Being able to write this blog is something I have dreamed of my whole life. A lot of people doubt my intelligence, I now have the tools and confidence to prove them wrong and tell my story. My name is Divyesh Jain and I am an autistic who spells to communicate. I am an unreliable speaker with a lot to contribute. Sometimes others who are uneducated about the neurodiverse population mistake my eccentric impulses as purposeful acts. This blog was written to explain the ins and outs of my neurodiverse brain and advocate for others like me.
I am capable of interpreting what I read and hear on the radio, TV etc. But cannot convey my thoughts by speaking. If I had not learned spelling to communicate, I would not have received a proper high school education or participated in advocacy groups. I learned to speak early in my life but was not able to convey my thoughts to others. I tried many other options before S2C, but my body was not compatible with any of them. The spelling to communicate (S2C) method works for me because the communication regulation partner (CRP) helps me regulate my body and I can focus on spelling my thoughts. I think all people with communication challenges should have access to alternative communication methods that work for them. Being able to communicate my thoughts has changed the way everyone perceives me. Now people respect me as an intelligent adult who can make decisions.
Before spelling to communicate, getting the education and respect I deserved seemed impossible. It’s hard to write about the days when everyone mistreated and judged me, but it is important to tell my story. I spent most of my life wasting away in special education classrooms. Each year I was asked the same remedial questions to test my intelligence. Since I was unable to write or speak the correct answers, I was presumed incompetent. Until I met Dr. Dana Johnson, I assumed no one would ever truly understand me. I still remember the day she came to observe my special Ed class like it was yesterday. She came in ready to advocate and help showcase my abilities.
Shortly after meeting Dana, I started at Invictus Academy of Tampa Bay. Invictus is a school for spellers just like me, who have motor and sensory differences. Each teacher presumes competence and teaches at grade level. This is the model that I believe should be implemented in all school settings with non and unreliable speakers. We need a place where we can express ourselves fully while not getting judged for our out of control, impulsive bodies. An inclusive school would be more than just age-appropriate curriculum. There needs to be an emphasis on movement and motor support as well. In a perfect world, each school would have a full time occupational therapist (OT) on staff. Having a school that presumes competence and supports motor challenges will help autistics like me reach their potential. The state arranges aid for students who require additional support in the form of scholarships. These scholarships paid for some of my tuition at Invictus. I truly hope autistics can go to school with their peers and get age-appropriate instruction.
I have made so many new acquaintances throughout my spelling journey that I now consider to be close friends. I love to identify topics that have interesting applications in the speller community. We are emerging throughout the public sector as awareness spreads worldwide. Become informed in the way you perceive individuals with autism. Challenges become accomplishments when we can change our generalizations about those who are different from us. Gaining mass awareness of our abilities is what I aim to accomplish with this blog. This awesome neurodiverse community grants me the ability to have a truly fulfilling social life which seemed impossible a few years ago. All the people that I spend time with presume competence and respect my intelligence. I am grateful for all those that have helped me along the way.
I have not figured out my strategy for the near future. I want to attend University of Tampa to study anthropology to gain understanding of what people with autism have been through throughout history. Beginning in a community college will help me pursue my goals. The skills I need for college are within reach. By practicing these skills, I grow closer to reaching my goals. I have an amazing support system in place as well as beyond-supportive parents. Each one of my friends is on a path to their own version of success.
Many spellers are advocating for our right to use letterboards as a means of communication in academic and professional settings. Change on a national scale is needed to create a world where most people presume competence. Many people still are unaware that autistics can communicate this way. Mastering the skills for spelling is something I have to constantly work on. I am a great speller when I am regulated but sometimes my body will not cooperate and spelling becomes impossible to carry out. These instances are the greatest challenge to my future college goals. I am really happy I have made as much progress as I have.
My letterboard is the most essential tool in my toolbox. All the thoughts in my head are not accessible without it. The main reason I am so adamant about being able to access the letterboard is the hard truth that some people would never think of me as an intelligent human without some sort of proof. So many times in my life, I have needed to prove myself to neurotypical individuals because of their ignorance regarding autism. Americans need to lead the way with presuming competence with autistics without requiring them to prove themselves to everyone they meet. Many autistics are presumed less than competent because they are unable to learn the skills for spelling without the help of a parent that makes an effort to find a practitioner and learn to spell with their son or daughter. All parents must have the resources to learn about neurodiversity and the brain body disconnect in order to presume competence with their son or daughter.
My absolute greatest efforts have gone into my advocacy work. Getting to pave the road for spellers of the future is a tremendous responsibility and honor. Awesome advocates from all over the world are working together to spread knowledge of what autistics are capable of through blogs and social media. Sharing real stories that provide insight about things that autistics have been through is the best way to spread awareness of neurodiversity and S2C. Large shifts are going to happen in the next generation as they already have in my generation. Being part of those shifts has to be all of our responsibilities. Let us all prove that we are more than our bodies let on. Our potential is more than you would ever expect.
Divyesh is a nonspeaking individual from Tampa, FL who can spell to communicate. His goal is to make mostly neurotypicals understand how we are on the inside. Right when he met Dana at her clinic he knew his life would never be the same.