by Jeffrey Diamond
‘He can’t understand it, he’s incapable, he gets lost in the meaning of all things.’ Imagine hearing people make horrible comments about you like this. It’s remarks like these that I heard on a daily basis. The truth is I can think the same intelligent thoughts as the next guy but can’t express myself completely in spoken language. I certainly couldn’t when I was a kid. I was helpless in my defense. Like an unwanted bird pushed from the nest, I thought only of making my voice heard. Learning to type independently, especially in the classroom, motivated me to want to help others understand what it is like to be autistic and nonverbal.
I can remember the smell in my old elementary school classroom. It was like the damp chalk had somehow started to rot. I was in a special ed class with a whole group of kids with diverse challenges. My mind back then was like a tornado; thoughts would spin around and around. I had no real way to express them. This frustration could only come out in waves of behavior. The special education I was getting was less than desirable. There I was- a 9-year-old boy still being taught about colors and shapes, and my ABCs. I could have screamed any answer at the top of my lungs, because this was such a simple education, but it couldn’t come out. It was nonsense. So, no wonder all the educators and counselors thought I was of limited intelligence.
“I love going to Temple and I love you!” These were the first words that I typed for my family. I was in the office of Darlene Hansen, the speech pathologist at REACH (Resources, Education, Advocacy, Communication, Housing.) Mom and Dad found out that some people desiring to speak aloud had learned to use typing to communicate. They employed independent organizations to support them. Mom thought this might work for me. She found Darlene, who is a prominent advocate for typing independently to communicate. Darlene established that I wanted to demonstrate my intelligence, and she was the first person to start typing with me.
I was nine years old and feeling very anxious, but proving my intelligence beat any anxiety. In addition, Darlene’s presence was loving and calm like a summer day and it was possible to bring each moment to my focused awareness and begin expressing myself for the first time. I felt so excited! For the first time I could voice my thoughts and feelings to everyone. It was as if I had some crazy super power I didn’t know I had, like I only just discovered being able to fly. In the beginning, communication moved slowly. It’s like exercising at the gym; everyday you must work out your typing muscle. Motivation is easy for me because I am very driven. Learning to type independently has helped me to imagine a hopeful future for myself and other people like me.
People unused to autistic people like me probably think that voiceless means brainless, but that is wrong! We are intelligent, quietly pondering the information that we get from the world around us and processing it carefully. If you ask a person like me to give an opinion on a topic I guarantee we will be able to offer you something profound; we just need to type it out! It is really essential to consider that typing is a complex process. We are performing many movements that are physical and mental. For this reason, when you communicate with a typer like me you must be very patient. Another great thing is to be curious in your interactions with people like me. It’s great when people want to know more about me and ask me questions. I’m happy to answer those questions, and there will be things I will want to know about you too! When people are interested in me and others in the autism community, it makes us feel included and not alienated. We have a lot to say if you are ready to listen.
In the future, I hope people with autism will not have to experience the same frustrations at school that I did. Hopefully more people will have access to typing like I did and will be able to show the world how capable they are. The iPad took me out of communication darkness. I also hope that people understand that a communication disorder is not an intellectual disorder. My mind is like a space rocket. I’m focused on my goal and ready to blast off into a universe of knowledge. When people understand and accept those in the autism community like me, it helps us to imagine a much brighter future.