Category Archives: letter board

Learning to Communicate Changes Lives, Part II

My book, to my amazement, has impacted lives in many far-flung places. I get letters from all over the world.

I was so happy to read this article from Ireland that more people should read. This isn’t an Irish tale. It’s an autism tale. Once again, a mind and a soul is set free by a letter board. I love how Caoimh (pronounced Keev) was liberated by his persistent mother. I toast all the persistent mothers who don’t give up, from Soma, to my mom, to Caoimh’s mum in Ireland, and all the others. He is one of a measly 40 in Ireland who type, but I know there will be more.

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From My Speech, "Imagine Having Autism"


To a person without a disability it must be hard to imagine life with one. I think it is hard to imagine having a disability even for a few hours, so it is much more difficult to imagine living with severe limitations life long. I have not lived one day without autism. It is hard to imagine my life without it because I’m part of autism and it is in me. My mind is intact. My soul is free, but my body is the property of something else. This “else thing” is called autism. It looks like this: weird body movements, noises, lack of responding at times, a mask of flat expression on my face, impulse problems, and an overly sensitive sensory system, which is why I sometimes wear headphones.
But perhaps more difficult than all of the above,   is the attitude of others. It is obvious by my actions that I’m not smart, right? OK, not right. But you know my limitations make me appear not smart at times, and then people assume. It’s not so bad now because I type on an iPad , so it is obvious that I think and read, but I still need to prove myself to each person I meet. This is life with a disability like mine. People don’t know or understand, and there are a lot of misconceptions.
It is more lonely to be autistic than not, especially for people who can’t communicate. I have an exercise for you. Imagine that though you think just fine your mouth is unable to speak your thoughts. This means no phone conversations, no singing, no long talks (or short ones), no calling your dog, no telling people your ideas, how you feel, or your needs. In other words, very quiet and very stuck. You listen all the time to the conversations of others, but you can’t join in. Ever. Not for an hour, but forever. Now imagine that your hand is wobbly and doesn’t obey your thoughts either, so the option of writing is gone. That is isolation.
Now it gets tougher. Your body doesn’t stop doing odd movements. You behave oddly because of that. Now you have a taste of autism. But I think one more taste will help you get it. Imagine all this, and put yourself as a kid into school with others like yourself  and see yourself in a class doing the same boring lessons day after day, year after year, such as the days of the week, the weather, the ABCs, the 1+1s, all because your outside has fooled people into concluding you are dumb. Then the school tells your parents you don’t understand.
So now you know about my early life. I was lucky to escape my internal isolation because I was taught how to communicate, first on a letter board and now on an iPad. This enabled me to leave my special education environment and enter a general education one. My old classmates still remain in the same special education class. None have been taught to communicate yet.
In autism we are thought to be limited rather than trapped. I think the number of so-called mentally retarded autistic people is greatly exaggerated. How smart would you look if you couldn’t talk, gesture, write, or control your movements? It is a true frustration living like this with society’s misunderstanding, so I am grateful to begin changing perceptions.
Maybe we can work together to change the future.

One Wish

I think if I had one wish it would be to help the trapped people in autism-jail open their prison cells to freedom.
What is freedom?
It is communication. It is education. It is exposure to normal education and books and conversation. If I halfway made an effort to be normal, I’d still be autistic. I have a neurological illness that isn’t cured by hope and good fortune. If you meet me halfway, I can access the world as a person with autism.
I listened to a woman who thought I belonged to the rare group of autistic who can think. I got to laugh inside, and laugh sorrowfully too. I may be communicating now, but not always. Until my mom and others opened me to the ability, I was trapped internally. If this early part of my life taught me anything, it is that I have to free those who remain trapped.
If she had met me when I was young and had no ability to get out my thoughts, I know that she would not have believed that intelligence lay behind my symptoms. If I had never been taught how to use a letter board I too would be the moron she imagines in others.
I’m sorry if I seem harsh but I am tired of well-meaning but blind people. Other autistic people die inside daily because they believe they will never get free or have communication. If the people that help them can’t see the potential inside them, no one works on their freedom from autism-jail.

Intelligence is there. It’s trapped. It’s stuck- buried beneath neurological messages that don’t send out.

Don’t assume the only smart non-verbal person with autism is me or others who type or point. We are living proof that   intelligence is there if our jail cells are given a route to communication and freedom.