By Susan D. Brandenburg
Gaze into her eyes. Her innate intelligence shines in them. Lanier Weed is “in there.”
Profoundly autistic and non-verbal since the age of 18 months, Lanier, now 18, is no longer silent. Through an innovative typing technique called Facilitated Communication, Lanier’s joyful message rings out loud and clear: “Thank you for releasing my voice.”
When she was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, Lanier’s parents, Leslie and Bobby Weed of Ponte Vedra Beach, founded HEAL (Healing Every Autistic Life) to provide assistance to the autism community. Since 2004, The HEAL Foundation has granted nearly $2 million locally for autism programs, camps, schools, support groups and service dogs.
Until 2014, when she began communicating on an iPad, Lanier’s intelligence was presumed to be that of a four- or five-year-old based on her behaviors and some limited, non-verbal sign language. Since then, the teen has displayed not only high intelligence, but a stunningly unique command of the English language. She describes her past life as being jailed in silence. She now feels it is her calling to help others who are still “trapped.”
In one of her recent typing sessions, Lanier wrote that 2016 is the “Year to change hearts. You teach the teachers. You teach the smart is me. You teach that my voice is loud in silence.”
Lanier Weed is one of about 40 local children on the autism spectrum who are no longer silent thanks to Morgan Tyner, a special needs educator who founded ACCEPTS, Inc. (Assuming Competence in Communication for Exceptional Persons through Typing and Socialization) and provides consultation and training for a growing number of families in North Florida.
“I was teaching middle school students with autism in Duval County when I was first introduced to Facilitated Communication (FC) in 2014,” Tyner said. “I knew my students were intelligent but they were unable to express themselves. When I saw what a difference Facilitated Communication could make in their lives, I had to learn more so I could help them.”
Tyner attended an introductory Facilitated Communication Workshop at Syracuse University, receiving a mentorship from several master trainers, participated in a training-for-trainers workshop and attended the put-in-bay skill building workshop as a coach. She has since continued to grow her knowledge and her outreach in the special needs community by coordinating many Facilitated Communication foundational workshops throughout the southeastern United States, as well as speaking at schools, churches and businesses to promote advocacy and education in this exciting new technique.
And what, exactly, is the technique? Facilitated Communication is a strategy for teaching individuals with severe communication issues to use communication aids and devices (usually iPads) with their hands. In order to accomplish this, a communication partner (facilitator) helps the communication aid user (typer) overcome neuromotor problems such as impulsivity and poor eye/hand coordination. Eventually, the pointing skills of the student become more effective and the level of facilitation is reduced, with independent communication being the ultimate goal.
Last month, Tyner hosted an all-day Facilitated Communication Foundations Workshop at Redeemer Church in Ponte Vedra Beach. Sponsored by The HEAL Foundation, the workshop was attended by dozens of parents, educators, medical professionals and family members of special needs children, including a large group of Tyner’s “Typers.”
The workshop featured guest speaker Matthew Hayes, a 14-year veteran of Facilitated Communication, president of “Typing to Speak,” and star of the upcoming PBS Documentary, “My Voice: One Man’s Journey to overcome the Silence of Autism.”
After 14 years of Facilitated Communication with the help of his mother, Hayes has developed the ability to verbalize the words he is typing. Thus, he was capable of giving a fascinating presentation as well as answering questions from the audience. Although he was poised and calm during his presentation, his mother, Rene, told the audience that Hayes had once been unable to sit still for more than 90 seconds at a time.
“Typing is so organizing,” she said.
Matthew Hayes, like many of the others at the workshop who demonstrated their skills at Facilitated Communication, possesses an extraordinary vocabulary. One of the questions posed to him was “How did you learn such extensive language skills?” His answer: “Waiting to speak gives you lots of time to learn.”
For Lanier Weed and so many other young people who have been waiting to speak and have now been introduced to Facilitated Communication, a new and exciting world is unfolding.
To quote Lanier, “Happy. Now so many people know we are smart.”
Photo courtesy Susan D. Brandenburg
Leslie and Lanier Weed with Morgan Tyner