Wretches and Jabberers is a documentary about two middle-aged men with autism, Larry and Tracy, who have become advocates for their not-so expressive peers. These two are minimally verbal, but both learned to type when they became adults - and the level of intelligence revealed in their typing is astounding in contrast to how they appear - flapping, yelling, making weird faces, freaking out about little things that wouldn't bother anyone else. In fact, Larry and Tracy act a lot like some of the kids I see in our autism classes, who have not yet acquired a reliable communication system.
In the movie, Larry and Tracy travel around the world (with the assistance of two male aids) and meet with other autistic adults who communicate by typing. They have multiple conversations about the difficulties they face in being misunderstood because their outward appearance is so different from the normal and how they wish the general population would work harder to support kids with autism in developing their own methods of communication and expressing their intelligence.
What is not described in the movie is exactly how Larry and Tracy learned to type, but one young woman they meet with discusses her learning process and mentions that it was an arduous and frustrating experience at times. Even though I already do my best to "presume competence" with kids with autism, this movie helped to make that idea even more meaningful for me. Larry and Tracy talk about how little control they have over their bodies and how that interferes with their ability to function. We need to be considerate of that and patient with our students, assuming that there is much more going on in their heads than they are able to express. We also need to continually present them with opportunities to communicate. Most of us attempt to do that with our students, but sometimes we forget the importance of expressive communication.
Having seen this movie, I'd like to start offering more typing opportunities in our Autism classrooms. Even as adults, these individuals with autism are not able to hold a pen and write! They all use a single finger and pick out letters individually and often use a keyguard to help them target the keys. We need to make communication as easy and relaxed as possible for our students.
Have you seen the movie? If you haven't, here's the link to its website. You can also see it on Netflix Watch Instantly (that's where Carrie and I saw it).
What did you learn from the movie? What ideas do you have to improve our support for communication for kids with autism?