Beyond the Borders of Verbal Communication: Fleischmann’s Story

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In present-day society, we are often inspired to follow in the footsteps of past-day heroes, whom we look to as role models and inspirations.  According to Ranker.com, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Helen Keller are among the most recognized role models people would like to meet in person.  While I find myself in agreement with these voters, I have also paid more attention to the everyday people around me and subsequently have found myself inspired by their stories.  Whether it’s the mother in the check-out counter in front of me balancing the groceries in one hand and a crying baby on the other or the young athlete who persevered despite an injury, I find all their stories inspiring.

Recently, I came across the story of Carly Fleischmann.  Carly was a young girl diagnosed with autism at 2 years old.  Doctors described her as being mentally deficient and that she would in all likelihood retain the developmental maturity of a 6-year old.  She had difficulties learning to walk and sit upright, similar to the masses of other children diagnosed with autism.  Nonetheless, her parents never relinquished hope and instead had her undergo intensive therapy every day from the time she turned 3.  Her progress was described as being “excruciatingly slow” and many of her parents’ friends suggested the idea of institutionalizing her, though her parents rejected the notion.  Her slow progress continued until she turned 11, when Carly made a momentous breakthrough with help of one device: the computer.  Unbelievably to both her therapists and her parents, she slowly began to channel her thoughts by typing them out on the computer.  Words such as “You don’t know what it feels like to be me, when you can’t sit still because your legs feel like they are on fire” and “People look at me and assume I am dumb, because I can’t talk” poured forth from this young girl – the very same girl whom many had believed to be mentally retarded until that point in time.

The power behind the words of this 11-year old was both mystical and awe-inspiring to me.  Despite her lack of verbal communication, she still managed to transmit her voice via this mechanical tool. In writing this blog post, I was hoping that everyone would be able to see the ways in which people around us, who in all regards may seem ordinary, may in fact be wells of limitless potential.  I realized the fact that we don’t just have to look to champions of the past for inspiration, but we can also look to the people who surround us in everyday life.  I learned a lot from Carly’s story and especially took to heart this one message from her: “I am autistic, but that is not who I am.  Take time to know me, before you judge me.”  Someone may carry a disability or disorder like Carly, but that isn’t all that defines them.  I like to think that Carly opened my eyes to the realization that people are creatures waiting for the “extraordinary” in them to be discovered.  By observing and interpreting the way people carry themselves in day-to-day life, you might just find yourself being perpetually inspired.  In the same way as judging a book after having read it and not by its cover, I hope that Carly’s story inspires the rest of us to look more kindly upon the strangers around us, and understanding that they too may just be waiting for someone to uncover their potential.

Isabelle Lam

University of Alberta

Further reading: http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/tech/mobile/carly-fleischmann-mobile-autism

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