For more than 14 years now, Maryland-based Gordy Baylinson has never spoken or acted out what he feels. But after writing a heartwarming letter using a keyboard, his parents have realized that he can indeed comprehend and even absorb everything.
Gordy, who has autism spectrum disorder, typed every letter one at a time using his right index finger. According to his parents Evan and Dara Baylinson, no one coached the young boy, edited his words, or dictated what he should say — until he came up with an almost 400-word note.
"My name is Gordy, and I am a teenager with nonspeaking autism. I prefer this term rather than low functioning, because if I am typing you this letter, which I am, I am clearly functioning," read his letter posted on Facebook and addressed to police officer Laurie Reyes, who was in charge of the Autism Safety Fair in Montgomery County.
Reyes spearheaded a department autism outreach program over a decade ago to train officers on how to approach and handle people with autism. The office gets up to four calls every week for "elopements" or cases of autistic children wandering off.
"I always share with the officers I teach to 'never underestimate' a person with autism," Reyes wrote back to Gordy, adding that she teaches them not to link lack of verbal communication with lack of intelligence.
According to a Washington Post report, Gordy was diagnosed with the condition when he was 17 months old. His parents and therapists found out in February last year that the now 16-year-old boy actually harbors a lot of thoughts, knowledge, and opinion about the world as he had picked them up from listening.
Meghann Parkinson, one of his therapists at Growing Kids Therapy in Herndon, Virginia, taught him the Rapid Prompting Method, a novel communication technique developed for severely autistic individuals. More than a year later, Gordy progressed to a QWERTY keyboard, where his words appear in huge font on an iPad screen placed in front of him.
The method is rather controversial: some experts argue that therapists are leading the children using it.
"I'm not going to be a naysayer. Some kids will benefit, some kids will not. It's not one size fits all. Some individuals who aren’t verbal are incredibly smart,” said Connie Kasari, renowned autism expert and UCLA professor.
Even the Baylinson couple was initially skeptical, having no idea their son maintained sound opinions about the police or the general treatment of people with autism.
"This letter is not a cry for pity, pity is not what I'm looking for," Gordy said in his letter. "I love myself just the way I am, drunken toddler body and all. This letter is, however, a cry for attention, recognition and acceptance."
He added that in the case of aggression, such as autistic children biting or hitting, protecting one’s self is necessary, while not giving aggression back: "Remember, this aggression, is an uncontrollable reaction, most likely triggered by fear."
For his 49-year-old dad Evan, the sky’s the limit for Gordy now, believing that the young man, who shared he wanted to be a researcher for Time magazine, "can do whatever he wants."