Tiffany Merlo Phelps
The story in Brady Wright’s head existed long before he could give the words life. Long before he could fully communicate them. And long before he could finally break free.
At 17, he has finally found freedom in the form of a book that he was able to write with the help of his mother, his facilitator and his own courage. “Hostage to Silence” was recently self-published and also includes artwork by Wright’s friend and artist Gentry Groshell, 25. Wright and Groshell are both nonverbal with autism.
It is a pivotal moment for not only Wright, but also for his entire family.
“I am so proud of Brady. He has really pushed me,” said Danielle Wright, Brady’s mother. “He told me, ‘Mom, I want to tell the world that we are here.’ He has a dream of being on a stage. These are ridiculously brilliant kids, but people assume that they are not smart because they cannot communicate in the same way as everyone else.”
According to the book’s introduction, Brady communicated through a mix of sign language, pictures and an app called Proloquo for the first 13 years of his life. A neuromotor disorder called apraxia makes it difficult for Brady to speak, and it was not until the family, medical team and counselors began to practice facilitated communication with Brady that he found his voice. This method is also referred to as supported typing and is highly dependent on the facilitator providing emotional and physical support that is tailored to each communication partner.
“While monitoring posture and eye contact, the facilitator provides physical contact that helps slow or stabilize movement, providing the support needed for the communicator to overcome neuro-motor problems and express themselves through typing,” wrote Danielle and Amy Groshell, Gentry’s mother.
Brady’s book of poetry tells a story of loneliness, isolation, love, hope, trust, family, friendships and much more.
“I want people to dream in the life of people like me. To understand that being non-verbal does not mean voiceless,” said Brady, through the assistance of facilitator Hope Delemeester who has been typing with Brady for three years. “I was locked inside myself. I felt very alone.”
Poetry came naturally to Brady and offered a way out.
“In my head, that is where the poetry lives. I don’t share everything. The things that I don’t share people would not understand,” said Brady, who does not have a favorite poem because he said that “it changes with time.”
Delemeester, who is the clinic director at BridgeHaven Academy Communication Clinic, said that the facilitation process is an emotional one that starts with an evaluation of fine motor skills and a ladder of communication. Brady started typing the first day they introduced it to him, said Danielle.
“It was also very emotional for us. He wrote ‘I sonar my emotions,’ meaning that he feels his emotions and the emotions of others,” she said.
Brady said that this book has given him a new role in his family.
“I feel some freedom, and they believe in me very much now,” he said.
Gentry’s art acts as illustrations of Brady’s poems and “a glimpse into Gentry’s world,” according to Brady. Gentry said (through her facilitator and Peace of Heart Community assistant operations director Joanne Serrano) that she has always had a love of art and the color teal.
“It feels great to have people see my art,” she said. “I am inspired by the great variety of colors and the great freeing feeling. My life inspires me.”
Brady will turn 18 on Jan. 15, so a Meet and Greet will be held on this day at the Peace of Heart Community in Ponte Vedra Beach with both Brady and Gentry present to autograph books. Art and books will be available for purchase including wearable art pieces and prints. The event will take place at 11 a.m., and a portion of the proceeds will go to Peace of Heart and BridgeHaven Academy.
Brady’s advice for others trying to find their voice: “Reach deep inside yourself and push your limits.”
For more information, visit hostagetosilence.com. Brady’s book can be purchased through Amazon, and visit pohc.org to order Groshell’s work.
Photo courtesy Danielle Wright
Brady Wright with Gentry Groshell on a recent afternoon.