Growing up I knew very few individuals who had autism. Even though I was in a multi-handicapped classroom most of my classmates had ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, etc. but very few had an autism diagnosis. I wouldn’t even really meet a peer with autism until I was a young adult. Because of that reason, I grew up not really grasping how wide the spectrum of autism really was.

Then I learned about Carly Fleischmann. Carly who is a 20-year-old non-verbal adult from Toronto, Canada is one of the leading voices we have in the autism community today. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two , Carly has suffered from an oral motor condition that has prevented her from speaking until this day. While going through therapies like many of us do on the autism spectrum, Carly found her voice through the help of a laptop. Today she has conversations and shares her thoughts via her laptop and her iPad.

The first time I heard about this profound individual was when her book Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism came out in the fall of 2012. Until then, I mistakenly considered individuals with autism who were nonverbal as on the low functioning end of the autism spectrum. Carly helped changed the conversation for me. I was unaware and Carly helped opened my eyes to the abilities and brilliance of not only those who are non-verbal but those on all ends of the autism spectrum.

Later I would become even more aware of some of the challenges those with autism go through when Carly came out with a website called Carly’s Café which shows what an individual with autism can go through when they deal with sensory overload, ( a condition I had experienced throughout my life). In this scenario, it was when Carly was in a coffee shop with several friends. Much like in her book, it opened up another lens to the already wide spectrum I had learned about autism.

And that’s the message I hope to leave with you today. For those who are reading this, I hope you understand that even if someone is unable to speak doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. Currently, it is projected that one third of children and adults with autism are nonverbal in our community but today some of the most brilliant individuals I know are on that end of the spectrum. The conversation doesn’t end at Carly but others such as Ido Kedar, another young adult on the autism spectrum who communicates via a letter board and iPad who wrote the best-selling book “Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison”. These are just two examples of brilliant nonverbal individuals with autism who are breaking down barriers of ignorance in our community today.

It just goes to show you, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” and for some who are non-verbal that even if you can’t speak doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice and something to say…