Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008 | Peyton Goddard was wordless for a decade. Labeled a low-functioning autistic person, her words dwindled at age six until, at 12, she stopped speaking at all. Tics and uncontrolled movements made it impossible for her to use sign language.
Professional “thinkers,” as her mother Dianne now calls them, believed that Peyton was severely retarded. They funneled her into restrictive classrooms, and didn’t realize she could read.
Then in 1997, at age 22, Goddard’s world opened. Using a keyboard while a facilitator held her arm, Peyton Goddard first began to write.
“How did she know how to spell? How did she know how to read?” Peyton’s father Patrick asked. “… Almost everything she shared with us was a constant surprise.”
The method is called facilitated communication, and it remains highly controversial in special education circles, where some believe that facilitators have too much power to guide what is written. The Association for Science in Autism Treatment calls it “inappropriate”; the Autism Society of America, which does not take stances on treatments, says it isn’t scientifically validated. Skeptics compare the tool to a Ouija board.
The Goddards disagree, and say that Peyton Goddard’s words are her own. Ensconced by her parents, Peyton Goddard slowly types out sentences, her arm supported by her mother. She writes prolifically, her brow furrowed, lips pursed. Binders, color-coded by year, labeled by month, line the shelves of their Point Loma home. When she finishes a thought, she chuckles aloud.
Her language is unusual; her message, intense. Goddard plucks words from an Old English dictionary, and strings them into poetic pleas for understanding and acceptance, not only for herself, but for all “queer” people: those outside the norm. She uses the word “torching” to mean “lighting the way.”
“It was important to me that you understander be reasserted that wherever I’m torching changes, it is for all,” Peyton Goddard wrote.
At first, her parents altered her words, thinking she was misspelling them. ‘Epoche’ — a Latin word meaning skepticism, Dianne Goddard said — became epoch. She told them to stop, and instead, they learned to read her language, becoming well-versed in her archaic, flowery lexicon. With those words, she held forth on peace, spirituality and education, stunning her parents, psychologists and friends.
“What Peyton is teaching us,” Patrick Goddard wrote, “she did not learn from us.”
Able to communicate at last, Peyton Goddard earned a 4.0 at Cuyamaca College, and graduated as its valedictorian in 2002. Today, she visits colleges, giving slide presentations about her work to educators. Often, she doesn’t speak; her writings speak for her. Her next step, she said, is writing a book.
“Education,” she types, “is our best chance for quietly changing worrisome world.”
To speak with Goddard, I first met with her and her parents in person, to introduce myself. We exchanged questions while her parents sat with her, helping her with the keyboard. Because typing is a time-consuming labor for Peyton Goddard, I later sent the Goddards questions for Peyton via e-mail.
To some, the technique is questionable — to others, a heartening breakthrough. In any case, these are the responses I received.
(A limited glossary, compiled by the Goddard family, follows this interview.)
How did being able to communicate change your life?
By different methods, all certained captured hearts communicators are. Freed to be let heard, masses awaiters withered. Tunes of dated I’m no one worthy eat with you, masked my voicer. If persons hungry to be heard are nothing supported to communicators be, they tire, anger, and retaliators bet opt. Retuning is messy and uncertain. When at age 22 I’m freed, tired and ired, I’m fretter, gyred sad ethered. Wronged persons rest wherever ripping festers are hearter hered healing. Easers are esteem finally and accessers to try truth toll told and heard, thesis peaces thru warring over as reconciliated infinite errored wasted destinies.
What were the first things you wished to communicate?
March 20, 1997, Whittier, California, my introduction to Support Typing/Facilitated Communication, — Darlene, Speech Pathologist and Jackie, School Psychologist: I’m pretty nervous. Tunes in their voices I’m hear as ringing ruptures “We try accommodaters be.” They sow new deared eases. I’m hearted to hurry hope. Epic silenced yearn over. Darlene operatered step in epic dances I greeter verify queer supported with resistant dapper try typing. This I had prayed freed to. Jackie told me verses of noncerted sounds worrying me ethered by apraxia would here get said by typing messy not. She said they would ignore my queer, wherever fed. She saw that I red dased feared she error wanting typing eased independer. She saw my worrying, eases say she understood. Weeds I’m freeze try. Puny persons are worriers that things will never chases changers cared. They cared. They understood my motoring madness. Querying their dared cared, I’m frightened try. Worriers rest wherever they trade fear with tastes trust. Weeds of freezes melted. I’m eased. I tears of truth finally areas I’m able rest. As I feast odes of my dad’s esteem of all me, I typed, “I’M INTELLIGENT.” There my seeds of real freed I am.
You use an unusual vocabulary to communicate — it almost sounds like poetry. Why are you drawn to this kind of language, and how does it fit your communication needs?
Quieting my mind, I think in pictured imaginings eased by capturing words saw spiraling where I’m daser ethers of was imaginations freed. Where in my here thoughts I versed essential otherwise lesser lineared words, I’m reared to greet higher thinkings irrigated by dases wedded to freed deterred never pictures urged depthers and heighters that it returns to in sweetered switched imaginings there freed. Retrieved worries het (heat) dare my revolving wetter of word saw choices. Queer I’m feeling where I’m misunderstood. Were I insaned? Were deared others deterred rest also?
What are the most common misconceptions you find about autistic people?
I’m urged to saw that the moistured assumers of others are pitying others in order to feel better about their owed respecting. If all esteem all, then I’m wearing no incorrecter assumptions, as you are wearer of none.
Tell me about your upcoming book. Is it a memoir, or something different? What do you hope to accomplish, by writing it?
In my story, I’m quester of peace. Ires I captured in errored tread, I’m urged try sweetered out with repeated reassertions that understaters of me I’m weeder out. In gyred greeted linear livings, wasted opportunities worry. It in my hoping reasserted that tread of other errored persons with understated ired festered hearts, weeders become, and ring opportunity peace bell they questers of also.
What are the key things you want to communicate to educators?
With pointed pured intent I’m resters try heart here help in saying to educators that in each very vastly child there are pretty gems to be mined. Sorry children have wasted year by year waiting to be dug up, sweetly polished, and mounted in thought jewelry greeted as pined for bet are opportunities to beautify these seeds I’m yearning. There are messed areas thesis worry I’m trying understood you that educators can change. You festers fry esteem ogres wherever cured I’m try. Red irritations you gyre wherever you mask my very best brillances, as eddys wash rest, and you chip at my net flaws. Your torturing my queer, owes reasserting my gem. Deter not my carat weight by sweeted nary my pured perfectered percent and very certainty certify me by my flaws. Eases reasserted nary, I try tuned, I tire, I awed thesis I’m one of category worry worthless jewel, as I give up. Caring and esteeming all jeweled children will change worrying about greeted them in gutters gyred by wasted lives.
There are topplers who say that some jewels are more precious than others, gyring eddys in waters worrying errored persons. News I’m interested in is hoping jewels togethered, mired nary, make all jewels precious. What determines which is vastly valuabled is you educators. Put equal infinite saw value on each errored not yet child, and ready try if this chases ires and creates pestered not wars awed, by creating gems ored try shiny irrigated restful peaced. Errored epic outed. Then my years would news net certify wepted wettered wasted, freed.
When you communicate with other people with autism, is the experience different than communicating with people who don’t have autism?
Certainly it important to communicator be to all. Quieter persons often are great listeners and hungry for pointed (meaningful) greeted conversations. These I worry are lost in treads written off as important not. I’m pining for dawn of a voice for all.
You write so compellingly about friendship, and why human relationships are important. What have been the most significant relationships in your life, and how did they form?
It is in relationships that persons determine their SELFs. I’m rumbled by relating to persons who pity me. I’m peaced by persons who esteem me. All me is esteemed by fresher my dad. He is the OM easer of me. Wherever I am I dares eat pesterers’ pity, eased I’m saturatered by my dad’s love of all me.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
Errored persons wish to be freed of weeping errors. Resting errored wastes I’m trying to repot. Ethers unity OM I’m pointed occasioner buy with sweet seeders others and with I’m asserted self seeder. Three plotted plans I’m hoping:
Writing awesome book withholding no truths
Trying to dawn my very cased voice
Warring epic pity, I’m P.O.W. freed
Tired, I’ll hesitator nothing to help others best reasserted we wetters muster up valuer all.
— Interview by EMILY ALPERT
(Correction: The original version of this article used language that was too strong to describe concerns surrounding the technique. The original passage that read: “To some, this will seem an elaborate hoax — to others, a heartening breakthrough” has been changed to read: “To some, the technique is questionable — to others, a heartening breakthrough.” We regret the error.)
Glossary of words Peyton Goddard uses, as defined by Peyton:
epic — a continuous narrative of an attempted quest
epoch — a point in time defined by the occurrence of a particular event
epoche — suspension of judgment
errored — wronged
fester(s) – eases ripped by rankling grief
gestate — bred
ires — anger, wrath; to anger, irritate
“ires-epic” — in pity I’m negated as valued; for epic, tired, crying, I quest, “Esteem me”
OM – All persons questers are. Questers point to reaching OM. It is pined for peace and union with all creation. Ethered by Om, questers fully enlightened are resters at last.
poppy — perfumed
queer — strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric in character or appearance
red — heated
rest — peace
tred, tread — journey