In 2017, Rhema moved from the letterboard to the keyboard.
Some of our favorite Rhema quotes this year:
to you i am a girl who found her voice but i am a bird who has taken to the sky .
i am a hyena who laughs at the world .
i am a frog who jumps for joy .
i am an aard vark who . play s all day . with worms .
i am a lion who rulles the day.
i am a giraffe standing talle r than ever .
i am free.
Only receiving answers to prayers does absolutely nothing
To notice how much God shows his love we have to learn to trust when the answer is no
“I do not want to cure autism
Autism only is a part of me
that I like
and sometimes I do not really like
but I am fearfully and wonderfully made
so I dont want a cure
I want to be me”
Something I want to say is nothing to say is ok. So many people think that they need to speak but sometimes silence is golden. I was silent for twelve years and I learned so much by listening. To have no voice taught me to cherish words and I try to use them carefully. That is all I have to say today.
something i want to say is just because i cannot speak does not mean i dont hear . i hear everything people say to me or about me . i may not show understanding in my face but i know and understand . not a word said escapes my so strong ears . so remember to speak kindly to everyone . love rhema .
a dream my heart began inside
that light made joy somewhere in the sky
my dream can soar and scale the heights
from heaven to the earth below
so I am in the clouds above
the somewhere into hell I really only visited
the armies of angels lifted me to my dreams again
Something I want to say is not having a voice sounds horrible but I learned to listen. That is how I learned so much. By listening to everything around me. The radio the tv, conversations all around. Only I knew that I understood it and one day I would be able to show it. I am thankful for that time as hard as it was.
something i want to say is i like people who really think before they make judgements about autistic people . forget the differ ences and see me as a very caring girl who knows that i do strange things . i so am just like everyone else . i am doing what makes it possible to do the day . history repeats itself and really every minute i am hoping you see me for me
Before I could use my board I could not tell people how I felt
what I understood
or if I was hurting.
They often treated me like I was a baby. This was so frustrating to me but I hoped one day they would know the real me.
Someone once said I was stupid because I could not talk. This hurt so much.
Only now can I look back and see that it made me stronger.
Now I have my voice and lots of people read my words. This makes me so happy.
The silence is over.
The pain is gone
and I am free.
I want teachers to know that I am smart even though I might be slow on my board. Sometimes I can’t seem to make my mind slow down but I am always thinking. I want teachers to give students like me a chance to really get a quality education. Someone said to get a high school diploma you need to have taken certain classes. I have not. But I hope that will change so I can become a scientist and use my mind to help others. I think I have a lot to offer to the world. This is my hope.
I am so happy for my birthday. To be a teenager is a dream come true. I am excited for the future and I know God will help me suceed. I am confident that He has good plans for my life.
something i want to say is that autism acceptance starts with people believing that everyone deserves a chance to access a fair education. i hope to help other autistic people like me become advocates because this is the only way to make our voices heard. i hope people will listen to our words because we have a lot to say to the world about what it means to be autistic. many people think they knowbut they do not. autism is a complicated disorder. not everyone is impacted as much as me. but i am smart and i hear music in numbers and trees and grass. i am happy to be autistic even though its hard most of the time. so much of my words come from God. he is helping me live this life. to have my voice heard means the world to me. to have people encourage me also means the world. to have a company of encouragers is the best gift. thank you for listening to me.
i hope to be a scientist one day. i hope to go to high school and college one day too. so many possibilities are open to me now that i have my voice.
not being able to go to whatever school i want makes me so sad. i should have access to the same education as anyone else.
i know i need lots of support but i believe it is worth it.
someone once said the best students are the ones who really want to be there. that’s me.
so i will never stop trying to get the best education i can. i owe it to me and my family and other autistic people who have yet to find their voices.
i want you to know that i am autistic and that is something i am happy and sad about. i love that God made me this way even though it is so hard sometime. i can hear music in trees and grass and numbers have sounds that make me so happy. i also can remem ber just about every thing i hear . the reason i said it makes me sad is because i cant talk with my mouth and that is so hard to not have the ability to just speak whenever. i know it seems like i am not smart but i am . i believe one day i will show the world that autistic people are smart and want the same things as anyone else. thank you for being patient with me while i learn to sit in class. i want to have an education that helps me reach my goals. thank you for listening.
some thing i want to say is not so many people think about autism like a gift. but i do. i experience so many thing s like colors and sound s and emotions and dimensions of time i n a way that only i can. this make s me so happy . i see details i n flimsy grass blades and green caterpill ars . i can rem ember almost every sound my ears hear. it is store d in my helper head. i can think about my autism as a gift and that hellps me on days that are hard. the bible say s that to be content is a secret and i think i am learning contentment in my aut ism.
i feel to awesome for words be cause its the day god has made . i cant for get his love for me . do you know so mu ch love i n any o the r. i do nt eith er.
so mething i want to say is my grand pa died this week. he resides in heaven now . i came to his house and looked for him but he is not here . he is with his savior and he is so happy . i miss him so much even though i dont cry . he always told me he loved me and was proud of me . have you ever jumped on a trampoline my grandpa gave me mine . he read his bible every morning . he will always be in my heart . love rhema .
when i was little my grandpa took me for a ride in the 4-wheeler . hope was with us . she was counting deer . then grandpa said theres dinner for all of us . i thought it was so funny and i still remember it . that was grandpa .
love rhema .
i must create some thing good for my life . that is really what grandpa would want . i pray for god to hellp me . to do it . every day .
i am thankful for my autism because it teaches me to trust God . My body is not something i can trust but the God who made me is . he not only made me autistic he made me not able to speak with my mouth but with my heart . The gift of my voice is my sweetest song of praise. i want to sing and sing . i not only want to sing i want to share my song with the world . my hope is in the lord . i thank him . for he is always good .
to be autistic is to be a gorilla in a tutu. your clothes never fit quite right .
to be autistic is to be a dinosaur making large footprints on the earth . your body is not for this age .
to be autistic is to be an eagle with too strong eyes . your eyes see the miniscule details others miss.
to be autistic is to be a hippo with birds on your back. you still feel the itch.
to be autistic is to be a lizard who basks in the sun. you feel the heat and it invigorates you and drains you.
to be autistic is to be a telescope seeing the world with microscopic detail .
to be autistic is to be a megaphone every thing is too loud .
to be autistic is to be a beautiful idea of how to experience the world
to be autistic is to be a butterfly ready to fly .
Years ago, I began reading The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. Naoki is a non-speaking autistic young man who communicates through the use of an alphabet grid and computer. I was eager to read his thoughts, hoping to unearth insights into my own daughter, hoping to find a reason to believe that she too had words inside waiting to be unlocked. But as I read, I discovered that Naoki did have some spoken language. It was largely echolalic language, but that fact alone caused me to put Naoki in a different category, a “higher” category than my girl. Rhema had no spoken language – the few words she was able to say when prompted had essentially faded away. I reasoned she could not achieve the level of communication Naoki had. Deflated, I put the book away.
I didn’t realize my error: mistaking communicative non-functionality for mental non-functionality.
Thankfully, thankfully, my misconceptions began to change in 2015 when an RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) provider taught my daughter an age-appropriate lesson on the Ice Age, and I watched her respond appropriately and accurately to questions about the lesson. Later I would discover that my 11-year-old (at the time) whom I thought did not know the alphabet letters had taught herself to read at age 5.
Much of her schooling and therapies seemed to be structured around the concept that Rhema’s severe autism represented developmental, cognitive delays. I never questioned the experts who said we should speak to her in simplified one and two-word phrases: “Give ball”, “Shirt on”, “All done”.
It did not occur to me that when she consistently failed to properly identify the tree in a 3-picture array that it was because of a mind/body disconnect. Her finger tapped the picture of the car in the array while her head composed poetry:
TREES HAVE MISTERY IN HOW THEY MAKE MUSIC
THEY MAKE MUSIC GLORIOUSLY
HOW THEY SING
TREES SOUND LIKE MUSICAL NOTES IN MY EARS
Rhema words, along with other autistic non-speakers or minimal-speakers – Ido, Emma, Phillip, Coco, Graciela, Kaylie – opened my eyes and continue to teach me. I listen to them now, their voices the loudest.
As parents and educators, what will happen if we continue to challenge long-held assumptions about autism? If we resist comparing individuals to non-autistic or even autistic peers (like I did with Naoki) and see their development as their own? If we stop pretending to presume competence and truly do it? What if we assume that behind the silence and the erratic impulses and the lack of eye contact and seeming lack of attention, there is a mind as creative, inquisitive, insightful mind as our own… what if we adjust the curricula accordingly? No harm done if we do. But what if we don’t?
Less than a year ago, at age 13, Rhema’s school progress notes said the following:
“Rhema is asked to point to hard or point to soft, when presented with a hard wooden ball and a cotton ball. Rhema was 67% correct with teacher assistance.”
“Rhema worked on identifying name, letters and sounds for B, D, and F.”
“Rhema completed a labeling functions of objects program (crayon, book, chair and pencil).”
This year Rhema is homeschooled for language arts and history and enrolled in middle school math and science classes. She is studying everything from geometry to Newton’s Laws of Motion. It’s been a long, hard road. It’s still hard every day. Her anxious body betrays her constantly. She needs many, many breaks. It can take an hour to type a single paragraph. Some days her body is so disorganized, she cannot type at all, so she spends hours trying to get ahead on the homework. She is thrilled to have homework.
Her teachers have written that Rhema’s test scores have been regularly strong and she demonstrates good mastery of the topics covered. In fact, she received all A’s on her report card.
She is speaking to college classes, contributing to a book, and participating in the TASH Atlanta conference next week. She sits in the back seat of the car with her sister and the letterboard and entertains us with stories and rhymes. She’s an incredible storyteller. It’s a suffocating, terrifying thought to realize that I might never have heard her stories.
All she needed was a chance.
She needed teachers and a learning community that dared to see beyond the challenging “behaviors” and find her strengths, to include and welcome her (– keyboard, letterboard, crazy-Mom-aide and all), to value her as any other student.
It’s so important. It’s life-altering. It’s hope, new hope, for our Rhema.
~Rhema and Hope’s mom
i am so happy about my grades . i remember when i thought i would never be able to make my thoughts heard . now i am going to school and finding the world and my dreams . only god knows how much i have longed for this. you are not underestimated all your life only to be given a chance to exercise your in telligent mind. but it has happened to me . my good god made a way. my good teachers dont treat me like a baby . my really good mother never gives up. my really good father never stops supporting me. my really good hope always encourages me to do my best . like the way my teachers said i am a blessing to have in class. the end. love rhema .