Recently, Evan and Dara Baylinson gave their son Gordy a choice.
Gordy, a nonverbal teenager on the autism spectrum, could elect to go to either his school’s prom tonight or an “Autism Night Out” hosted by the local Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland.
Gordy, 16, chose the latter and decided to pen a letter to Officer Laurie Reyes, who formed a departmental autism outreach program to train officers on how to interact with people with autism. Gordy’s letter is reprinted below:
Dear Officer Reyes,
My name is Gordy, and I am a teenager with nonspeaking autism. I prefer this term rather than low functioning, because if I am typing you this letter, which I am, I am clearly functioning. I felt very strongly about writing you today, to give a little extra insight on the disconnected links that were supposed to make my brain and body work together in harmony. But, they don’t and that’s okay. You see, life for me and others like me is a daily game, except not fun, of tug-of-war. My brain, which is much like yours, knows what it wants and how to make that clear. My body, which is much like a drunken, almost six-foot toddler, resists.
This letter is not a cry for pity, pity is not what I’m looking for. I love myself just the way I am, drunken toddler body and all. This letter is, however, a cry for attention, recognition and acceptance.
With your attention, I can help you recognize the signs of nonspeaking autism. If you can recognize the signs, then you will be able to recognize our differences which then leads to the understanding of those differences, which brings us to the wonders of acceptance. With these simple ingredients, together we can create a safe, welcoming and happy environment for both autistics and neurotypicals alike.<
The physical signs to look for are flapping hands or some other socially unacceptable movement, words, noises or behavior in general. That’s uncontrollable. With a mind and feelings much like everyone else’s, do you truly believe we like acting that way? I don’t, that’s for sure.
If one becomes aggressive, with biting or hitting for example, obviously protect yourself but there is no reason to use aggression in return. Remember, this aggression, is an uncontrollable reaction, most likely triggered by fear.
Nothing means more to people like us, than respect. I can tell you with almost one hundred percent certainty the situation will go down a lot easier with this knowledge.
I have nothing but respect for you all and everything you do. If it weren’t for you, I would never have had this opportunity to advocate for myself and other autistics. I look forward to meeting you.
Reyes wrote back to Gordy and his parents, inviting them to participate in an autism education session and meet her and fellow officers.
“I always share with the officers I teach to ‘never underestimate’ a person with autism,” Reyes wrote the family. “I also teach them to not associate [being] non-verbal with a lack of intelligence. I continuously stress those two thoughts to my officers. Gordy will help to reinforce this idea yet again.”
But as the Washington Post reported, for many years Evan and Dara Baylinson weren’t sure their son, who didn’t speak, was capable of self-expression. It wasn’t until Gordy was 14, in February 2015, that one of his therapists started using a communication technique called the Rapid Prompting Method, in which Gordy answered questions by pointing to letters on an alphabet board. Now, Gordy utilizes a QWERTY keyboard paired with an iPad. Using this method, Gordy composed his note to Reyes, typing one letter at a time with his index finger. Within two one-hour sessions, Gordy had produced the letter, with no outside coaching or instruction.
For Evan Baylinson, who was originally skeptical of what he worried would be forced “facilitated communication,” his son’s viral moment has proved a point of pride.
“We are overwhelmed by the attention and support we have received,” Baylinson wrote in a message to The Mighty. “We are glad people have a chance to see inside Gordy’s mind and how articulate he is despite his brain/body disconnect.”