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Nonverbal teen explains life with autism in touching letter

Gordy Baylinson, a Maryland teen, wrote an eye-opening letter to a police officer, hoping to raise awareness about autism.
/ Source: TODAY

Gordy Baylinson doesn’t speak. Until recently, the parents of the 16-year-old Maryland teen believed their son couldn’t understand anything they said to him.

That changed early last year, when Gordy’s therapist taught him a new communication technique developed for people with severe autism. Slowly, Gordy showed everyone just how much he had been paying attention to everything around him.

Non-speaking teen with autism
Gordy Baylinson's letter to a police officer is providing insight to what it means to live with autism.Courtesy of Evan Baylinson

His parents began to ask for his opinions, and everyone started paying attention. And then, he wrote a letter that totally blew everyone away.

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“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,” he said in a letter he sent earlier this month to a local police officer.

“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.”

Gordy wrote the letter to a police officer organizing a local safety fair for people with autism and intellectual or development disabilities (IDD). He completed the letter in two one-hour sessions with his therapist.

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“We had no clue. Every time we would read it, we’d just be like, ‘Oh my God. This child was nonspeaking and everyone thought he couldn’t do anything. And here he is writing this eloquent, even funny letter, with such empathy,” Gordy’s father, Evan Baylinson, told TODAY. “We were just floored, completely floored.”

Gordy Baylinson, teen with autism
Courtesy of Evan Baylinson

Laurie Reyes, the autism and IDD outreach officer for the Montgomery County police department, said she received Gordy’s letter “at exactly the right time.”

She said during her training sessions, she teaches police recruits how to effectively interact with people who have autism. Although she already gets help from "Jake," someone who has autism, she felt she was missing something.

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“Jake is amazing, but he represents those who can speak, and I think for officers, we’re not always going to encounter those who can speak, or maybe we'll face someone who can speak but not under stress,” she said.

Reyes now plans to work with Gordy during her future training sessions to help officers realize that “lack of speech doesn’t mean there’s a lack of intelligence.”

Gordy wrote his letter using the Rapid Prompting Method, a technique he learned about 17 months ago in which he types words on a special keypad held up by someone, like his therapist. The technique has allowed him to communicate with his parents for the past year and a half, but the letter he wrote still came as a huge surprise to his family.

“This letter has been the clearest thing of what is happening inside his head. This was the first time he’s really explained what’s going on,” Baylinson said.

Gordy with his dad, Evan Baylinson
Gordy with his dad, Evan BaylinsonCourtesy of Evan Baylinson

Before Gordy began using the technique, his father admitted that he anticipated eventually having to put his son in a group home or some other 24-hour-care facility.

“He had never shown, in my eyes, that there was anything going on inside his head," he said. "Call me a bad dad, call me crazy, but I never thought there was anything going on up there."

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Gordy continues to have problems controlling his body movements and does things like eating paper, dirt and wood chips because of a condition he has called pica.

“All of a sudden, with this, we know that all this is going on in his mind. And the way he explained was so amazing," Baylinson said. "It’s like, ‘My mind knows exactly what it wants to do but my body just won’t.’”

The Rapid Prompting Method is a controversial technique because some experts believe therapists lead their patients in writing the words.

While Reyes understands those concerns, she said in this case it really doesn't matter. Gordy will still be handing out copies of his letter to police officers attending the autism and disability safety fair she helped set up.

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“Regardless of how the words got to the page, or how they got to me, or how you feel about the therapy, the words are there, and the interaction will happen," she said. "We win either way.”

Baylinson said he just hopes Gordy’s letter will raise awareness about people with autism, particularly those who do not speak.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover," he said. "Just because you see flopping and things like that, there’s still something inside."

Follow writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter.