JUDY CHINITZ, MS, MS
NEW YORK STATE LICENSED, SPECIAL EDUCATION
CERTIFIED S2C PRACTITIONER
My son, Alex, was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old and spent his entire school career in programs for the profoundly cognitively disabled. As a special educator myself, I did everything I knew - and learned what I didn't know - to try to teach Alex even one academic skill, and give him some means of expressing himself. I spent those 21 school-age years failing to do either. While Alex seemed to have some receptive language, his expressive language was limited to just a few words, most of which were unintelligible.
When Alex turned 21 and aged out of the public school system, I placed him in a daycare program for those with severe cognitive disability. As far as I knew, his functioning level was that of a preschooler at best. I love my son more than anything on earth, and thought I was doing the right thing when I sat him in front of Thomas the Tank Engine videos and read him Disney princess stories. But...
In July of 2019, when Alex was 25 1/2 years old, I discovered a method of teaching Alex to spell using a letter board. It was mind blowing! I learned, then, that all the motor impairments I had recognized in my son all these years - the inability to control his eye movements, the inability to point normally, the inability to control volitional motor movements - had prevented him, for his entire life, from showing me that he has both normal language and exceptional intelligence. He didn't just know his letters, I discovered, but had been reading since he was 2 years old and knew more than I could ever have imagined!
At 27, Alex can now participate in life in a way I could never have dreamed of: real interaction with his mother and brother, friends, conversation, games, education, are all now his. In August, 2021, he passed New York State's high school equivalency exam (TASC) with distinction - and we are now discussing what kind of college program he may be interested in attending
If I had not witnessed what I have witnessed, I would not have believed it either. In fact, when I began this process, I did it only because I never could bring myself NOT to try everything...not really because I believed Alex had intact language and cognition.
For obvious reasons then, I have devoted myself to bringing the gift of communication to everyone I possibly can.
As both a parent and a professional, I can only say to you that you don't know until you have tried this. I had spent 25 1/2 years of my son's life failing him because everything I thought I knew was wrong. I didn't really know my own child.
I feel fortunate that my education and experience equips me to offer you this possibility, because you may not know your loved one as well as you think you do either.
My name is Riyad. I am a graduate of the University of Connecticut, which I attended on a full academic scholarship, majoring in accounting and data analytics. I'd like to start off this bio with a story.
As I watched him tap the last letter on the alphabet board, "D," I tried to hide the tears forming in my eyes from both he and his mother. His mom, Judy, had asked him if he had anything to say before I left to go back to school. What he had said was, "Thank you for being my friend."
What made this moment special requires some background information. His name is Alex, and he is unlike any other person I have ever met. For a year, I was Alex's assistant and tutor. He is mute, autistic, and 27 years old. It was only about two years ago now that his family discovered he wasn't intellectually disabled, but rather, that he was anything but. I was there when a PhD psychologist tested his IQ and put it in the genius range. I was there to watch Alex complete an entire online Duke University chemistry class in two weeks - and master algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus in 6 months. I was there when he completed two online physics classes that had me reeling. And I was there, as his communication partner, as he aced the math and science tests of the high school equivalency exam.
It was by training his eyes and muscles to work together, over time, to tap letters on an alphabet board that he learned to communicate. And then, he was able to tell his Mom and brother that he had self-educated to an incredible degree, including math, science and even French. He described his life before spelling to communicate by saying it was like being trapped inside his own body, screaming - but no one could hear. This is why Alex's words to me were so powerful: because I could feel the loneliness and sadness from his past - but also his overwhelming happiness at having someone he could finally call his friend.
This is the path that led me to where I am now. This is why I asked Judy if I could become a part of Mouth to Hand, so that I could meet, help and work with more incredible human beings like my friend, Alex.