Nonverbal autistic teenagers “speak out”

Amanda Baggs (see the entry “Non-verbal Autism and Intelligence – some myths debunked”) is not the only nonverbal autistic person who communicates through a computer.

More than a year ago, in March 2007, PBS Boston station, WBUR broadcast a program about about Portia Iverson, an Emmy-winning Hollywood art director and the author of Strange Son: Two Mothers, Two Sons, and the Quest to Unlock the Hidden World of Autism, and her son Dov who was diagnosed as severely autistic when he was 18 months.

After the Iversons learned how Soma Mukhopadhyay from Bangalore, India has taught her autistic son Tito to communicate through a board with alphabet and numerals written on it, they have invited Mukhopadhyay and Tito to the United States, and Mukhopadhyay has taught the Prompting Method to Dov as well.

Mukhopadhyay is now the Executive Director of HALO (Helping Autism Through Learning and Outreach) – a non-profit organization located in Austin, Texas where she provides 1:1 educational instructional sessions for students with autism and similar disorders.

Iverson, who co-founded the Cure Autism Now Foundation (now Autism Speaks), also runs a web site which discusses not only the book but, among other things, the pointing method as well.

A couple of months ago, in February 2008, ABC News showed a story about Carly Fleishman, a thirteen-year-old who has begun to type on the family computer. (You can see the footage if you click on the “play” button in the picture of Carly.)

As I understand, there’s a disagreement whether both Amanda Baggs and these stories are a hoax, and some people cannot believe that a nonverbal autistic person can communicate, make videos, write poetry, or even just be able to type full sentences. You can see some negative opinions like that in the “Comments” to the entry “Your Opinion Requested: Are Non-Verbal People with Autism Intellectually Capable?” on the Autism Blog by Lisa Jo Rudy.

What is the truth? I do not know.

But just think about Stephen Hawking. He cannot talk, he can communicate only through an adaptive device, yet nobody would deny he’s a genius.

Is it really so hard to believe that autistic people who cannot talk are more aware of their surroundings than they can show?


  1. It is a bit complicated.

    Amanda’s main detractors seem mostly interested in the fact that she was doing so well around the age of 15 that she even attended a college for gifted students briefly. She has relatively recent videos posted where she is singing in her own voice.

    She also apparently has a schedule of similar complexity to a sitting United States Senator.

    However, I don’t think she is a fraud per se. She’s an absolutely perfect example that no matter how bright you are or how well you write or whatever other capabilities you might have, the mainstream of society has absolutely no use for you unless you look a certain way, act a certain way, talk a certain way, and use the facilities in a certain way.

    Fact of the matter is, in an odd sort of way, yes, if this culture were sufficiently tolerant she WOULDN’T be considered disabled, per se …

Speak Your Mind