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Adults with autism connect and communicate without speaking at Conshohocken Elementary

Adults with autism connect and communicate without speaking at Conshohocken Elementary
Members of SEEN use their letterboards to communicate.

Conshohocken Elementary School second-graders gained some insight into some of the challenges people

with autism and apraxia face during a visit with adults who are members of the Pennsylvania-based advocacy group called SEEN (Spellers Empowering Education for Nonspeakers).

A panel of six adults visited with students and shared information about what it’s like to live with autism and apraxia (which is an inability to perform a purposeful action). The students learned that the adults visiting them are nonverbal, and that they have overcome this challenge by learning how to use letter boards to communicate. 

“The most important gift that spelling has given to me is conversations are now with me, not about me,” said Brian Foti.

Brian uses his letterboard to respond to a question

After each of the panelists were introduced, questions from students were read aloud by Becky Cosgrave, an

instructional aide. Some of the questions had been answered in advance by the panelists and were read aloud by the people who accompanied them. Other questions were answered during the session, with the panelists silently using their letter boards to spell out their answers, which their companion then shared with the second-graders. 

Some of the questions included how did the parents know that their children had autism, when did the panelists start using letter boards to communicate, and what do they do if they do not know how to spell a word or make a mistake.

“I am an awesome speller as are my friends, my board also has an extra x,” said Sarah Acherman. The extra “x” can be used to indicate a mistake.

A member of SEEN uses his letterboard to draft a response

The second-graders also learned through a slide presentation about how someone with autism might see the

world a little differently. Slides were shown of different scenarios, one of which was an outdoor patio. The second-graders guessed that most people might first notice the fire pit, but the panelists noted that people with autism might first see the pattern of the bricks. 

The session concluded with students learning how they can be friends with nonverbal people through activities that don’t require a lot of conversation, such as walking, baking, having a catch, or going to a movie. 

This is the second year in a row that SEEN members have come to Conshohocken. The activity was well-received last year as the conclusion to the school’s observance of World Autism Month, which takes place in April.

A woman points to the x on her son's letterboard
Second-graders raise their hands during an assembly at CE