The common misperception that nonverbal children, particularly those diagnosed with autism, are not aware of what goes on around them or are devoid of feeling is completely destroyed in the book, Seven Keys to Unlock Autism: Making Miracles in the Classroom. Co-author Elaine Hall was present at the Vista Del Mar Annual Autism Conference in November to moderate an “Ask the Artists” children’s panel, where a young man named Dashiell elaborated on a piece of writing he contributed to the book. Dashiell is a 12-year-old “minimally fluent” autistic boy. With supportive typing, he is able to convey his thoughts and emotions. Dashiell, who rarely looks up or makes eye contact, wrote the following to help people understand what goes on inside his mind:
“I wish people didn’t make fun of me. They don’t see me. They only see my disability. If they only knew I am an intelligent man who is saddened by people who tease me. I hope my story will help others understand that autism is not a disease you might catch but a condition that gives me the ability to see things that others don’t.
I can see words in pictures and music in colors. I have the ability to use my sensitivity to understand when a person is hurt emotionally. The only thing that makes me different is that my voice sounds young even though my mind is older. I hope that one day, my voice will match my mind. The only thing that keeps me from understanding others is their ignorance. Sometimes people think that I am not an intelligent person and that I don’t have feelings. I can only help myself by learning about my condition. Others should do the same. Together we can . . . make a difference in building a better society. One of kindness, understanding, and love.”
Merry Potter, Publisher of Family Magazine Group, was present at the conference and had the good fortune to sit at the same table with Dashiell and his mother during a lunch break. Potter had just purchased a copy of Seven Keys to Unlock Autism and asked Dashiell for his autograph. Dashiell continued to eat and look down. His mother apologized. Potter says she believes with all her heart that children with autism are smarter than us. She said to Dashiell, “You did a great job. You write better than most adults.” Dashiell looked up for the first time during the meal. He practiced writing his name on a piece of paper and then wrote it in big letters on his page in the book. Potter held out her hand to shake his, but Dashiell’s mother told her he doesn’t like to touch people.
Potter realized that speaking to Dashiell on an adult level was getting a response. She told him to “keep writing,” and Dashiell shook her hand. His mother was amazed in the same way that those who attended the children’s panel were shocked at the eloquence of the panelists.
“They’re trying to make us understand,” Potter said. “They have to be very creative about it and think differently. If you communicate with them on an adult level, they get it. They are almost trying not to be condescending to us.”
Dashiell was 10 years old when he wrote his piece for Seven Keys to Unlock Autism. His writing gives a sense of the depth and intelligence behind the “nonverbal” label and how much harder nonverbal children have to work to communicate and be understood.
Seven Keys to Unlock Autism outlines seven integrated keys for educators and parents to make meaningful connections with children on the autism spectrum. For more information, go here.