“I want people to understand that autistic people are people and we all have an inner voice.” This book is told in Carly Fleischmann’s voice, projected by her father, Arthur. For 11 years, Carly was the sort of terribly chaotic problem child who so many parents of autistic children describe. Until she revealed that she knew how to write, spell, compose and create.
Carly has yet to speak in the usual way, and her “behaviors,” as the actions of autistic persons are often referred to, still may at times be erratic and bizarre, including hitting herself, kicking, banging her head and crying out. But as a teenager she is surviving and, in many ways, thriving compared to how she used to apparently only exist.
"Though all autistics must proceed at their own pace and there is no way to force even Carly to produce speech or written words on demand, still the book will offer hope to many parents of children “on the spectrum” and give them new avenues for exploration."
Arthur and her mother, Tammy, did everything they could; many friends advised them to do less, to release Carly (who has a female twin and a brother) to the gray grim world of institutionalized care. At often crushing expense, they tried the most advanced therapies; Carly had multiple one-on-one helpers from an early age because autism, to be ameliorated, has to be dealt with in the preschool years. Carly later revealed that she has extra sharp peripheral hearing, and for years she heard people saying things about her in her presence that they never would have said within the hearing of a “neuro-typical” person. So she knew that normal kids and society in general regarded her as a freak.
But one day, at age 11, she had a toothache, went to a laptop and tapped out “HELP TEETH HURT” to the astonishment of her minders. It would be a long time before she repeated this accomplishment, and a long time before her parents allowed themselves to believe that, within the shell of the child they had never communicated with, was a witty, observant teenage girl who both understood and appreciated the efforts they had been making on her behalf. This in itself refuted much of what they had been told, especially the widely held tenet that autistics have no empathy or “theory of mind.”
Carly’s story has continued to be both remarkable and teachable. Through her persistence she contacted Ellen DeGeneres, who has publicized her plight and her talents; Larry King interviewed her (by computer); and she had the honor of introducing the famous autistic professor Dr.Temple Grandin. Carly has a Facebook page and is always on the lookout for “cute” boys. They and potato chips can provide the incentive she needs to type out messages when all else fails. She carries on long IM conversations with Arthur, composes poetry, takes classes for gifted students at the local high school, and is writing a symbolic tale about a princess and an elephant.
CARLY’S VOICE tells us clearly that, within the tormented bodies of some autistics, there is an organized intellect crying to get out. Though all autistics must proceed at their own pace and there is no way to force even Carly to produce speech or written words on demand, still the book will offer hope to many parents of children “on the spectrum” and give them new avenues for exploration.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on March 29, 2012