Have you seen this story about the autistic salutatorian?
It is one of those great feel-good stories that get picked up major and minor media outlets. I can tell you that I am always interested in these stories, particularly when they involve kids and young adults who were (or continue to be) non-verbal.
Eric Duquette didn’t speak until he was five years old. Before that time, he expressed himself using a combination of sign-language and the picture exchange (PECS) method. Hindsight shows that Eric’s parents were real heroes in this story because they worked with him to increase his vocabulary and effective use of language before he was able to utter a word. They were smart enough to know that there was nothing wise about the conventional wisdom which says that “non-verbal” equals “low-functioning.”
Eric’s parents are justifiably proud of his academic success and the skills he has gained as a speaker. The good news for non-verbal kids with autism is that there is an increasingly sophisticated array of tools to help them communicate regardless of their ability to produce vocal speech. It is no longer unthinkable that an autistic high school student can be at the top of his class even if he is entirely unable to get words out of his mouth. When this does happen, I’ll bet that he or she has parents with the foresight and dedication of the Duquettes.