How the letterboard changed my life

By Matteo Musso

Hi, I am a 15 year old guy with autism. I have been silent most of my life, at least regarding using spoken language as a primary way of communicating. I was introduced to the letter board when I was 11½ years old.

To live in this society without the use of spoken language is so challenging. When I give autism presentations, I challenge everyone to try it for just one hour; go about your family or business life without speaking and you’ll get a taste of merely one aspect or challenge I face as a non-speaking autistic person in a predominantly pro-speaking society. At least you’d know that any frustration you’d be feeling during this experiment would be short-lived and that after an hour, you’d return to the societal status quo. But for me, that wasn’t the case and I know it’s not for my non-speaking (or unreliably verbal) colleagues on the autism spectrum.

Frustration just builds and builds and simply must find a way out. When it finally does, it’s labeled “behavior” and gets added to the ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) list of things to “extinguish.” I prefer to call these “pressure releases,” which are necessary to avoid total eruptions…just like an earthquake. We often get in trouble for the 3.0’s on the Ricter scale because society just doesn’t realize that we must have them to prevent the 8.0’s, when much more damage would occur. We often don’t get credit for this brilliant disaster-prevention technique, especially when we’re younger and trying to figure out this game called “life.”

When I learned to communicate with the letter board my life changed dramatically. It was as if duct tape had finally been ripped off my mouth, just when I thought it had been permanently adhered. The clouds parted and the brightest ray of sunshine was bursting through – and everything about my daily life changed!

Most importantly, I was able to share what was in my head – my intelligence and competence, my ability to learn and express with spelled words my opinions, desires, thoughts and dreams. I express myself best through poetry and creative writing. I began creating poetry at age 11 1/2 and started taking music and art lessons at age 13. I love all of them. When I practice piano, drums and guitar, my brain is challenged and that’s such a wonderful feeling – only to be outdone by the feeling of accomplishment I get when I succeed at learning something new or master a specific technique. I think this should be considered a basic human right offered to everyone, regardless of their diagnosis or society’s misunderstanding of their abilities. I’ll try to amend it to the Constitution someday.

We all deserve to be challenged and have the opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment, but that requires people to believe in us and our trapped intelligence and abilities. We can be taught anything if we’re blessed with patient mentors who have the ability and desire to look beyond what their eyes can see – past the facade that our uncooperative bodies may present.

I’d like to share a piece of art with you. I designed it to be a reminder of the elements of nature that bring me peace. My anxiety creeps up sometimes and this painting serves as a reminder to my brain that it knows calmness and it wishes to revisit that place of inner peace.

The title is, “Flowing Peace.”

Matteo Musso Flowing Peace

Now I hear the water babble.
My energy flows like a mystic smoke, gently through the atmosphere.
Now I hear grapes as they grow on the vine.
Every minute they change – they are not the same as they were the previous moment.
Now I hear the rolling hills.
They stand in majesty, silently beautiful as they provide gentle respite for nature’s wonders.
Now I feel the weight of my body in gravity,
Swinging to and fro in a gentle summer breeze.
Now I hear the sun’s warmth
And I feel it swaddle me, comforting me as if I were an infant.
I am grounded to this earth once again.
Now I can hear you love me.

I will talk to you again soon!

Happily Yours,
Teo Musso

To learn more about Matteo Musso visit his website.

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