Why I am an Advocate for Nonspeakers Like Me

By: Ryan Heller

Lots of people have communication issues they need assistance with. Nonspeakers and unreliable speakers like me need assistance through a letterboard or keyboard. We need to be  taught by a trained professional to use these tools and we need access to communication at all times. My blog discusses learning to spell and the lessons I have learned. I’ve got so much to share.  

This first blog describes my first time with Dawn Marie at Transcending Apraxia. We went to San Diego to meet her. In San Diego we entered the building and she told me, “I know you are intelligent,” and “I understand just because you can’t speak doesn’t mean you are any less intelligent than anyone else.” No one had ever said that to me before like that. I had heard my mom say once, “If Ryan didn’t have autism he would have gone to Berkeley like his sister,” but that meant that I wouldn’t go to Berkeley.

In the office sat my parents, not with me but behind me. They were more into their phones than what we were doing. Then she told my mom, just watch. Then both my mom and dad watched, not understanding each thing I knew yet. After all this eye opening stuff my mom asked, “Did he spell England?”  In which she said, “Yes, I asked him who we fought in the Revolutionary War.”  Then my mom told my dad and she started to cry. My dad started to cry.  She tried to explain that every autistic person has taught themselves so much. So for another hour I answered questions that no one knew I knew.

At this point in writing my blog my mom, who is my Communication Regulation Partner (CRP), asked “What do you think it was about meeting she that allowed you to show what you knew?” I answered, “Stop interrupting. Not sure maybe her confidence in me. The interesting thing was she was talking to me really fast and no one had ever spoken to me like that.  Usually people would speak slowly to me.”

I study really hard. My mom was shocked. All she let out was tears. My prayers were answered. I always wanted my family to know I was smart.  

My dad stood up to hug me, yet I couldn’t make myself hug him. So not a deal breaker, my alternative ran like this: stood up and ran out of the room because I was very emotional. Dawn Marie understood all that was going on. I ran back into the room and spelled more. I can’t put into words all the emotions.  

When the session ended my mom called only everyone in the large Irish, Italian family. She let every last relative in America know! In my family the word was spread like wildfire. Never had I seen mom so happy. 

To the public, Ryan is only everyone’s personal pet story. But the real story is Spelling to Communicate. In the world there are an estimated 50 million unreliable or nonspeakers. In the world honestly there are like 3,000 spellers.

Understand spelling is very tiring for us. To see people start to spell that are not used to it, you will see the struggle. To all the spellers on the path you must persevere. 

I am stoked to present with Elizabeth Vosseller. My other spelling top talents is to pay tribute.  To pay tribute stays on my list of reasons to persevere, to pay tribute to people that are advocating for nonspeakers.

Another question from Mom: “Why are you willing to go co-present with Elizabeth Vosseller in front of so many people?” My answer: “You know why. To advocate! “

So to stay focused on the story you, spellers, are worth so much. Please, you are pint sized but are a mighty force. All the spellers are a tiny group but we are a mighty force. You, spellers, are the voice for 50 million people around the world. To all nonspeakers, all of us will not stop fighting for your voice. I will attend any venue which lets me prove S2C is real and that we are not stupid.

To American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) the pool of spellers is growing everyday. It’s going to get hard to deny our truth. So watch everyday, the truth will set us free. Join me in every bike ride with training wheels. Very excited for the day that ASHA believes nonspeakers who communicate with letterboards. Very stoked to teach the truth.

To start learning the truth about nonspeakers, check out our Myth and Fact campaign. Join the Spellers & Allies Advocacy Network for our presentation on March 5, 2023 to learn more about nonspeaking people. If you are a speller and you want to advocate too, come and join the Spellers & Allies Advocacy Network. Get in touch with us at spellers-allies@i-asc.org.


My name is Ryan Heller.  I have only been spelling to communicate for one and a half years.  I am 24 years old and I joined the Spellers & Allies Advocacy Network because I want to prove we are not intellectually impaired rather we need access to spelling as our way to communicate.  I was considered unteachable in school and spent my life in life skills classes. I started college in January 2023.

Posted By on Tuesday, February 28th, 2023 in Families,Nonspeakers,S2C,Spelling to Communicate

One response to “Why I am an Advocate for Nonspeakers Like Me”

  1. David Teplitz says:

    Hi Ryan,
    You can go to Berkeley just like your sister. I did! I loved your post. I am so happy to see so many people typing/spelling to communicate now for years I was the only person who did this.
    David Teplitz

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