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?

A Favor

It has been several years since Facebook has linked to my blog. We found out all the 3rd party companies that Facebook uses to determine which sites to blacklist (Mcafee, MicroTrend, Web of Trust, a few more..) and we have contacted them all individually about the site and every one has come back with a completely safe report regarding the site. As far as they are concerned, the site is perfectly clean. The problem is Facebook doesn’t seem to be listening.

It is ridiculous and limits my ability to share my thoughts with others.

I am asking a favor of you. each time you try to link to my blog on Facebook, you should immediately get a pop-up that says something to the effect of ‘your link was blocked because… and then a line that says ” if you think you are receiving this message in error, click here” (or something close to that). If you could click the link they will ask you why you think it’s an error. If you could say something simple like “there is no reason for this link to be blocked….” and hit submit I would greatly appreciate it. I am hoping that if they many complaints it might make them finally move on this.
Many thanks in advance.

On Education and Communication; A Message to Parents, Professionals and People with Autism

School is finished at last. The year was tough but I learned a lot. I read great literature. I loved US history and understand my wonderful nation better. Chemistry was fascinating too. Learning how our universe is composed is thrilling to me. Me gusta aprender español también. I learned a lot about math and animal science too. All this is thanks to my index finger and typing my thoughts.

I have the desire to pursue a college degree. One more year of high school and this dream will be a reality. Over spring break I visited many colleges with my parents. It will be different than all day, every day, of high school in one place going room to room. But I will have the opportunity to get more education in biology, neuroscience and other fields, and maybe I can help improve our understanding of autism in more ways.

I push myself to get good grades. It matters to me that my grades show my intelligence. My teachers were great. They pretty easily adjusted to my mode of communication and welcomed me warmly. My life is so rich now. I have friends in school. I love to go.

My message is to parents who wonder if their child can learn. Only the most determined parents will find out. If you are working with experts like those from my early life, they limit your child in low expectations. They tell you that being impaired in body is being impaired in mind. They let you work on skills that barely progress and tell you that your child isn’t advanced enough to write.

If you keep on listening to them they will keep low expectations for a lifetime. I know it is hard to be the parent who disagrees. I watched my mom try to deal with my ABA team when I began to communicate at seven. I have  watched our friends fight school district attitudes. They went through a big hard slog. They also got their kids typing and into general education. More than anything else, the parents believed in the possibility that their child had more in them than they were told. Parents, you have to trust your guts. You see your kid all day in real life. They see a drill or a lesson, and these moments where the motor issues of severe autism are at their worst.

Professionals, I have a message for you too. I used to think you were all clueless and control freaks. This is not to say that people were not warm or kind because I liked my clueless teachers as people but resented their attitude of certainty. If you work with autism, be prepared to accept that a degree in psychology or sociology or speech pathology or occupational therapy isn’t giving an insight into more than symptoms. My brain and how it’s impaired is a guessing game, even for neurologists, so I think the certainty that many practitioners have when it comes to autism is really puzzling. Being open-minded and admitting that the brain is vast and mysterious is required, in my opinion, by anyone who works with severely autistic people.

Now I have a message for people with autism who can’t yet communicate, and I ask parents to read my essay to their kids, Have hope. More than anything, have determination. Life outside your head and stims is really worth striving for. I believe soon there will be too many people with autism who type to keep insisting we are one in a million. I am fighting for your freedom and so are others. Hang in there.

Ido in Italiano

For those who speak Italian, here is Ido on Swiss news.