month ago Canada’s best-selling non-fiction book was “Carly’s Voice”, the true account of a Toronto family’s life raising an autistic daughter.
Carly’s father, Arthur Fleischmann, wrote the book detailing the family’s long battle to help Carly progress from a mute child to a witty, sassy, intelligent teen communicating with the world through a voice-output computer. Carly added a final chapter.
Born a twin in 1995, by age two she was diagnosed as autistic, with oral-motor apraxia (the inability to make her mouth muscles speak words), and cognitive delay.
She showed no interest in those around her, avoided hugs, ignored toys and made odd sounds and movements at inappropriate times.
Like any other family trying their best to guide their child to a more normal existence, they signed her up for every rehabilitative program suggested by experts of every sort, exhausting government funding, even flirting with personal bankruptcy.
But money couldn’t replace sleep, something Carly’s parents got little of. Her twin sister and older brother made do with a minimum of parents’ involvement as Carly required their attention day and night.
One program advised the parents to label everything in the house. This was intended to help Carly point to pictures of things she wanted.
Little did the family realize how much Carly was taking in though she couldn’t express herself. One day she interrupted her whining to peck out with one finger on a computer keyboard, “Hurt teeth help.”
From that day on, with the aid of ever improving computer programs and coaxed by the promise of Lay’s potato chips, her favourite food, Carly began writing her wants and thoughts, pushing one key at a time.
Soon she was communicating with family and therapists, replying to their questions and revealing the whys of so many of her odd actions. Along the way she gave insight to the average autistic child who as yet has found no way to express their feelings.
Carly has become a media star, interviewed on American TV shows including Larry King Live, Ellen DeGeneres, and The Talk. Writing her answers takes her far too long to partake in an interview if she weren’t given questions ahead of time. She types her replies on her computer which then speaks her words.
She has a Facebook page, tweets, and on a blog answers questions from parents of autistic children giving them more understanding of their own children’s behaviours.
She has explained why autistic children don’t look people in the eye; why they bang their heads, make weird noises, or slap themselves; why they avoid some foods and clothing that scratches their skin; how she reduces overwhelming noises by placing a hand over one ear to alter the sound.
In the summer of 2010 she introduced her hero, Temple Grandin, to an audience of 800 in Toronto. Temple Grandin, also diagnosed with autism as a child, earned a PhD. in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois.
For an entertaining 80-minute lesson on living with autism watch Grandin’s talk, “My Experience with Autism” on Youtube.
For most of her life Carly was placed in special schools with much younger kids because of her disturbing stims.
Now she attends gifted classes in a public high school with students her own age where she is making friends and sharing teen activities.
Carly invites visitors to her Facebook page to sign her petition for an “autism friendly talk show day”.
She’s hoping to gather 10,000 signatures to persuade Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and other talk shows in North America to devote one day annually to raising awareness about autism.