In this video, a 17-year-old British Columbia resident Damon Kirsebom types the following: “When people see me typing, they always realize I am really authentically expressing my own thoughts. No tricks here, people.” Damon provided the following background information about his disabilities and progression to independent typing for this website:
My name is Damon Kirsebom, and I am a 17-year-old who learned to type my thoughts independently. Let me tell you, my story is more typical than you might imagine. I am a non-reliable speaker, which means that, while I am capable of producing speech, most of what I say is not what I intend. For example, I engage in repetitive speech, which often involves Thomas the Tank Engine. While it appears I am obsessed with trains, I assure you I am not. The contradiction of a mouth and body that can’t cooperate with my mind leads to great misunderstanding and frustration.
I was integrated into a typical classroom throughout elementary school, before entering a segregated environment in eighth grade. I participated in a highly structured educational program, in which I worked repetitively on simple math, basic reading and writing, and life skills which were broken down into many smaller steps. I was prompted to recite rote scripts, which was frustrating, as the words were often not what I really wanted to express. I was unable to reliably answer “yes” or “no”, and could not tell people important information, such as if I was sick, or too hot.
As I entered ninth grade, in September, 2015, at age 14, I began to spell what I wanted to say by pointing to letters on a laminated card which was held by another person. Being able to finally express my thoughts after so many years of silence is indescribable. It was very difficult at first, as I am challenged by initiating and planning motor movements. After very much practice, however, at age 15, I learned to type independently, with my iPad or keyboard on a table. I continue to work toward greater independence, and am often able to speak the letters and words as I type. While I am absolutely thrilled with my level of communication, I consider myself a work in progress.
Pediatric autism doctors, educational psychologists, Speech-Language professionals, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, a developmental physical therapist and numerous educators have observed, interviewed and tested me. Let me assure you, these professionals always realize my cognitive abilities are not in doubt, and that my typing is authentic. Recently, I completed a comprehensive educational assessment in which it was determined that I am quite capable of successfully graduating from high school if I am allowed to type my work. I am so grateful to be working towards graduation.
I would very much like to emphasize that my autism is not a lack of understanding of the world around me. I do understand. I have met many, many non-speakers/non-reliable speakers whose experiences with motor and sensory challenges are very much like my own. Whether non-speakers are just beginning to communicate through pointing to letters, or have reached a relatively more independent state, please understand that skill level improves with practice. Typing does not mean I have greater cognitive ability than someone who is working with more support, but rather, reflects my emerging motor skills and practice.