I spent the majority of my education at approved private schools for students with autism. I am here to tell you that my teachers loved me, but I was continually taught the same things for the entire time I was there. I am talking almost 16 years of repetition!
I wish my teachers could see me now! I wonder how they would react. I wonder if it would make them change their way of teaching. I survived those years by retreating into daydreams in my mind. It was the most depressing time in my life. Just one good thing happened during that time. I began learning how to teach myself! Today all of what I know I taught myself by being on the computer and listening intently to everything going on around me. I don’t think my teachers had any idea of my intelligence. Frequently I would have meltdowns in class. One day I was taken down to the behavior support room where I was held down by large men who gave me bruises in the shape of their handprints on my thighs. That was their idea of behavior support. Yes, autism can be hard to control sometimes, but I don’t believe being abused is the solution!
I can’t describe how demoralizing those years were. I don’t blame my parents or even my teachers, frankly. They were just doing their best with the incorrect information they had about me at the time.
How can we help nonspeakers in school today? One obvious answer is to presume competence. Teach them age-appropriate material. Each nonspeaker may not appear to be listening or learning, but trust me, they are. Read them age-appropriate books. Autistics can listen even if they are wandering around and talking over top of you. It is a coping skill they have learned that enables them to listen better!
The next thing is to allow letterboards in schools. There is a bias that the CRP is influencing the speller, so many schools don’t allow them. I am most definitely NOT influenced by my CRP. They are there for encouragement as well as regulation. They never tell me what to say. One of my friends goes to a very progressive school in Philadelphia where he is encouraged to use his letterboard. He is one of their top students who recently won their presidential award. I applaud the courage of his teachers and school to allow him the opportunity.
The last thing I would suggest is to have the schools learn about apraxia and how it affects us in every possible way. They need to see the role it plays in our struggles. Every apraxic nonspeaker I know will tell you it is their number one issue, and with the right support, it can be conquered. Then, students going forward may actually learn something in school!
Imagine the possibilities!
If your school wants to learn more about nonspeaking people, get in touch with I-ASC’s Spellers & Allies Advocacy Network about presenting in your school or to your staff. We would love the opportunity! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gregory Tino is a nonspeaking autistic who has been spelling on a letterboard to communicate since 2017. He is a member of Spellers & Allies Advocacy Network and SEEN (Spellers Empowering Education For Nonspeakers) where he is an advocate for other nonspeakers, presents at conferences, and his goal is to educate people on the incredible capabilities of people with autism. He has written two books, The Land Called Boring and The Autistic Mind Finally Speaks and a third is in the works. He also has written the narrative for multiple videos on his YouTube channel which is entitled Gregory C Tino. In his free time he enjoys writing for his blog The Autistic Mind Finally Speaks on WordPress, spending time with family, and riding his bike.