Category Archives: autism theories

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 Challenge to Autism Professionals


The theories regarding autism have been based on observation of our odd behaviors. Lists of these behaviors make a diagnosis. I have limited independence in selfcare. I have limited eye contact. I have flat affect often. I can’t express my ideas verbally. I have poor fine motor control. I have impaired initiation. I have impaired gross motor control. I have difficulty controlling intense emotions. I have impulse control challenges and self stimulatory behavior.
Whew. When I write that it sounds pretty bad, but I function adequately in this world. I am now 17 and I am a fulltime high school student in a general education program. I am in Honors Chemistry, Honors US History and Honors English. I am in Algebra 2, Spanish and Animal Sciences. I get straight As. I work out with a trainer 2 or 3 times a week to get fit. I study piano. I hike, cook, and help take care of a horse. I am invited to speak at universities and autism agencies. I am the author of Ido in Autismland, and a blogger as well. I have friends.
I say this, not to brag, but to let you know that people like me, with severe autism, who act weirdly and who can’t speak, are not less human, as Dr. Lovaas suggested, and are not doomed to live lives of rudimentary information and bored isolation.( “You have a person in a physical sense — they have hair, a nose and a mouth — but they are not people in the psychological sense,” the late Ivar Lovaas, a UCLA researcher, said in a 1974 interview with Psychology Today).

I communicate by typing on an iPad with an app that has both word prediction and voice output. I also  communicate by using good, old-fashioned letterboard pointing. If I had not been taught to point to letters or to type without tactile support, many people would never have realized that my mind was intact.
My childhood was not easy because I had no means to communicate at all, despite my 40 hours a week of intensive ABA therapy. I pointed to flashcards and I touched my nose, but I had no means to convey that I thought deeply, understood everything, but was locked internally. Meticulously collected data showed my incorrect answers to flashcard drills, but the limitations of theory are in the interpretations.
My mistakes were proof to my instructors of my lack of comprehension or intelligence, so we did the same boring, baby lessons year after boring year. How I dreamed of being able to communicate the truth then to my instructors and my family too, but I had no way to express my ideas. All they gave me was the ability to request foods and basic needs.
Here is what I would have told them if I could have when I was small. My body isn’t under my mind’s complete control. I know the right answer to these thrilling flashcards, unfortunately my hand isn’t fully under my control either. My body is often ignoring my thoughts. I look at my flashcards. You ask me to touch ‘tree,’ for example, and though I can clearly differentiate between tree, house, boy and whatever cards you have arrayed, my hand doesn’t consistently obey me. My mind is screaming, “Don’t touch house!” It goes to house. Your notes say, “Ido is frustrated in session today.” Yes, frustration often occurs when you can’t show your intelligence and neurological forces impede communication between mind and body and experts then conclude that you are not cognitively processing human speech.
In my childhood I feared I would remain stuck forever in this horrible trap, but I was truly fortunate to be freed when I was 7 when my mother realized my mind was intact, and both my parents searched to find a way to help me communicate without tactile support.
Thousands of autistic people like me live life in isolation and loneliness, denied education, condemned to baby talk and high fives, and never able to express a thought. The price of assuming that nonverbal people with autism have impaired thinking is a high one to families and to people who live in solitary confinement within their own bodies. It is high time professionals rethought their theories.

The Courage to Hear, to Learn, to Change

Guts means the courage to change. My book, my speeches, and my efforts have challenged people who have gotten accustomed to seeing severe autism in a traditional way. We need rudimentary lessons. We need drills to learn words, understand emotions, recognize the people in our lives, notice gender. We need baby talk because we don’t understand English or speech. We need M&Ms because we have no motivation. It is an illusion to imagine we can be more.
So, I am honored and amazed when parents and educators write to me that my explanations changed this thinking after years of seeing it one way. One person said it “hit him like an anvil on the head.” One described how he was, “shaken to the core.” One mom wrote a long letter about how she had always believed that the potential for her son to type was “delusional,” but after reading my book she understood how he could be smart but trapped internally. Now she types with him freely. He is 20 and finally able to communicate his ideas and finally is seen as intelligent. Brave moms, Brave dads, because they now have to face systems that have to look at why their methods could not see this possibility in the person with autism.
“I now speak normally with my son and it has changed everything,” I hear over and over. “I see my students differently,” I hear as well. One brave teacher wrote that she now wonders if she has been going at it wrong for decades. Kudos to them for thinking openly. It is guts.
I will tell you one lady with guts is my old teacher from when I was small. I write in my book how I loved her in spite of my frustration and boredom in her class due to babyish lessons and repetition. Fate has plans and recently my mom ran into her many times after years of no contact. After several weeks she told my mom she would like to read my book. I knew it would be painful for her because I talk about her- not by name, but she would know. I wrote her a note. After reading my book she came to my mom with a letter for me. She wrote that she tried to read it through my eyes. She was powerfully impacted and was determined to teach differently, to see her students differently too. She has been teaching a long time. This is guts and I admire her.

One in a Million, or So

Have you noticed how many new books are coming out by severely autistic, non-verbal people? If you look at my book on Amazon you can see many other books recently published by teens who type. I am glad to see it. Routinely experts claim we are one in a million if we get out of rememdial education and communicate fluently. I think the number is too high. If more and more autistic authors have books we each are less than one in a million, right? Maybe by now it’s 1 in 10,000 or so (Drat, I’m not so special after all, ha ha). Maybe every severely autistic person in the world will have to write a book to end this theory. Since we all express the same message of intact mind and impaired motor control, when will the theories shift to the truth?

Option 1- We are all fake trained monkeys scamming you.
Option 2- We are one in a million (and going down).
Option 3- We don’t have autism. (It’s miraculously cured once we type, lol).
Option 4- The theories are wrong.

If all non-verbal writers have the same message, that is something to consider, isn’t it?

Truth Over Theory


I had an interesting conversation with a university professor this weekend about autism. I enjoyed it very much because he was so open-minded and interested in learning new information about autism. That is like a near miracle. Ha ha. More often, I think, people get used to their theories and stay there their whole professional careers. He invited me to do a training for his staff of professors and has assigned my book to two of his classes. This is very cool. I love the chance to open people’s minds. In the near future I will be speaking to staff at an autism agency, giving a speech to families and staff at a disability support agency, doing an interview on internet radio and maybe more. I hope little by little to help influence a change in out understanding of severe autism. With the new DSM out in May, it is an uphill struggle, but I believe truth will triumph over theory in the end.

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

I started writing my book when I was twelve. I finished when I was fifteen. Now I am sixteen and it is close to publication. It has been a dream of mine for four years. When I started it I had no idea I would write a book. I was sad when I was twelve. I needed an outlet. I started attending regular school then. I was the only non-verbal autistic guy in any of my classes, except the autism room. I was adjusting to a surreal experience. On the one hand I was the only kid in my regular classes who didn’t speak. On the other hand, I was the only kid in the autism class who could type, so I felt unique and a bit alone wherever I was.
I saw a need to help people understand autism better. There were so many misconceptions. Inside I felt the urgency to help change things for my autistic classmates who saw me communicating daily but could only watch. No one thought to try to teach them too. I think I was regarded as unique, a “savant” for communication, and that what I did was irrelevant to them. Many days I wept in that year when I was twelve out of frustration for them.
When I wrote I started to think how I could change things. It was a relief to ventilate my loneliness or anger but that was not going to help them. I started to think about my symptoms. I realized that so many theories about autism are based on external observation by experts who interpret our behavior according to their theories.
My entire education up until I entered regular school was built on these external observations and theories. Lots of them were completely wrong. The real problem was that the non-verbal recipients of this education were too locked in to correct anyone. Not being able to speak, gesture, or write limits your ability to show your true capacity to learn.
So I decided that maybe I was an expert in non-verbal autism because I could explain symptoms from my own experience. The result was that my explanations were different from what my old teachers told my parents, and different from what the expert advice books told them too. My expertise didn’t come from a Masters degree in psychology or a class in Applied Behavior Analysis. It came from my own struggle living with autism since I was born. When I heard experts explain why I did things the way I did, before I could type, communicate, and tell them my opinion, all I could do was write my book mentally and hope one day I could communicate and tell my story.
My book is nearly here at last. Just a short time more and it will be available on amazon.com. It is my story but it is also a window into severe autism. I hope it offers a key to help other severely autistic people out of their prisons too.

What is Autism?

I wrote the essay below several years ago when I was fourteen. It is published here for the first time. I hope to engage you in a dialogue about what autism is and how it is seen  by many people. It is my hope that we can change the way we understand autism.

What is Autism?

What is autism? It’s a long list of behaviors, or is it more? A diagnosis of autism is made only by looking at symptoms. Eye contact impairment, hand flapping or social delay only describe my outside actions, not what is wrong in my brain. Which part of my brain is the source of hand flapping? Why is my motor control erratic? Is my lack of speaking a sign of retardation or is it something else? (It’s something else I assure you). Is it a hint of what’s wrong that my hands aren’t coordinated or write legibly? How about my calm, flat face? Is it a sign of an empty shell or could it indicate a muscle/brain communication problem?
In a condition that is diagnosed solely on behavior, it would be nice if experts asked these questions, but mine never did. They looked at my outside deficits and concluded that my inside was equally impaired. I was assumed to not understand language, to not recognize my parents from a stranger, to not have a thought more advanced than a toddler no matter my chronological age. It was supposed that my brain could be molded in increments by drilling me in basic material like nouns or people in my family’s names or by telling me to jump or sit or touch my nose over and over. This was the educational model I grew up with. So, I am telling my experts what I couldn’t tell them when I was stuck in my silent prison for so many years; you were wrong. Worse, you were treating the wrong symptoms.
I didn’t need to be taught to understand. I understood everything as well as any other kid so I didn’t need flashcard pictures of trees for my brain to understand a tree. What I had was a body that needed to learn how to listen to my brain’s commands. I got answers wrong, not because I didn’t understand concepts, or was too retarded and limited, but because my hand and my body didn’t obey my brain consistently. I challenge those who study autism, and those who dictate our lives in school and home programs and in speech therapy and in OT and on and on, to imagine that the non-verbal autistic kid you see is not a mentally challenged person, however retarded he may appear, but is a thinking, interesting, understanding person whose body is a source of imprisonment. It is a new way of looking  at the illness, but I tell you, hard as it may be to see it this way, it is the true illness- not the observed symptoms.
My body is a source of frustration. It doesn’t respond when it needs to. It does mindless stims instead of purposeful action. It traps me in silence. It is a true puzzle. But despite this, my thoughts are true and clear and I can think and think and think. I believe that now that more and more non-verbal autistic people are learning to communicate by pointing to letters and by typing that we need to determine our own educational needs. It is time to end educations determined by experts who see only our strange outsides and refuse to inquire about our normal insides. It is time to force experts to open their eyes to a thing called the truth. It’s time because the devastating illness called autism can’t be cured as long as experts don’t see it in the accurate way.
I want a cure and I want communication now for all those still trapped in silence. This is why I wrote my book (to be published soon) and it is my dream that it may help my friends and so many other autistic people and their families to be liberated too. In my essays I explain autism from the inside out. I challenge widely accepted theories and beliefs about autistic people and I explain where they are incorrect. I describe my early education so people can learn how it felt to be on the receiving end of this kind of instruction, and I will share my emergence into communication and hope. This is my personal story, but I speak for many other autistic people too.
Thank you for listening to a silent boy no more.

Autism Expertise

I think it is easy to misinterpret the behavior of non-verbal autistic people who can’t communicate. It happened to me often in my youth when I had limited output. Lots of interpretations of my actions were pure guessing by professionals, but I could do nothing to challenge them or correct their ideas. Recently, I have been talking to some professionals in order to fix this. They describe the puzzling actions of a non-verbal autistic kid, tell me their interpretations, and I get to give my two cents. This is important because my two cents is really different from their interpretations. Being autistic myself, I see the behavior in a totally different way than they do based on observation and theories.

Can People Really Outgrow Autism?

This is an interesting article. Is it possible to outgrow neurological symptoms? I doubt it, but I do believe the brain can accommodate some neurological problems in other neural pathways and overcome some challenges. I don’t think we can outgrow autism. We just adapt and try our best. What do you think?