Category Archives: Communication

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?

False (Deprivation of) Hope

By guest blogger, Tracy Kedar

 A few weeks ago my friend’s elderly father was hospitalized. At the time he was confused, agitated and had worrisome physical symptoms. A doctor told my friend that she should place her father in a hospice, that his death was imminent. “What?” she responded, “He was driving just last week!” “Well,” said the doctor abruptly, “he isn’t now.”

Today he is back home, back on his feet, and more active than he has been in months following the correct treatment of his symptoms by a different doctor. “What that doctor did was rob me of my hope for my father. I was crushed by his verdict and he turned out to be completely wrong,” she told me.

How can we fight when we are told something is hopeless? When there is no point in hoping we must be resigned and accept. When Ido was around six a doctor we saw who specialized in autism said that over the next few years it would become obvious whether Ido would be able to improve or would spend his life as a “low functioning” autistic person. This was prior to him having any communication and his true potential was totally unknown to us. She was preparing us to accept the low remedial, low expectations prognosis she saw as inevitable at that point.

 I was thinking about these stories, and so many others, of professionals advising people to abandon what they saw as false hope, and then having their dire predictions turn out to be wrong. These professionals advised false deprivation of hope, in my opinion.

 I have heard a few people suggest that Ido’s book may cause disappointment to parents whose children with autism may not learn to type as he does. Perhaps they believe that people with autism who have the potential to learn how to communicate their ideas are such rare exceptions that it is better if they keep silent and not give parents a chance to dream that their child too might have that capacity. Better to have low expectations, this reasoning goes, than to strive for more and have hopes dashed. Keep expectations low like this and you guarantee disappointment.

 Every autistic person I know who now can express his or her ideas through typing was once thought to be receptive language impaired and low functioning intellectually. No teacher would have looked at them as children and said, “That one will be a fluent eloquent communicator.” That is because their outside appearance belied their inner capacity. Every parent of these children gambled and decided to pursue letterboard and typing without any guarantee of success.

 Since Ido began typing a number of children we know personally also began to get instruction in use of letterboard and typing on an iPad or other assistive technology, either by Soma Mukhopadhyay at halo.org or in another method. And every single one of them has proven themselves able to communicate. Some are more proficient than others, but none had zero capacity. (This is different than rote drills of typing and copying done in many schools. This is specialized training in typing as a form of communication).

 How would it have been compassionate to these children and their parents to lower their hope to the point that they would not even try these methods? Shakespeare said. “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” In this case I would change it to, “Better to have tried and not succeeded than never to have tried at all,” because success may very well be the result.

 Ido describes his experience of autism as being trapped in his own body, with a mind that understands and a body that doesn’t obey. Every nonverbal autistic communicator that we know of has expressed the same thing. How many more are waiting to find a way to express their thoughts and receive an education? Diminished expectations helps no one. I do not believe hope in this case is false, but rather, the denial of hope through misunderstanding and low expectations is what is false.

Turning the Titanic

Guest Post
By Tami Barmache
We live in an exciting time! A time when people are starting to think that maybe the children and adults that we were certain were receptively and cognitively challenged are actually bright, literate, capable, and gravely underestimated. As a mom of one of these underestimated children, it certainly feels like change is in the air. The tide is turning!

It may be like turning the Titanic, but maybe once we start to build momentum and inertia takes over, there will actually be a paradigm shift that will change the lives of countless incredible, bright and often misunderstood individuals. We are missing out on so many gifts and insights. If people only knew!

My heart is beating fast just thinking about how I feel every time my son, Dillan, shares his thoughts with me. Everything from simple opinions, to funny stories, and profound insights. It’s life changing for all of us. He feels like his life began when he started to communicate. That’s not an easy thing for a mother to hear, but it’s honest, and I can only imagine how limited his world was when he had no way to express himself. 

Dillan began his journey to communication when he was 10 years old. I fought hard within myself to dig deep and follow through with the practice, but Dillan’s resistance, and mine, often led us astray. We were fortunate to have Tracy and Ido to re-motivate and inspire us along the way. I remember sitting in the park with them one afternoon looking for some words to propel me forward again. Ido told me that “autism is a deep pit…don’t give up.” 
I never gave up. I urged his teachers and therapists to see who he truly was, to raise the bar, to give him the opportunities he deserved. I don’t know if my desperation was apparent from the outside, but inside I was screaming. “Don’t you see????” I showed video of him doing math and writing stories, explained the process, and tried so hard…so hard. But sometimes a journey has it’s pace, no matter your plan. It took several years and the right support in place to finally achieve the daily communication and learning opportunities that Dillan has now.

Today, things are finally moving in the right direction. I must admit that it is taking Dillan a bit longer to become fluid in his typing with me than it has with some others.  That being said, we are getting “our groove” and improving every day. We will have to work together to sort through the pain, frustration and hopelessness that Dillan experienced all of those years, but it’s never too late to find a voice…never too late! 

The documentary “Wretches and Jabberers” features two incredible men who began typing later in life, and I’m sure many other have been able to communicate after years of silence as well. It’s never too late. As parents, there are a lot of intense feelings to face in this process, but none of them compare to their sentence of silence, so we have to take a deep breath, support them, push for them, and celebrate who they are and have always been. It’s painful. But we can do it. We must do it…for them. But we don’t have to do it alone. We can build a community to support each other, and to provide opportunities for learning and practice.

We all need communication. Real communication.

As Larry Bissonnette (from “Wretches and Jabberers”) said so well at a recent event: “Operating pictures on a board brings you cheeseburger, typing lets you create the menu.”

How Do You Talk to a Nonverbal Person with Autism?


 Guest Post
By Tracy Kedar (my mom)
“High five, Ido,” the earnest young woman said, greeting my son for the first time as they were about to work together. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “bad start.” “Good job. High five,” she said to him over and over.
Ido has nonverbal autism and can’t speak. At that moment, due to the nature of the activity, he did not have immediate access to his letterboard or iPad, so he had no means to tell the nice, well-meaning young woman that he hates being told, “high five,” and “good job,” and that he hates being spoken to as if he were three (he is seventeen), and to please talk normally to him.
I thought, “Okay, say something now before this becomes a pattern and he becomes insulted.” As tactfully as I could, I mentioned to her that Ido doesn’t like “high five.” He wants to be spoken to normally. “But this is how I talk to everyone,” she replied.
Really? She goes to a party, walks up to her friend, or the attractive young man she wants to meet, lifts her palm and says, “high five” in that particular tone of voice?  She palm-slaps friends she passes at work, the cashier in the market, her doctor? I didn’t think so. Perhaps if she hung out exclusively with two year olds she talked to everyone like this. Otherwise, let’s assume she gives people with autism or other special needs, special communication. 
My son, Ido Kedar, is a high school junior, and despite his severe nonverbal autism, he is the author of a book, Ido in Autismland; Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, is a blogger, is an honors fulltime general education high school student, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and autism conferences. His vocabulary is huge, his intellect, fully intact.
Knowing this, or even a small bit of this, I had to wonder, why would anyone talk to Ido in this infantile manner? Why talk to anybodylike this? The answer is that many people with special education training have been programmed to believe that autistic people need speech broken down to simple components to help deal with the assumed receptive language or cognitive delay. Talking in this way is deeply habituated for many people who assume it is the right thing to do for every person with special needs. Otherwise, why say, “high five, good job,” instead of, “excellent effort. That was outstanding.” Hear the difference? Autistic people do too.
Recently, Ido had an unexpected encounter with a professional who spoke to him like this; “He knows I know he’s smart, right, bud? We’ve got a thing, right, bud?” Enduring a situation he found pointless and patronizing and which pulled him away from an academic class which mattered to him, Ido stewed and finally replied as an irate teenager would and typed, “F—  this.”
The question is, would this professional talk to any other high school student like this, let alone a high achieving honors student? We all know the answer is no. Professionals too often talk aboutthe person (“He knows…”) and not tothe person (“You know…”).  They talk in childish tones and reduced vocabulary. The message is, “I say I know you’re smart but I treat you like I think you’re not.” To which Ido says, “Enough!”
In his book, Ido inAutismland, Ido wrote in his essay, How I Would Have Liked to Have Been Taught,
If I could educate the specialists, the first thing I’d recommend is to talk normally to autistic kids. No more, “Go car,” “Close door,” “Hands quiet,” or the like. It’s stupid to talk this way. Some teachers used tones to make words more distinct or over-enunciated sounds, like “letter” made with a “t” sound, not a “d” sound like we use in America. They sounded so silly I often rolled my eyes inside. (p 55)
When Ido was little, before he could type and we didn’t know what was locked inside, we used to speak to him in this simplified way, as we had been instructed to by autism professionals. We went through a terrible episode when he was small when he grunted continuously every few seconds all day long. He couldn’t stop and we tried all the traditional behavioral techniques of extinction, or telling him, “no,” or “mouth quiet,” to no avail. Finally, in desperation, I told him in totally normal language before a car drive that his grunting was distracting to me while I drove and I told him that he needed to make every effort to not do it for the duration of the drive. To my amazement, he did. From that point on, even before he had communication output, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and the respect of normal communication input.
Regularly, Ido gets letters from parents telling him that they now speak normally to their child with autism, thanks to his advice, and that their child is responding positively. Ido has asked professionals to ponder, if you had duct tape over your mouth and around your hands, would that mean you couldn’t understand speech? How would you like people to talk to you if you were in that situation? How do you talk to a nonverbal autistic person?

Opening of my Remarks at CSUN Department of Special Education Commencement


It is a great honor to speak to future teachers in special education. I began my life in special education of the most restrictive sort. My early years had to be my hardest because I had no voice at all. I want to challenge you to be open to teaching those who may currently lack the ability to show their intelligence, but who still deserve the opportunity to learn.
  It is hard to be a teacher of kids who don’t communicate. The kids don’t have writing, or gestures, or speech, or facial expressions, but that doesn’t mean they can’t think. Lack of communication isn’t only a sign of cognitive delay.
I’ll give you an idea of my early life in my low, remedial autism class. My teacher was warm, but there was no instruction of any kind beyond the weather, 1+1, and ABC. Forever. I think it is pretty boring, don’t you? It is worse when people treat you like you’re not intelligent. Baby talk and high fives and “good jobs” instead of normal communication.
I think the idea that all non-verbal people with autism have receptive language processing delay is not accurate. I don’t have receptive language issues but I sat in this classroom for years, unable to show my true capacity.
It is important to not be overly confident or certain when you deal with people who can’t communicate. In fact, it is essential to have an open-mind, because more kids than you imagine are like me. How people escape this prison varies, but we must have the opportunity.
I feel that you, who are embarking on new careers in special education, need to know that a kid like me will be in your class – that is, a kid like me before letter board or iPad – who just can’t get his ideas out.  To be a great teacher you can’t be his prison guard. To be a great teacher you must find intelligence and give the hope of freedom in communication. To be a great teacher you must give a real education to those kids who may look stupid in the eyes of many, but who think, and feel, and pray every day for the chance to show who they are inside.

Autism Poetry

It is starting to be noticed that non-verbal autistic people are writing books. There is mine, out for one month, and a few others by teenagers. Why is that the books are written by teenagers? I think it is because we are the from the first generation of autistic people to be taught typing.

I have a good friend, Sydney Edmond, who wrote a book of poems, The Purple Tree, four years ago. Like me, she studied with Soma and was released from her solitude. Like me she has a mom who is trying to give her a fully normal experience in life. But unlike me, she is a poet. I wanted to introduce you to another autistic writer, but with a totally different voice and style. Autistic people are as different from  from each other as anyone else.

Here is a taste of Syd’s lyrical poetry.

The Ocean in Winter

As I linger on a thought
looking out to sea
I wonder if a little bit
the sea remembers me.

We wallowed in the summer,
We walked in spring and fall,
Winter’s here, and I fear,
It knows me not at all.

It wails upon the shore,
eating up the sand,
angry, loud, and thrashing,
making it’s demand.

Teaming waves will tear at you,
some will tear you down,
laughing at your thrashing
until you’re surely drowned.

Is this the sea who played with me
beneath a sky of blue;
that tickled at my toes
and lapped my ankles, too?

What is it makes it happen?
I want to understand.
Want my sea that sings to me
to come and take my hand.

And so I’ll wait as patient
as the birds up in the sky
for warm  sunny days,
and a sea that plays,
to return.

From My Speech at the Vista del Mar Autism Conference

My name is Ido.  I have autism and I can’t talk. But I can think. I have ideas and feelings and even a theory of mind. Why I have to say this is obvious. Many theories I have encountered teach that I have no ideas, feelings, or theory of mind. Until I could communicate I couldn’t correct people, but now I can. 
When I was 12 I decided to write about my symptoms, my education, and my life. I wrote for 4 years until I wrote a book about autism. It has just been published.
My book is like an autism diary. I tell my story. I write about my feelings. I teach the truth about my autism.
I decided a few years ago that experts had made a lot of mistakes that everyone just accepted as gospel. Not to offend anyone, but how does everyone know for sure? Hard to know absolutely if the people you are dealing with are silent and can’t write or gesture. 
My early life was extremely frustrating because I did not have a means to communicate. I listened to my experts day after day say that I had to keep working because I didn’t know nouns, verbs, pronouns, categories, emotions, my relative’s faces, and so on and so on.
But I did. I was just trapped in an uncooperative body. 
That is why my book is called Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison.
Autism has been like a prison, but I have helped myself to make it a prison breakout.
Now, you can see that I’m hardly normal as I stim, stare and move oddly. But, believe it or not, I go to a regular high school, and I go to only regular classes, and with the help of my aide, I am there from 7:50 to 3:00, and I intend to graduate on time with a diploma and make my future.
I have thought often how my life would have been had I never learned to type. Isolated. Lonely. Bored. 
I know that what I am saying may make some people squirm and some celebrate. I really hope to show a new path to understanding a baffling condition.
Me and my iPad and me and my letter board are my voice to breaking free. If you would like to learn my story, please consider reading Ido in Autismland.
I thank you for your attention and your willingness to be challenged by an outspoken, silent guy.

My Book is Available on Amazon

At long last my book is ready to be purchased on Amazon. Soon I hope to have a kindle version as well. I hope you find it interesting. Please let people know about it, and please consider writing a review on Amazon after you read it.
Thank you,
Ido

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.