Bio Page Banner

Spellers The Movie Review

By Ann Jusino, Research Scholar, Communication and Regulation Partner, Parent of a speller.

Spellers the movie is the story of a group of nonspeaking autistics who, after years of silence and misconceptions about their intelligence, found a method of communicating called Spelling to Communicate [S2C] which allowed them not only to spell on a letterboard their own thoughts and feelings, but to demonstrate their intelligence and capabilities to their family and friends, and now the larger world.

Two things are clearly evident in the movie. These individuals are young men and women who appear to fit the model of what society considers intellectually disabled. Yet as they begin to openly communicate with the letterboard, they transform before us into competent human beings with bodies that do not respond typically to internal commands. The audience is informed that speech is a motor function, and suddenly the individuals in the movie become more closely aligned with body challenged individuals like Stephen Hawkins. Could they be as bright as the renowned astrophysicist? It is evident that the talents and abilities of these autistics have been grossly Underestimated, the apt title of Jaime and J.D. Hadley’s book that inspired the movie.

As the parent of a nonspeaking young man and a researcher, I related both emotionally and intellectually to the spellers and their families. Jaime Hadley and Evan Tastor (Dawnmarie Gaivin’s son) had similar experiences, relatable to all nonspeakers and their families – the struggle with speech and motor control, the plethora of therapy, isolation from typical peers and the inability to express even their basic needs to family and friends, not to mention the nearly complete misunderstanding of their intellectual ability and the denial of an appropriate education. I was in tears, as their stories were told, as I remembered our own story. I wished every spellers story could be told as beautifully as these have been.

The hope in the movie is visceral. J.D. Hadley’s words reverberate throughout the movie – “why am I just hearing about this and why isn’t it available to EVERY nonspeaking and unreliably speaking autistic child”. There is a significant paradigm shift that communication access is bringing to the autistic movement. This movie brings it home.