Carly Fleischmann was diagnosed at age 2 with autism and oral-motor apraxia, which makes her unable to speak. Most people with autism and oral-motor apraxia are imprisoned in their bodies, unable to communicate what they are feeling and thinking. Until recently, people haven’t been able to understand what is going on in the inner worlds of people unable to communicate, such as those with autism.
Carly says she first understood what it meant to be nonverbal during a lunch with her siblings as a young girl.
My brother placed his order and then my sister did hers. I remember putting my order in too. However, when the food came out my sister and brother got what they wanted and the plate in front of me was not what I had asked for in my head. At that moment in time, I realized I did not have a voice. I could not tell people that I wasn’t feeling well or why I was hitting my head with my hand to stop myself from doing something I knew was wrong.
When she was in an environment with many people, such as a restaurant, Carly says the sounds and smells overstimulated her. She responded with “stimming,” or self-stimulatory behavior: a repetition of movements or sounds to reduce the overstimulation from the world around her. People who didn’t realize her condition saw her as being disruptive. But Carly simply wasn’t able to communicate what was going on with her.
Her psychotherapist told her parents she would never progress past the developmental stage of a 6-year-old. But at age 10, Carly finally found her voice. She went up to her psychotherapist’s laptop during a therapy session and typed “HELP TEETH HURT.” Carly’s amazed psychotherapist and parents gave Carly a keyboard and computer to use. She began typing one-word sentences in a difficult and slow process due to her poor fine-motor skills, one of the effects of her autism. She later wrote, “I had to work hard to communicate and spell. When I first started to type, I could only talk with one-word sentences.”
Eventually, Carly was communicating her thoughts, sentiments, and needs for the first time in her life. She shared her feelings and hopes for her future life with her family. Her family found she had a witty sense of humor and surprisingly deep understanding of life and her condition. She turned out to have an IQ of 120, enrolled in a mainstream school, attended a gifted class, and went on to study at the University of Toronto.
My voice is loud and powerful. I can share knowledge and compassion with families who have started to go through struggles with their child on the [autistic spectrum of disabilities].
Carly created her own nonverbal talk show, Speechless with Carly Fleischmann and wrote the country song Glamour Girl. She found she has a talent for creating witty questions that make those she interviews feel comfortable enough to open up. Carly wrote that something in her “clicks” when she’s onstage or on camera. She finds herself able to control her body without stimming. She wrote,
It’s funny, being in front of a camera or an audience is what makes me feel the most comfortable and relaxed. It’s hard to be on all the time, meaning it’s hard to control my body or control the elements that are trying to come into my head all at once.
Carly’s talk show has reached over 3 million viewers. Carly’s website is Speechless with Carly Fleischmann. She answers questions parents have about their children with autism.
She hopes one day to have her own television show, create a sitcom based on her experiences, and create a reality show that clarifies what someone with autism’s life is like.
If I could give parents [who have a child with autism] one piece of advice, it would be that your child is in there. They need you to help them reach their potential, and they can achieve more than you think they can,” says Fleischmann. “Your mission is to help your child become the best they can be… just like every other parent. Whatever stage your child is at, you’re there to help your child find their voice and learn how to use their voice, in order to better their lives.In this profoundly moving video, you can have a small experience of what autism was like through Carly’s eyes before she was able to communicate.
Sources: “The Silenced Voice of Carly Fleischmann,” https://franklludwig.com/carlyfleischmann.html
Madison Rossi, “22-Year-Old Nonverbal Woman with Autism on Finding Her Voice and Advocating for Others,” https://people.com/human-interest/22-year-old-nonverbal-woman-with-autism-on-finding-her-voice-and-advocating-for-others/