Zekwande Mathenjwa, a Black Nonspeaking Autistic teenager, smiling at the camera

Nonspeaking autists on radio

1 April 2022 | Events

Learn more about the nonspeakers who are sowing the seeds for Africa's nonspeaking autistic revolution.

Nonspeaking autistic people in South Africa are driving a communication revolution. Find out more

To support this revolution, Tania Melnyczuk is doing a series of radio interviews, sharing the words of nonspeaking autistic people as they talk about their communication rights and what helps them. (Scroll down to learn more about how they communicate.) Here are some of the recent interviews:

Cape Talk

Listen to the podcast of the interview that took place on Friday 1 April 2022 in Lunch with Pippa Hudson. Tania shared the words of Ndumiso, a 10-year-old nonspeaking boy, and several older activists.

Radio Pulpit

The interview on 14 February 2022 on Radio Pulpit featured powerful messages from

There is a humongous need for services to accommodate communication access in South Africa. The CRPD is not upheld here. Why is our government not actively listening to us? When will those who don’t speak — nonspeakers — finally reach their right to communicate? How do we express ourselves? Is communication access a right only afforded to those who are wealthy? So here we are saying: include us.

Zekwande Mathenjwa

Why these young advocates call themselves nonspeaking and not nonverbal

How do nonspeaking autistic people communicate?

Nonspeaking autists can communicate using AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). This involves an individual with a severe communication impairment, a device or mode for constructing and relaying a message (pictures, communication board, computer), a method for access to the device, a communication partner who helps by providing any needed supports to the individual or within the environment, and someone (conversation partner) who receives the message and engages in the interaction. Some people think primarily of equipment when they hear the term AAC, but that is just one element. AAC is communication, and should be an ongoing and creative interactive process, involving the richness of the many forms and purposes of language. (Description provided by Everyone Communicates.)

Unfortunately very few nonspeaking autistic people have access to a type of AAC that works for them.

What type of AAC do these nonspeakers use?

They use Spelling to Communicate (S2C), a method which helps them develop purposeful motor skills. Some point to letterboards, while others have moved on to keyboards. People who use S2C call themselves spellers.

Watch Zekwande spelling to communicate

Is S2C the best type of AAC?

There is no ‘best type of AAC’, because AAC is based on individual needs. One AAC user may even use a variety of types of AAC. (This short film includes the words of advanced AAC users.)

However, many nonspeaking autistic people struggle with apraxia, a movement disorder that affects the whole body, and S2C is one of a handful of methods that actual autistic people recommend for this problem, which they describe as a ‘body-mind disconnect‘. S2C is also the only method geared towards these specific struggles that is formally represented in South Africa. S2C Practitioners are formally trained, and many also have university qualifications in Occupational Therapy, Speech & Language Therapy, or Education.

When it comes to therapy, the CRPD says that we should listen to what actual disabled people themselves say they want and need. That is why we support these spellers as they campaign for others like them to have access to S2C.

Who are their therapists?

Deepak, Adarsh and Zekwande’s therapist is Nicola Sowah of the Spell Your Mind Therapy Centre. Based in Pretoria, she also trains parents throughout the world to work with their own children. All three have all been learners at The Sisu Hub in Pretoria, one of the few schools in the world specifically for spellers.

Stephanie’s therapist is Vicky Oettle, who also runs the Johannesburg branch of The Sisu Hub.

Akha’s therapist is Tracy Gunn (Pretoria). Tracy runs the Irene School for Spellers.

Nicolaas is supported by his mother, Corlia Estherhuizen (Sutherland, Karoo). Nicolaas studies online at the UCT Online High School.

If someone says they offer S2C as a therapy, check with I-ASC whether they are credentialed. Some therapists claim to do S2C, but combine a few elements from it with behaviour modification and other abusive practices. S2C Pracitioners are trained in human rights.

Most disabled Africans can’t afford this therapy. What’s can we do?

Support the Autistic Strategies Network and the Zekwande Foundation in working with activists throughout Africa to:

KEYWORDS

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