Binary Code

January 16, 2012

You’ve probably heard of binary code, strings of ones and zeros that live somewhere inside all our computing devices. But have you ever really thought about how incredible it is that an infinite amount of information can be generated from a simple choice between two options?

Ones and zeros aren’t the only form of binary code. A binary code can consist of any two elements–the smooth or raised spots on a sheet of Braille, for example, or the sequences of taps and silences that make up Morse code. Or the yeses and no’s of a game of 20 questions.

At our house, we play 20,000 questions, stringing together ones and zeros to form the words and ideas Chloe has no other way to express. This system has its limits, of course. Unlike a computer, we can’t process long strings of binary code fast enough to produce and understand everything Chloe might want to say, but using two choices (two hands, two sides, left and right) in combination with facial expressions and a little vocal prompting (from Chloe, when she has something important to say), we’ve been able to learn a lot that we wouldn’t otherwise know. For example:

  1. Her current favorite Disney movie is The Little Mermaid. This has recently beaten out Tangled, which made her cry every time she watched it. That was part of its appeal.
  2. Chloe would like to grow her hair out, after going through a short hair phase. She is willing to put up with me putting her hair up every morning, even though this is really annoying. Plain hair bands are fine, she prefers them to fancy bows and ribbons.
  3. Chloe’s favorite color is yellow, though purple is a close second.
  4. Chloe wants to expand her collection of Groovy Girl dolls. She likes to pick them out herself (using our binary code system) and yes, she does plan to start at the top of the Groovy Girl rack at the toy store and work her way down until she has them all.
  5. Yes, Chloe’s parents have been known to embarass her in public. And although she has heard reports of her parents being embarassed by their parents, Chloe has never found her grandparents to be a source of public embarassment.

I introduced this system when Chloe was two, and she caught on right away. For our family, it’s meant the difference between interaction and silence. Chloe can tell us what hurts, whether she’s sick, what and how much she wants to eat, where she wants to go, how she wants to play–all with two choices and simple hand gestures.

Sometimes I wonder how many other people out there are trapped in silence, because no one has found a way to let them make choices. It only takes two.


3 Responses to “Binary Code”

  1. yannashumaker Says:

    Never found her grandmother to be a source of embarrassment???? Her one grandmother must have changed dramatically since Chloe’s mother was 8…. I loved the examples of Chloe’s uniqueness showing through in binary. It was such a joy to for me watch her choose her Xmas Groovy Girl with such absolute KNOWING which one she wanted, and her mother’s responsiveness to this knowing. Super blog.

  2. […] The Adventures of Paxson « Binary Code […]

  3. […] and laid her in her bed. Should I give her medicine? Try to figure out what’s going on with our yes/no system? Let her cry it out? This is a common frustration for parents of very young children, but Chloe and […]

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