Rollins College’s 2022 Valedictorian, Elizabeth Bonker’s is autistic and non speaking. She addressed her classmates as 2022 Valedictorian. Using a communication device Elizabeth shared “I am one of the lucky few non speaking autistics who have been taught to type.” Elizabeth went on to explain ” My motorneuro issues also prevent me from typing, tying my shoes or buttoning a shirt without assistance. I have typed this speech with one finger with a communication partner holding a keyboard”.
Elizabeth went on to share how that one single thing assisted in unlocking her mind. She referred to it as “A silent cage”
Because of this, Elizabeth’s speech resonated with many other autistic individuals. “Thank you Elizabeth Bonker, I walk a similar path, my fingertips are my voice, typing has become my superpower. Beautiful composition, that was a perfectly inspiring speech. I will return to this whenever I doubt myself”
Parents also finding Elizabeth’s wisdom helpful as they learn about the possibilities for their own non speaking children “I love that Elizabeth is able to communicate so well. I have a 20 year old son who is non-verbal autistic at the moment and this inspires me to find a way to unlock his voice!”
Breaking the Stigma on Non speaking and autistic
Importantly, Elizabeth’s speech, it reminds us that non speaking does not equal not understanding. And, Elizabeth is not an inspiration for being “autistic” but an inspiration for achieving her goals and sharing her journey.
Disturbingly, Elizabeth also shared how a story on the front page of he local newspaper reported the principal at her high school had told a staff member “The r@&$rD can’t be valedictorian.” Unfortunately we hear this all to often. Hence why advocates like Elizabeth need to be heard and shared.
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Roughly 25 percent of people of autistic individuals speak few or no words. A generation ago, that figure was closer to 50 percent. Early intervention programs have helped more children develop language than in the past accessible.
The development of more advanced communication devices along with more understanding of autism has also seen us reframe how we talk about and learn from those who are non speaking.
Elizabeth’s speech reminds us to listen a little bit better.