Nonverbal High Schooler Makes History By Giving Speech with Assistive Technology


Before I had a son with nonverbal autism, I naively thought ‘everyone talks.’ I grew up in a world where I didn’t know anyone who was nonverbal. Or honestly, that it was even possible.

I remember the first time a therapist said, ‘you need to consider a world where your son doesn’t speak.’

That sentence. It shattered me. As a mom, to an absolutely beautiful 3 year old, how could it not?

Flash forward to today.

I’ve learned that communication is so much more than spoken words.

It can be nonverbal communication like sounds and gestures. It can be writing or typing. It can be sign language. It can be assistive technology like my son uses.

And sometimes, it can inspire and change the world.

Ahmed Ali is a nonverbal student who has been attending the Minneapolis Public School system’s Transitions Plus program for the last three years. (Practically in my backyard!)

Once Ali was ready to graduate, the school asked him to deliver his high school class’s commencement address using speech software that he developed alongside a speech pathology during his time in the program.

The speech was a historic first for the school district. And so much more.

Take a listen…

I remember the first time a speech therapist recommended an assistive technology device like Ahmed’s. I was so scared.

I didn’t want to lose what little bit of verbal communication that my son had. I didn’t want him to be bullied for being different. But mostly, I didn’t want to lose the dream of him speaking one day.

As Cooper grew, and as I grew, I learned in a not so linear way, that communication is the key. Not speech.

As Ahmed says in his speech, ‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me a voice I can use.’

If you do one thing for your child’s development…give them a voice.

“Your life is a relay race,” the 21-year-old said. “The track is your life. Every time you achieve something you pass the baton to the next person. Guess who you are passing the baton to? It’s you.

“Each stage of your life you are passing it to a new you. It’s not the end of the line for you but it’s a new you in our beautiful world.”

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