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Emma Tekstra > Children  > Underestimated

I finally got around to watching the most incredible documentary this week, Spellers. It tells the stories of eight non-speaking young people with autism who learned to communicate through a letterboard. For their entire lives everyone including their families had assumed they were cognitively impaired as they showed no sign of understanding or expression of feelings. How wrong they were.

Autism is an incredibly complex condition often involving multiple systems in the body that need to be addressed one by one to improve overall health. I have been fascinated by autism since I was a teenager watching my favorite TV show at the time, St Elsewhere, where one of the main characters had an autistic son. Originally planning to go into medicine God had other plans for me. But then my own son was diagnosed with Aspergers at age 5 and I found myself right back in the thick of it. I studied everything I could get my hands on to figure out how to help my son who had physical health problems, social and communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors.  

The latest diagnostic manual (DSM-5) has grouped autism and Aspergers together as Autism Spectrum Disorders but as J.B. Handley describes in his book Underestimated: An Autism Miracle (cowritten with his son Jamie) these non-speakers have the “real autism”.  Trapped inside a body that won’t cooperate to communicate with the outside world they are misunderstood and undervalued as members of society.

The relatively new tool in the autism tool box, known as Spelling to Communicate or S2C, is a revolution for the estimated 50 million non-speakers worldwide.

This relatively new tool in the autism toolbox, known as Spelling to Communicate or S2C, is a revolution for the estimated 50 million non-speakers worldwide. It is also highlighting that one critical factor in autism is the disconnection between the brain and the body’s fine motor skills. Cognition and language are processed in a completely different area of the brain to movement. The complexity of the fine motor skills needed to form words, type on a keyboard or write with a pen are mind-boggling. The rest of us take them for granted but they highlight the miracle of the human body that is consistently underestimated by those who don’t believe in God.

The wonderful souls who have been unlocked from their prisons using S2C are articulate, caring, insightful and often highly intelligent. The world is a better place for their contributions.

Beyond the autism world are other individuals unable to communicate through illness, stroke or other damage to their body. Let’s make sure to not underestimate what is going on inside their brains and the contribution they make to humanity. Every human has a story to tell and a role to play.

I am eternally grateful that my son doesn’t have “the real autism” and has healed from the worst of his afflictions. I know him to be an extremely intelligent, thoughtful and caring young man. However the movie did convict me of underestimating even my own son. He is now 3 months into his Freshman year at college in another state and almost weekly he’ll do something, achieve something or say something that has me amazed. It brings tears to my eyes to think about how I once was resigned to him working in a menial job and always living at home.  Let us never underestimate those we love or those we meet along the way.

Emma Tekstra
1 Comment
  • Adrienne Freedman
    Posted at 9:52 pm, November 11, 2023

    Thank you, Emma, what a fascinating article and so coherent for me . Well done and hope your interest now will help many people xxx

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