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Schuyler’s Sense of Self

photo 2Updating her speech software involves a strange little rite of passage for Schuyler. It marks the progress of time and her own growth, all the small indicators of advancing months and years that static technology misses on its own. At some point every summer, we sit down with her speech software and update the necessary personal information. We try to think of the things she’ll need for the upcoming school year, and we add pages and buttons as required. She tweaks the voice if she’s ready for a change, and she updates photos. It’s something we’ve always done, going back to her first PRC dedicated voice output device and continuing now to her iPad. She doesn’t need all that much assistance anymore, but she still asks for help. I think she enjoys the ritual, as do I.

This summer represents a big shift, as she begins high school next year. (Note to long-time readers: that is not a typo. High school.) Schuyler is nervous about high school, as are we all, but she’s beginning to see the possibilities as well, I think. Schuyler yearns to be a young adult, even as she struggles to understand what that really means, both for herself and her peers. Adjusting her speech software so that it reflects her ever-evolving sense of self goes a long way towards making the technology her own in a personal and meaningful way.

In the early days, Schuyler wanted her device to use an artificial voice similar to what she thought her own voice might sound like in a different world. As she’s gotten older, however, she’s chosen electronic voices that are different, even opting for non-American accents. It’s not surprising; as she gotten older and made advances towards some verbal speech, her own physical voice has become more important to her, limitations and all. Her iPad’s voice is distinct from her own, snotty little English accent and all, and this summer, for maybe the first time ever, she opted to keep it exactly the same, with no changes.

Schuyler thought about the things she wanted to add to her iPad, and it turned out that she actually needed a few things, some unrelated to school. She wanted a page of her favorite places to eat so that when we bugged her for suggestions, she’d have something better than a teenaged shrug to offer. (We’ll see how that goes.) And she thought it was a good idea to add a page of terms for marching band, which is very much on her mind these days. For Schuyler, as for us, band is the only part of next year that is making any sense yet, so that’s where her energies are concentrated for now. She pushes through her uncertainty, as she always has.

photo 1As we looked for images to assign to the individual buttons, we came across a selfie that Schuyler took many weeks ago, just before school was out. It was an arresting photo. She looked serious, slightly sad but not morose. She pointed it out to me and said she really liked it and wanted to use it on her speech software and as her user photo on Facebook. I asked her if I could share it and use it for this post, and she agreed happily.

“I really like this picture,” she said. “I was a little sad because I’m going to miss my friends. But it’s a good kind of sad.”

It really is a beautiful photo, haunting and sweet. In most of her pics, Schuyler is laughing, and not gently, either. But as she gets older and more secure in her sense of self, and as she continues to construct and deconstruct her personal sense of who she is, the Schuyler she wants the world to know is more nuanced. She’s growing up, and she knows it. I think it’s beginning to excite her, the knowledge that she’s in control of the person she is to become.

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