The Person Who Taught Me That Even If You Can’t Speak, You Can Still Have Something to Say

Even though I was in a multi-handicapped classroom growing up, most of my classmates had ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, etc., but few had an autism diagnosis. I didn’t a peer with autism until I was a young adult. Because of that, I grew up not really grasping how wide the spectrum of autism really is.

Then I learned about Carly Fleischmann, a 20-year-old nonverbal adult from Toronto, who’s one of the leading voices we have in the autism community today. Diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 , Carly has lived with an oral motor condition that’s prevented her from speaking. While going through therapies, like many of us do on the autism spectrum, Carly found her voice through the help of a laptop. Today she has conversations and shares her thoughts via her computer and iPad. 

The first time I heard about this profound individual was when her book “Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism” came out in the fall of 2012. Until then, I mistakenly considered individuals with autism who were nonverbal as people on the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Carly helped changed the conversation for me. I was unaware, and Carly helped opened my eyes to the abilities and brilliance of not only those who are nonverbal but those on all ends of the spectrum.

Later I would become even more aware of some of the challenges those with autism go through when Carly came out with a website called Carly’s Caféwhich shows what an individual with autism can go through when experiencing sensory overload. Much like in her book, it opened up another lens to the already wide spectrum I’d been learning about.

That’s the message I hope to leave with you today. I hope you understand that even if someone is unable to speak, it doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. Currently, it’s projected that one third of children and adults with autism are nonverbal in our community, but today some of the most brilliant individuals I know are on that end of the spectrum.

It just goes to show you, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” And if you’re nonverbal, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice and something to say.

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