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?

14 responses to “Out of the Closet

  1. Hello. My 12-year-old son has autism and is mostly non-verbal. I was wondering if you could share which app(s) you use and/or recommend for communicating. Any other favorite or insights would be greatly appreciated as well. Thank you for inspiring us. (-;

  2. Ido, I’m a 1 on 1 paraeducator for an 8 year old boy with non-verbal autism. I met him 2 years ago while substituting in his class and immediately knew there was more “there” than anyone was seeing. I believed in him from the beginning and I tell him that every day. I believe in him so much that early on I offered to work 1 on 1 for free before I found out that they were actually looking to hire someone. I don’t use ABA. I use what I like to call a “mindful approach”, a respectful partnership. I see him more like an athelete who has his own goal. I’m the coach helping him stay focused on HIS goals by reminding him how important they are to him. It’s not about me. He and I have both worked very hard to build a trusting relationship. He has made phenomenal progress that no one expected- writing, reading, speaking, counting, singing, dancing, artwork, more impulse control. We were on this path before I read your book and also Carly’s Voice. Once I read your book, I felt so validated in what I was doing and how I was interacting with my student. People have looked at me like I was crazy for interacting with my student as if he could actually understand. It has been a long and tiring 2 years. I am constantly having to justify my approach even though everyone can see he is doing much better than before I came, so happy and self-motivated and self-possessed. Often, I just feel like I can’t spend so much energy defending what obviously is helping. Sometimes, I want to give up. My question is, where do I go for support? I feel like I’m completely on my own and I’m swimming against the tide of conventional approaches that just don’t work for many people. I want to be a voice for this student and others, but I feel like ABA and the professional community that is built on it is like the 800 pound gorilla. I have given a copy of your book to almost everyone in the sped department of our school. Most didn’t read it. The ones that did felt shaken by it. Do you have suggestions of where I can find others like me?

    • Allison, did you read my mind?? I share information all the time and I feel like no one pays attention to it! I gave Naoki’s book to the parent of my 11 year old autistic friend for Christmas. I emailed the Director of Special Education of my school district with a link to this bog. I’m not sure either were ever read. How can we fix this????

    • Hi Allison,
      I’m not sure if you will get this message, as I am responding to an old post. I have 3.5-year-old autistic twin boys with autism, one who is struggling with communication. He responds best to a “respectful partnership” approach as you describe in your e-mail. Have you found a community of educators and parents who believe in this approach?

      Thank you,

  3. Allison, I have twins with autism and one is non-verbal. I am headed to this conference tomorrow in northern Iowa. http://www.vpaf.uni.edu/events/inclusion/

    Also, check out the organization TASH to find like-minded educators.

    Thanks for doing what you know has helped support your student!

  4. Thanks Tyann. I checked out the link regarding the conference and downloaded lot of documents and presentations. I’m looking forward to reading them. I checked out the TASH.org, but couldn’t really see where I would be able to connect with others. Any suggestions there? Thanks for all your help. Safe travels!

  5. Hi Ido, your book, website, and YouTube videos are extremely helpful to me. I am a special educator of students with autism. I have concentrated my efforts on communication and academic development. My students prove they’re smart all the time, but even though I try to provide the best educational experience I can with age appropriate material, I couldn’t bring my autistic students to grade level work. You have shown me that our education as teachers is so inadequate! But the amazing pioneers, Soma Mukhopadhyay, you, and others have given me much hope. When parents have fought the psychologists in my IEP meetings over the dual diagnosis of autism and mental retardation, I was never comfortable adding that latter diagnosis, but how could we refute it, other than simply saying we don’t BELIEVE they’re mentally retarded? Soma and YOU have changed all that. Her system of communicating is so powerful! The more I read, watch, and learn of her methods and clients, the more I am a believer that people with autism can communicate intelligently and provide the world with so much beauty and understanding with their words. During the summer, I take on a few projects. This is mine this year and it’s totally consuming me. I am continuing to expand my search for other nonverbal autistics showing age level intelligence. Can you help? Do you know where I can find other blogs, websites, or YouTube videos, such as yours that comes from the fingers of nonverbal autistics? Lastly, I just wanted to say that your words are amazing and encouraging to hear, prompting me to begin RPM sessions with my own students. Don’t stop writing, no matter how difficult! It inspires countless of others and just might be part of the catalyst that changes the system of education for others!

    • Thanks for a lovely note, Ryan. I think you can check out. Tito, Carly Fleischmann, Naoki Hagishida, Elizabeth Bonker and Sue Rubin. All of these people have books or films. Soma also has a member forum where you could meet others too. Good luck in your mission.

  6. Maybe this will help. There is a great deal of information at the ICI at Syracuse University. (Look at the SU website under School of Ed.) This may help somewhat: http://soe.syr.edu/centers_institutes/institute_communication_inclusion/about_the_ici/Master_Trainers.aspx

    Best wishes!

  7. Ryan,
    Have you seen the movie Wretches and Jabberers? If not, you must watch because it’s about two non-verbal men with autism who travel around the world to change the view of autism. It’s wonderful!

    Sue Rubin stars in “Autism is a World” and Jamie Burke stars in “Inside the Edge.” These are all good documentaries. Sue and Jamie both have college degrees. Carly Fleishmann has a book available as well. Ido’s book and work is fabulous. There are others out there.

    Good luck!

  8. Also, for more non speaking autistics speaking besides the more famous ones you can visit emmashopebook.com her blog roll has quite a few.

  9. Hello!

    May I include a link to this in a website I’m creating? It’s for parents/anyone who want to know more about autism and is a doorway to AUTISTIC voices/bloggers and neurodiversity friendly parents/professionals. The website is under construction but the facebook page (Autistikids) is up and running – full of links to the same type of posts. I can be reached at autistikids@gmail.com if you have any questions. Thank you!

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