Communication, anxiety and neurological instability.

One of the big complaints of skeptics who refuse to believe nonverbal people with autism can communicate is about support. They have significant doubts if anyone receives tactile support. In fact, if anyone receives tactile support they are sure the communication is fake. I think, to be fair, that sometimes it is hard to tell how much is the autistic person and how much is the aide, just by looking, but sometimes it is quite obvious that the support is just there for emotional support or anxiety control. It is minimal, a light touch far from the hand or arm and totally not prompting movement. My good friend likes a hand on his shoulder when he types. It gives him stability. If someone put a hand on your shoulder could you write accurately in a language you don’t understand but the other person could? I doubt it, but try and see if it’s possible.

But skeptics aren’t even satisfied with independent typing. I type with no tactile support, no prompts at all except for a reminder to keep going or to pay attention if I get distracted or pause too long. Still skeptics are concerned that someone sits a foot away from me and imagine that through some magical means I am typing their thoughts. If I was alone in the room, they say, then they could believe I was really typing my own thoughts.

I am somewhat fed up with this because they do not understand the nature of neurological instability and anxiety in autism. They have an innate bias in believing that autistic minds are not capable of understanding language. If that’s so, why bother to drill us with flashcards?

How many times have nonverbal people emerged from an inability to communicate, often due to a body movement problem, to show that they were hearing and understanding all along but were trapped and unable to show it?

My father, who is a scientist, talked about the unknown impact of emotional support on anxiety and performance and he shared the example of King George in the film, The King’s Speech. King George suffered from a terrible stutter. He was unable to speak in public without stuttering and stammering continuously and with great anxiety and humiliation. Forced to become king when his brother abdicated the throne, George had to overcome his speaking problems to deliver speeches to the British people as Britain entered World War II and to help keep up their morale throughout the war.

His speech therapist, Lionel Logue, was always with him when he spoke to provide emotional support. He never left the room. So, looking at the situation skeptically, should we say that the king lacked the ability to deliver speeches and was Lionel Logue’s puppet? If judged by the same standard as people with autism who type, perhaps we can determine that he was not capable.

Let’s keep an open mind.

Having More Say in Our Lives

My hope is that one day autistic people will be taught to communicate as young as possible. It certainly would be interesting to see how life would be if instead of drills and remedial lessons kids got lessons in age appropriate lessons, typing for communication and exercise specifically to awaken the mind/body connection. In my opinion, it is likely that the severe autism symptoms might be lessened because the urge to escape a frustrating reality will be less intense. One day I hope to put my ideas into a program for other people with autism. It will be the world’s first program for people with autism run by a person with autism.

Isn’t that pathetic?

How many autism organizations have people with autism consulting them or on their boards? If inclusion and diversity are important, why do so many autism experts fail to consult people who have autism? If I had an organization for blind people, I think consulting with people who are blind would be valuable. If I had an organization for people in wheelchairs, I think understanding their experiences would make treatment better suited to real needs. Must those of us with neurological issues be isolated from our own treatment options? My hope is to change this discriminatory practice.

My Speech at the Autism Society Self Determination Conference

When you think of your future, you have lots of ideas.

So do I.

Remember when you finished high school? What were your plans?

My plans are similar. I want a college degree. I want independent living one day. I want a relationship. I want a fulfilling job. I must try to get these despite my autism and my not speaking and all the challenges this brings.

From our earliest ages people with autism are used to being told what to do.

Touch your nose!

Touch your head!

Look at me!

Hands down.

All done!

Self-determination means having the right to express what I need to achieve my goals.

This means that the unique and individual needs of people with disabilities need to be addressed. My needs are different than the cookie cutter. This means that agencies, like Regional Center, and others, that support us in our adult lives, need to be adaptable.

I want to get the right support. The support I need may be very different than what other people with disabilities, or even other people with autism need, to succeed in college and in a career. I am a bright enough guy to know my needs and the kind of support that will enable me to achieve my goals. I want to be sure that the support and services I will receive after high school will be what I truly need and not based on the needs of other people with different plans or different talents.

My experts have missed the mark most of my life. Kind of like a tennis player who keeps missing the ball or hitting it to the wrong court.

That’s why I would really like to plan my own course and have a say in my own life.

We need partners to support us, not planners to tell us where we belong.

Isn’t that supposed to be the objective of all the services we have received all our lives anyway?

I warn you about one thing though. A consequence of teaching autistic people to type is that we have opinions and we have determination. Once we can express them we will demand a voice in our own futures.

 

My Speech at the Mental Health Advocacy Services Celebration

I am truly honored to be standing here tonight receiving this recognition. I am honored to be here with our District Attorney, Jackie Lacey, too. It is a reminder that advocates can be high school students or politicians, or anyone else. We just need to care deeply about a cause.

As you look at me, some of you must be wondering if I really wrote my speech.
After all, you’ve probably heard that most nonverbal autistic people have low cognition, no insight, no theory of mind, no inner world and poor receptive language.

Guess who told you that? It wasn’t people with autism, that’s for sure.

I have a very misunderstood condition. My disability is caused by my brain’s faulty linkage to my motor system. So truly, I think and understand though I may look like I don’t. Add to that a sensory system that is malfunctioning, and you have an idea how tough it can be.

The truth is, autism itself is easier than the incorrect assumptions by the so-called experts and specialists out there. A locked-in, motor impaired, sensory overwhelmed child cannot escape this on his own. Consequently, few nonverbal autistic people learn to communicate. Experts comfort themselves that we can’t communicate because we don’t understand.

I got fed up with this, because all around me are smart autistic people dying of boredom and loneliness, not able to communicate one idea more sophisticated than a basic need.

My decision at twelve was to speak out and correct this misinformation.

I was denied an education in elementary school because of the expert opinion that an academic curriculum was beyond my intellectual abilities. Now I am an AP student in 12th grade, ready to go to college next year. If my parents had listened to my experts I would still be stagnating in 1+2=3 expectations.

Things are changing gradually. Other autistic typers are speaking out too. We face resistance by people who believe theories over truth. But in time I know that the current paradigm will be discarded, like so many other incorrect theories, and the nonverbal will at last have a voice in their futures.

Thank you.

An Open Letter to Richard Dawkins

Dear Richard Dawkins,
I recently read your twitter response to a woman who wasn’t sure what she would do if she found out she was pregnant with a child with Down Syndrome. You wrote that she should, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” I realize that you are a famous scientist and I am just a high school student, but I feel the need to respond.

Life is precious to me even though I have autism. Life is precious to people with Down Syndrome too. Human worth is not measured by your standard of perfection. How can we decide the point where worthlessness begins?

I read in the news about evil deeds done by evil men with evil dreams, raping, forcing conversions, slicing heads off, ethnic cleansing. I’ve never heard of a person with Down Syndrome doing that. Rather, they embrace life, smile and love people. I would prefer to end evil, not innocents who are less than perfect. I fear eugenics in theory because it has been evil in practice.

I am sure my family has struggled because of my disability. I have too, more than you can understand, but despite my disability, I am sure my life is purposeful and I hope I am making this world a little better.

There is great arrogance in your advice. You are confident that no one would terminate you.

 

More on Scientific Un-Query

Guest post by Tracy Kedar (my mom)

When Ido was small he was in an ABA program that carefully documented all of his responses to discrete trial drills. In a huge logbook divided by the specific drill outcomes being measured, the exact number of his correct responses, incorrect responses, number of trials, and whether prompts were needed was recorded. The data clearly indicated the exact number of words Ido understood, which they measured as not being very many, with the belief that the only way he acquired new vocabulary was by being taught it in drills. The proof of mastery was the accurate pointing to the word on flashcards consistently.

When Ido began to express coherent ideas in normal English via writing, the scientifically gathered drill data made his ABA team convinced that this was simply not possible. It was inconceivable to them that Ido could understand and express grammatically correct, vocabulary rich English because their data evidence proved all he knew was far less.

Autistic kids I have met and seen communicate by iPad, keyboard, or letter board, without tactile support, still face dismissive letters whenever they appear in the media written by total strangers who are absolutely certain that the journalists were derelict in publishing a fraudulent story. The reporters are accused of not doing “due diligence” by telling the story of a nonverbal autistic kid who “miraculously, overnight” can communicate, despite the process leading to typing fluency being one of years.

Not long ago a skeptic professor in our area from the psychology department of one university spoke to an audience of university students studying ABA at another to show how unscientific and improbable it was that autistic people could communicate fluently by typing. He scoffed at RPM which he called “dangerous,” and laughed at how unscientific it was. He was alarmed at stories of kids like Ido appearing in the media.

This scholar, like so many of the writers of the skeptical letters, stated that he spoke on behalf of scientific methodology. He was firm in his belief that the data collected in discrete trial drills proved the fallacy of these severely autistic communicators, since data didn’t lie. I agree with him that the data collected in Ido’s old ABA drills were completely accurate. The recorded notes accurately indicated whether he got answers right, wrong, how many trials, and whether a prompt was needed. Where I differ from the professor is what it means. To him, the data was clear proof of Ido’s low receptive language processing, limited cognition and the impossibility of advanced comprehension. To me, the data simply reflected his ability at that time to accurately point to the card requested.

Those nonverbal autistic individuals who have learned to type are consistent in describing themselves as having a frustrating mind body disconnect. They state that while they understand what they hear, they cannot get their bodies to obey their minds with the kind of consistency and reliability that is necessary to prove it. Ido devoted several chapters of his book to describe and explain this challenging neurological experience and he describes how instruction and practice, using very particular techniques, helped him to develop  the ability to overcome these challenges enough to be able to communicate his thoughts, first by pointing to very large letters on a letter board held at eye level, and ultimately, as control improved, by typing on small ones on an iPad or keyboard on tabletop.

So yes, the drill data is accurate. The question is whether their hypothesis explaining why this occurs is correct. If the scholar and skeptics are correct and the drill data is a reflection of all the cognitive understanding that lies within a person, then of course children once thought to be low functioning who now claim to type and read and write fluently are to be viewed with alarm. Their achievements are viewed as “clever Hans” phenomena and any support they receive is seen as suspect.

On the other hand, if what the people with autism say is true, then the data is useless in those cases because all it measures is whether they could get their hand to obey their mind at any given trial and doesn’t reflect their capacity or knowledge. Consequently, the efficacy of the treatment becomes the issue.

Given these divergent possibilities, one would think that those who state they are proponents of science and scientific methodology would be lining up to meet those people with autism who have known histories as “low functioning,” complete with videos, reports, and school records, who now communicate fluently by typing, often with no tactile support at all, and who receive and thrive in general academic educations.

How is possible for anyone to determine that a person is not really communicating solely from reading a newspaper article or watching a television news short? Rather than showing the kind of scientific inquiry that is supposedly the hallmark of science, these folks seem to treasure data collection to confirm an existing theory over a willingness or curiosity to explore whether there is more that could be learned, even if it means that some of their ideas have been incorrect. That doesn’t seem scientific to me. It’s circling the wagons.

How Do We Learn if We Don’t Make the Effort ?

Let’s talk about when doctors’ ideas have been wrong. Bloodletting was once the norm. Sick people were thought to have tainted blood so they were bled into cups, making them weaker, of course, and increasing the likelihood of infection due to open wounds.

Did you know that many deaf people who couldn’t speak, or people with cerebral palsy or others with communication problems, were  deemed to be incapacitated and were sent to institutions where they were stuck  for decades.

Eggs were demonized. Now they are thought to be healthy. All fats were demonized. Now studies show that our bodies need certain fats. Red wine and dark chocolate are now heart healthy. Our beliefs regarding nutrition and diet change all the time. We learn and make necessary changes.

I have decided to become a French expert. I will learn all about “Frenchism” by watching French people.  I will make theories about their habits. I will train them to be less French. But I will never teach them English or learn French myself. Then I will claim to understand Frenchism though I never consulted a French person. The world will recognize me as the leading expert in French habits.

Continue reading

Some Thoughts to a Thought Provoking Post

This post from Emma’s Hope Book blog indicates the stress of parents by a system that makes it harder for them to relate to their child. In my opinion, the list of symptoms reduces people to behaviors and makes it harder to see the person’s personhood. It is ironic because a symptom of autism is to play with part of a toy, but what about professionals who focus on part of a person? If I liked to look at letters it was bad. If they like to look at only symptoms, it’s treatment. This is hard on parents because, “Hands down,” “Hands quiet,” and on and on, become the key of interacting.

I remember hugging my mom when I was young and an expert remarked, “Wow, he sure stims on you a lot.” So in the symptom-based worldview even hugging my mom was a sign of my inability. Of course, if I didn’t hug I would have been declared distant and disinterested in people. Experts should be really wary of assuming they know, when they really don’t know yet, what is in the heads of severely autistic kids. In these cases it is like putting words into someone’s mouth–all ten of them.

The point Ariane makes of seeing the child less pathologized is spot on. Let’s listen to people with autism who can communicate to be partners, guides, teachers, role models and proof that though we may look or act autistic because of having autism, we are fully human, fully intelligent and deserving of peoples’ respect.

Scientific Un-Query

I have only met a rare few neuro-researchers and other autism specialists, representing the scientific study of autism, who consult with me for my insights. I have noticed that though more and more of us nonverbal autistic people can type now I have not seen an increase in scientists trying to meet us. My book was sent to many neuro-scientists when it was first published, but few answered, and none met me. The puzzling thing for me is why this is.

If I were a scientist researching autism, or a specialist treating autistic kids, or running a program for autistic students, and nonverbal autistic people who  could communicate by typing began to emerge, I think I’d make an effort to meet them. I understand there are skeptics. I understand there is doubt, but I also know that ignoring things doesn’t change reality. I know that for those skeptics who attack as fake every autistic communicator who appears in the news, that it is also impossible for them to be certain of a person’s skills and abilities without seeing the person.

So many of us now type without any tactile support. Many of us are eager to collaborate and guide research ideas, but only a rare few researchers  ask.

I have three dogs and if they go to the veterinarian with symptoms the vet must guess what is wrong because the dog can’t tell him. Many times we wished the dog could elaborate so the vet wouldn’t need to guess, occasionally incorrectly. Autistic people who are nonverbal have faced guesses too because of their long-time inability to communicate. Now many can explain symptoms but the “vet” doesn’t seem to be interested in asking.

I believe our explanations for our symptoms are important in informing researchers in where to look for answers and how to better educate us.

What explains this un-query?

Out of the Closet

 

Every day I meet new communicators. Not babies, but kids in elementary school, teens and young adults. Their lives had been limited in one way communication for way too many years. They listened but they had no way to answer. In any case, they heard people. Many of them heard their parents moan and groan and say comments like, “I don’t know how much intelligence is there. I don’t think he understands much.” They listened to their teachers say things like, “He isn’t aware of right from wrong. He isn’t aware of his surroundings. He is oppositional today.” They listened to ABA specialists tell them, “No, try again,” “No, try again,” “No, try again,” and “High five. Good job.” They heard a world that thought they were dumb. But the world in this case was wrong.

It isn’t a lack of intelligence to be able to think but to not be able to get your body to show it. It is being trapped. If I put your hands into baseball mitts and your tongue was trapped in gooey sludge and couldn’t move right and I bombarded you with questions, I think you would agree you would have a hard time showing that you had an intact mind, especially if those baseball mitt hands moved differently to your thoughts and wishes sometimes, and everyone assumed that people with sludge tongues and baseball mitt hands were intellectually low.

I know the way to escape this isolation is not to tell sludge tongues and baseball mitt hands to move in ways they can’t. It is to teach those hands to point to letters, to type with one finger and to communicate. There is now a steady tide of people, once thought to be dumb, once thought to need baby lessons and baby talk who are mastering communication on letter board and typing. And voila! Not dumb!

More than anything they find relief being recognized as intelligent. And some find even more; a mission, friendship, a life of meaning. But none will go back into the closet of silence.

I wonder if you are a parent, teacher or professional and you have seen a “dumb” kid prove himself smart, how do you react with other kids? How long should they wait for you?