“We are the perfect example of intelligence working itself out in a different way.”
– Tracy Thresher –
The night before we took Clay to see a presentation by Tracy Thresher, we asked if he wanted to prepare some questions or thoughts to share.
Tracy, one of the stars of the movie Wretches & Jabberers, learned later in life to communicate through typing and has been spreading the word ever since not to judge people with autism by what you see. (Wretches and Jabberers follows Tracy and his friend Larry Bissonnette as they travel to Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland to type with others who have broken out of the silent world of autism.)
We figured he offered a rare role model for Clay. Clay’s typing teacher invited us to attend the presentation, which took place at a school run by Celebrate the Children.
Clay made it clear he didn’t want to prepare anything, but we hoped once we got there he might have some thoughts.
With that in mind, off we went this past Friday morning on the two-hour drive to the presentation. We arrived nearly an hour early, as planned, so the little guy could blow off some steam before the lecture.
With about 10 minutes to go, we headed in to grab some seats.
The school had set up tables near the front for kids that wanted to type questions, so we found a place of honor for the little guy. He still hit “no” on his iPad when we asked if he wanted to type some questions for Tracy, but we hadn’t given up, yet.
While Clay cruised through some music, Tracy typed with his aid, Harvey Lavoy.
Finally, typing teacher Lisa Romaine get the presentation under way.
With the help of slides, Tracy talked about how Harvey helped him become an advocate, about making the film and the crucial importance of recognizing the intelligence of those with autism. He read from the slides when he could. His aide, Harvey, read others.
Here is the text from one slide:
“Not being able to express myself was like being in a world of silence. I couldn’t tell people what I liked and didn’t like. People thought I was retarded, that I didn’t understand what was being said to me. It was frustrating and made me angry, and I withdrew.”
“By teaching others to make their voices heard to self advocate I feel like my life has purpose. It is the work you have to do for yourself my fellow self advocates. Practice using your voice until you find your purpose in life.”
“My life has changed dramatically since the release of our film. I now have the beginning of the life I dreamt of. I have inspired others through my blog to communicate their stories.”
“The film Wretches and Jabberers has changed the way I see myself. It is like looking in the mirror for the first time. I like myself better now. It feels better to know I might look intelligent to the World now.”
When it was time for the audience to ask questions, they didn’t hold back. (The difficulty of typing for these guys makes for no-nonsense questions and answers.) Here is some of that session:
“How did you get over your anger about having autism?”
“Well making a documentary movie and traveling the world did not hurt but lots of typing sensory work and lectures from harvey got me past my anger.”
“How can you stay calm when you can’t talk?”
“I found my purpose in life and with that my inner peace i am doing what i want and liking it there are times the beast comes out still but i am more in control now”
“What is it like typing with your parents and do you have any advice for parents?”
“To parents I say have hope open up your minds to the possibility that your child is intelligent we are and i do some typing with my mother. The hard part is dealing with my moms anxiety.”
“How do you feel about people seeing you [melt down in the film]?
“I think it is important for people to know the whole story and not just the movie handsome star but the ugly too i also feel proud of the progress.”
It was about this time that Clay indicated on his iPad that he needed a bathroom break.We followed that with another vigorous swinging session.
Tracy’s session ran for nearly two hours. We stopped in for brief visits a couple of times after that, but Clay had had enough of sitting in the auditorium. We were hoping he might have a question or comment to offer Tracy, but it wasn’t to be.
As we climbed into the car to begin the long drive home, my wife asked Clay what he thought.
“we were so sad that we couldnt stay. awesome to see tracy. he is an amazing speaker.”
“What did you learn from him?”
“so many special things like we are all sad. we still want to type at school. so bored. we still want to learn new things. nice day. thanks for bringing me here.”
Thank you Tracy Thresher for offering Clay (and his parents) hope for a productive life ahead.