Gordy Baylinson is a 16-year-old who has never spoken. His parents, Evan and Dara Baylinson, didn’t realize their son could understand anything they had said previously–but recently, they were proven wrong. Gordy understood everything.
This month, Gordy wrote a letter–his first letter–to a police officer about the treatment of people with autism. He was diagnosed as on the autism spectrum when he was 17 months old, but it wasn’t until February of last year that his parents found out, while he doesn’t speak, Gordy has strong opinions of his own, which he can eloquently communicate through writing:
“My brain, which is much like yours, knows what it wants and how to make that clear. My body, which is much like a drunken, almost six-foot toddler, resists.
This letter is not a cry for pity, pity is not what I’m looking for. I love myself just the way I am, drunken toddler body and all. This letter is, however, a cry for attention, recognition and acceptance.”
How did it happen? One of Gordy’s therapists, Meghann Parkinson, started teaching him the Rapid Prompting Method, which is a new communication technique developed for people with severe autism. It works by asking questions, which Gordy would answer by pointing to letters on an alphabet board. About a year later, Gordy was able to use a QWERTY keyboard on an iPad. In order to write the letter, he typed each letter one at a time with his right index finger, without aid.
Around that time, the Baylinsons, who live in Potomac, Maryland, saw a flier for an Autism Night Out held by the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland. On the bottom of the flier was an email address–Parkinson then asked him if he’d like to send the officer an email. He said yes.
Laurie Reyes, a police officer who started a department autism outreach program that trains officers on how to approach and handle someone with autism, received the letter. The program she founded teaches officers to treat people with autism with empathy and compassion. In a letter she wrote back to Gordy, she stated:
“I always share with the officers I teach to ‘never underestimate’ a person with Autism. I also teach them to not associate non-verbal with a lack of intelligence. I continuously stress those two thoughts to my officers. Gordy will help to reinforce this idea yet again.”
Before writing the letter, the only other time Gordy verbalized was for his bar mitzvah–for six months, he worked with a therapist to help him sound out the first line of the Shema in Hebrew.
This entire experience teaches us not to assume anything–or to judge any person or situation in a surface-level way. While Gordy’s parents didn’t realize he could understand them, as there wasn’t any prior indication, it is essential to realize that a lack of outward verbalization doesn’t mean someone doesn’t understand–and can’t express themselves in other ways.
Don’t forget to read the full letter below, which is incredible, and read more about Gordy here: