reach the shopping cart he was in or he was supposed to be in!  And yet, he wasn’t!

I found out that it was  no use to ask store’s employees  if they had seen a little, quickly running boy.

Nobody had ever seen him!

What made sense was to ask where were the bubbles. Where the bubbles were, Robert was.

I decided that to avoid Robert’s bolting, we would start every trip to the store with getting  three (one for each color)  containers of bubbles and buy everything else later.

That approach worked  on  maybe 3-4 trips to the Puritan Supermarket.  But on one of the next trips, the fact that three small bottles of bubbles were resting in a shopping cart, behind his back, didn’t satisfy Robert. Before I finished going down my grocery list, Robert was out again. I followed him to the bottles.  When I reached him he  was  carrying five or six bottles – as much as his little hands could hold.  I allowed him to  take only three.   Again one of each color.  I placed the bubbles and Robert in the shopping cart.  Robert was not happy!  He was  agitated and anxious.  As we approached the cash register and I started placing food on the belt, Robert got out of his seat and went down, inside the shopping cart stepping on the groceries.  He was checking the bottles. Clearly not satisfied, in the blink of the eye, he was out. As I tried to decide if I should take all the items  from the belt or ignore them and run after Robert, my son was back caring another batch of colorful bottles.  He dropped them inside the shopping cart and turned  to run for more.  But I got him this time.

I held this wiggling creature, who kicked, pinched, and bit.  I grabbed my purse and ignoring the cash register, the shopping cart, and all the food I thought I needed,  I carried Robert to our van.   He screamed.  He banged his head into mine.  He continued pinching, kicking, biting,and hitting all the way to the car.  I buckled him in his car seat.  He still wiggled and kicked the seat in front of him.  I closed the car door but stayed outside turned back to the door so Robert could see me but not see me crying.   I stopped crying and got inside.  I waited a few minutes longer to calm myself.  Robert stopped kicking.  He became quiet.  We drove home.

I felt so powerless and humiliated that I entertained the though of  never going shopping with Robert.   I made myself a tea and thought about my options. Not taking Robert shopping was NOT one of them. Although I could  go shopping alone in the evening or rather at night when my husband was home, I couldn’t give up  on the idea of my son being a part of the community.  I could postpone taking him with me until he gets older and behave better.  That was not an option either. Robert would get older, bigger, and stronger but he might not behave better. I realized that the longer I would postpone dealing with this behavior the more scared and powerless I would feel.


1. When I finished my cup of tea, I took Robert to a convenience store that didn’t sell bubbles. We bought just three basic items.  One was what he wanted.  The shopping went smoothly.

2. I called my husband asking him to come home earlier and take Robert back to Puritan. We discussed the issue and decided that Robert still could buy three bottles of bubbles.  If, however, he would take more than, both of them would leave the store without any bubbles at all.  They came home empty-handed.  Jan never told me how much protesting Robert did that day.

3. We repeated similar actions the following day.  I bought a few more items in a different convenience store.  One item was of Robert’s choosing. Jan took Robert back to Puritan. This time, Robert satisfied himself with three bottles of bubbles.

4.I went back to Puritan with Robert.  We bought eggs, milk, bread and three bottles of soapy solution.

Since that time until today, I had never had a problem with Robert insisting on buying something I had reasons not to buy.  Not once, he took something from the shelf and held it in front of me to ask in his wordless way if he could buy it.  I would either say “yes” or “no”.  “No”  always came with an explanation.”No, we have it at home.” “No, it makes your stomach hurt” (Soft cheese in a can.) Every time, he heard, “No” Robert calmly put the item back on the shelf. Every time.

I have to add, that many years later we encountered another behavioral bump during our trip to supermarket.  Although Robert didn’t mind putting the item back on a shelf during shopping, he DID MIND taking it back from the CASH REGISTER BELT when it was already in the hands of the cashier.  But that is another story.

Bubbles, The Blessing and The Curse

Before I even heard about Applied Behavior Analysis and before I knew the concept of the  reinforcer,  I used bubbles to increase one of Robert’s behavior- signing  “more”.  At that time, I didn’t know that teaching a child to use one sign to ask for everything he/she wanted was not a good idea. It was so much easier to teach one general sign than to teach many specific signs for specific items that many speech pathologists advised equipping a child with one word or sign to be universally used. The doubts about this approach, which I soon developed, were confirmed during my first workshop on Verbal Behavior more than 7 years later.  In first months of 1995,  I didn’t have any misgivings.

It took a few weeks of teaching (prompting)  before Robert used the sign for “more” independently. I was thrilled. This one, simple gesture from American Sign Language  offered Robert a tool to communicate his wants.

Robert brought me a jar of bubble solution and made a gesture for “more” ergo, he was communicating!!

It didn’t bother me that Robert signed “more”  while he asked for bubbles, or apple juice, or chips, or anything else. Since all his requests were made in the proximity of the desired object it was not surprising that he was successful in getting his wishes fulfilled.  I always  knew what he wanted because he let me know that without the sign for “more”. Yet the fact that Robert made a proper movement kept me happy.  He was “telling me” what he wanted!

What he wanted most were bubbles.  “More, more, more”.   I complied. I couldn’t refuse this first  communicative effort.  So I blew bubbles when I cooked.  I blew bubbles when I ate. I blew bubbles when I read or watched TV.  I blew bubbles when I mopped the floor  to immediately  mop it again and remove the slippery soap on which, not once, I slid.  My every activity was enriched (or interrupted)  by Robert demanding, “More, more, more.” More bubbles, of course.

I wasn’t happy any more.  We were stuck.  Robert wasn’t learning anything new.  All day, persistently,  he demanded bubbles.  It became a nightmare.  I didn’t know how to end it.  I considered refraining from buying bubbles.  But if I did that, Robert would not ask me for “more”.  That meant he would not communicate with me.  So I continued for a few more weeks (MONTHS?).  I didn’t feel like a caring mother or a clever teacher any more. I felt like a powerless slave, and a simple fool.

Luckily, after a few weeks, Robert learned to blow bubbles himself.  I was free!

Well, sort of.

At that time, I knew so little about teaching Robert so it should not be surprising that I clung to the only information I had. It didn’t occur to me then, that what Robert was doing was not communicating but participating in a rigid ritual. I felt I did everything I could to teach Robert and yet it was a clear nonsense. Moreover, the more dedicated I was, the more damage I might have caused.

Talk. Any Way You Can

Robert is ordering his lunch at McDonald.  Not without difficulties, desperate repetitions, and partially futile efforts to spell words “coke” and “fries” he managed to order chicken nuggets with fries and coke.  Now he has to ask for sweet and sour sauce.  He does ask.  A few times. But yet again, five syllables of, “Sweet and sour sauce.” are wrung into a knot  of one undecipherable sound.  I suggest spelling and Robert starts,  “S, w, e..”.    The young woman at the register doesn’t make a connection.  She repeats “s” and “w”, but still doesn’t know what Robert wants.  Robert spells again.  This time  he adds something new.  As he spells, his fingers seem to write the letters in the air.  The young woman has an idea.  She gives Robert paper and a pen.  Robert writes “sweet” .  Now she knows.  She gives Robert one tiny box of the sauce.  Very loudly and clearly Robert protests “TWO, TWO, TWO”.  He gets two packets , grabs them, and leaves.

The strange thing was that Robert was happy.  I expected him to be irritated, stressed, even humiliated.  The process of ordering simple meal took so long, so much effort, so many trials, and so many misunderstanding that it had to be draining.   I am not sure if it was worth to force Robert to order by himself.  At some point I even told him that if he doesn’t order by himself we would have to leave McDonald without eating.  I am not proud of myself, although the effect of that mean warning had two positive consequences. On one hand it convinced Robert that he couldn’t turn to me for help in ordering and so he doubled his efforts.  On the other hand, the young employee felt much more empathy toward Robert.  Not only he had difficulties speaking but also had a mean person with him.  So she decided to help him tell her what he wanted. She, too, doubled her efforts.

I felt confused, humiliated, and guilty but Robert was happy!  Why?

Because he managed without my help?

Because he was proud of the way he pretended to write ?

Because someone on the other side of the counter made an extra effort at communicating with him by giving him a pen and paper?

Or maybe  he was just glad that the ordeal was over and he got his chicken nuggets, fries, coke, and  two packets of sweet and sour sauce.