“Next Adventures”

A story & a song by Joel Nyland

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM

For the last year, Joel has been writing songs with Brian Laidlaw, through the organization Unrestricted Interest. Last autumn Brian (who loves rock climbing) scaled a huge cliff called El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and when he described the experience, Joel said that it reminded him of his own process – long, arduous, scary, and amazing – of learning to use the letterboard. Joel wrote the song “Next Adventures” to explore that connection, and wrote the essay below to elaborate. 

Joel’s first full-length album, Presume Competency, is being released this month; you can purchase or stream it on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever else you like to listen to tunes! 

I was 16 years old and my mom brought home the stencils and lessons. 

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPMI did not trust that it would work. We had tried many things before RPM. The other programs were too heavy in motor demands. I did not want to do the lessons at first. I was slow to get the hang of it. My mind races way ahead and my body is too slow. I can get mad quickly, then my mind is not accessible. I get mad at my slow body. RPM and S2C help me regulate. I recommend both programs.

I imagine there is a lot of preparation when someone climbs El Capitan. My preparation for RPM and S2C came in the form of a Sonrise Playroom for 5 years. I trained over 70 volunteers on how to be comfortable being with an autistic non-speaker. Some volunteers were more fun than others. My mom helped a lot. I learned to look at people. I learned to control my eyes. I learned to control my bowels. I imagine climbing without bowel control would be messy.

Sonrise helped me learn a helpful attitude about autism. It also helped my parents a lot.

Climbing is demanding on the mind and body. Using a letterboard is similar. Except with a letterboard there are no heights. Except for the ones non-speakers imagine. I was afraid no one would want to listen to me. 

“The hardest part of a climb is called the crux.” ~Brian

My crux was trusting my mom. She changed. She learned from me. Yes, I am a teacher. Letting go of judgments is essential. I want everyone to accept themself. Be grateful. Be kind. Laugh at yourself. 

Knots are lifelines in climbing, just like in life. Knots can be hard to untie.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM, Practitioner, Regulation“I am proud to use a letterboard to communicate,” in front of 50 people, Joel spelled to advocate that nonspeaking need to be recognized as intelligent human beings. He is persistent. His words and actions remind others to be kind and useful. Every day advocating for the spelling community, Joel Nyland was a “spellibrity ambassador” in 2020, performed at Boards & Chords, featured in “Friends Forever” blog, and surely more to come.



The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy and research I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C) with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association


Posted By on Wednesday, August 25th, 2021 in Advocacy,Autism,Community,Families,Nonspeakers,S2C,Spelling to Communicate

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