The View from Here — But You Can SPEAK!3 min read

A handful of the stu­dents we work with at Reach Every Voice have a decent amount of speech. We’ve learned, though, that many of our stu­dents con­sider their speech unre­li­able and will ask us to listen to their VOICE — the one they’ve found by using the let­ter­boards. This is tricky, right? Our society makes quick judge­ments based on our ini­tial impres­sions. If your first impres­sion of a stu­dent is scripted, lim­ited speech, it’s easy to make the assump­tion that this output is inten­tional and, per­haps, reflec­tive of their cog­ni­tion. It can be hard to rec­on­cile how what is coming out our stu­dents’ mouths is in direct oppo­si­tion to what they’re typing on the boards. Today, William and Ashna, who both are able to speak, explain why for them this speech is NOT what we should be lis­tening to.


Can some of you voice songs and say some­thing entirely dif­ferent at the same time? Since I can, I’d like to make the argu­ment for my supe­rior brain. I’m autistic, not stupid.

The first time I met the prin­cipal at my school, I chanted ‚“Hallelujah!” loudly in his face. Kind of putting a lot of meaning to it, he said, “I’m flat­tered.” If I’d had my let­ter­board with me, I would likely have said, “Trust my finger, not my speech.” Same as a Deaf person. I hate how my intel­li­gence is judged by how I speak.

This per­cep­tion is not helped by the non­sense that falls out of my mouth. Just now, while writing that sen­tence about Deaf people, I clearly said aloud, “The boy is riding a bicycle.” Total ABA flash­back. There are no boys or bikes any­where near me. That doesn’t mean that I’m stupid or that I’m thinking about boys or bikes. What it does mean is that I’m like a parrot on steroids with the world’s best memory.

That should give you a sense of why I type even though I can speak.


This is my voice. Yes, I speak, but this is my voice. Today I sound like a thirty-five year old woman who sits here speaking each letter I point to. WTF?! Tomorrow I will sound like a woman my mom’s age. WTF?! Occasionally, I sound like my dad. I’m no ven­tril­o­quist. I use a let­ter­board to com­mu­ni­cate.

(In case you didn’t catch that, my voice is heard through the people speaking let­ters out loud as I point to them on a let­ter­board.)

The thing is, I also speak. The things that come out my mouth are mostly things I mem­o­rized in response to cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Someone says hi and my mind scrolls rapidly through faces while I try to have my mouth form their name.

Too often I scroll through a few names until the right one comes out. If you only listen to my speech, you would think I don’t know anyone’s name. This is how the world inter­prets intel­li­gence.

Sometimes my speech says one thing and my let­ter­board voice says another. This after­noon, my speech said “Yes” to mom’s offer to give me a snack, but my let­ter­board voice said, “I don’t need one.” Though she knows to trust my let­ter­board voice, I still saw her hes­i­tate to trust what I typed. To be fair, though, I’m not one to turn down a snack. But aren’t we all enti­tled to change our rou­tines?

Now that I have a reli­able way to com­mu­ni­cate, don’t take that voice away by trusting my speech to say any­thing more than what I’ve mem­o­rized. I sound about as good as a trained parrot. Talking and intel­li­gence are not the same. Please show some respect and honor the voice I choose.  

Ashna is an ninth grader in Maryland who cares about doing good talking points for autism and rapid prompting method.

William is a fif­teen year old guy who com­mu­ni­cates by spelling and is nav­i­gating the second year of main­streamed edu­ca­tion.

Editor’s note: This blog was orig­i­nally pub­lished at Reach Every Voice. Reproduced with per­mis­sion from the authors and the school.

The Aspergian
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  1. Serious ques­tion here. Why would someone want to use a let­ter­board rather than a vocal com­mu­ni­ca­tion system that gives out whole phrases? I under­stand cost and avail­ability but I get the impres­sion some are choosing it over other options. I’m con­fused why.

    1. A let­ter­board allows the user to slow down and con­trol their ability to point accu­rately to what­ever they would like to spell. It is very phys­i­cally chal­lenging. A “vocal com­mu­ni­ca­tion system,” which is typ­i­cally on an iPad , could be con­sid­ered an advanced skill, as it requires great motor plan­ning to use. Many non-speakers, or, in this case, unre­li­able speakers, have also been diag­nosed with severe apraxia–so slowly and pre­cisely plan­ning inten­tional actions, such as pointing accu­rately, are chal­lenging.

  2. Shirley — my son Ben is away until tomorrow and I will ask him if he wants to reply to you, using his pre­ferred com­mu­ni­ca­tion device, his let­ter­board.

  3. I am afraid I cannot relate to the ques­tion “Why would someone want to use a let­ter­board rather than a vocal com­mu­ni­ca­tion system” at all.

    Why do we need to ask this? Why do we need to under­stand?

    Can we not just note that they DO, and respect their wishes?

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