“Quiet people have the loudest minds.” Stephen Hawking.
Thousands of nonspeakers around the world are spelling fluently on letterboards and keyboards. They are graduating from regular high schools and colleges. They have had their lives and dreams returned to them. And yet millions remain underestimated and misunderstood. It’s time to start listening.
These are, respectively, the opening and closing title cards of the new movie Spellers, a pro-FC documentary directed by Pat R. Notaro, III and based loosely on J.B. Handley’s Underestimated: An Autism Miracle. (See our review here). The movie’s trailer also includes this quote:
There’s never any doubt in my mind when someone walks into my room that they can and will spell for me. That they can and do want to learn.
The underlying message: all non-speakers have the capacity to spell out sophisticated messages.
On first pass I found this Wall Street Journal account of Jeffrey Epstein’s error-filled emails funny, seeing as how typos and spelling mistakes were the least of his problems.
But in fact, and like the WSJ, I find his sloppiness both interesting and disturbing. Creepy even. Everything about the man’s access to the upper tiers of money, politics, and academics feels so off, and his emails are one more thing. Written communication in normal business and professional circles looks nothing like this.
Epstein’s messages, which were peppered with typos and spelling errors, tried to give the impression that he was a close Gates adviser. . . .
“In essence this [fund] will allow Bill to have access to higher quality people , investment , allocation , governance without upsetting either his marriage or the sensitvites of the current foundation employees,” Epstein wrote on Aug. 16, 2011 to two top JPMorgan executives, Jes Staley and Mary Erdoes.
The next day Epstein wrote, “Bill is terribly frustrated. He woud! like to boost some of the things that are working without taking away from thoses that are not.”
On Oct. 2, he sent another email to Staley and Erdoes criticizing a presentation that JPMorgan had prepared on the project. “the presentation, is not tailored to bill.. He is the only person , the only one, that counts.”
In two of my recent posts, I discussed what we know about motor difficulties, intentional control difficulties, and apraxia in autism. As we saw, such difficulties neither justify the need for FC, nor explain why facilitated individuals (a) sometimes pronounce words that are at odds with their facilitated typing and (b) demonstrate cognitive skills during neuropsychological evaluations that are well below the cognitive skills they show when they’re being facilitated.
There is no empirical evidence that the motor difficulties in autism include difficulties with pointing.
Language assessments that prompt autistic individuals with motor difficulties to point to things, therefore, do not underestimate their receptive language skills.
Apraxia of speech (AOS) cannot be diagnosed in minimal speakers: AOS involves difficulty consistently producing combinations of vowels and consonants, and the smaller a child’s consonant and vowel repertoire, the harder it is to detect these difficulties and inconsistencies.
There is no evidence of a “motor disinhibition” problem in autism (or in any other condition) that causes people to point to item A when they want to point to item B, to say the word “yes” when they intend to say “no”, to throw random objects instead of cleaning up, or to follow a multi-step procedure unless they type it out first.
In autism, gross motor problems are about as prevalent as fine motor problems, so converting a fine motor task into a gross motor task does not, as a general rule, result in a more accessible, autism-friendly task.
Pointing is fine motor, not gross motor.
In this post, I’ll say one more thing pertaining to motor difficulties, and then I’ll turn to two other autism-related challenges that are supposed to explain away some of the concerns about FC: echolalia and word-retrieval difficulties.