The following release was forwarded by Tibbits Opera Foundation & Arts Council as a service to our local arts community.
Worldwide grassroots screening events held in over 100 venues awaken viewers to
miraculous possibilities. Eight young people emerge from their worlds of silence in a film
of life-changing hope for thousands.
Coldwater, MI. 04/23/23—It could be described as the beginning of a modern day revolution.
An army of families, friends, and professionals who support nonspeaking autistics all
volunteered to host private screenings of the documentary film, Spellers, in their local
communities. On April 30th, throughout the day and around the globe, doors were opened in
theaters, libraries, community centers, and private homes. All venues invited the public to audit
the movie’s powerful message in hopes of changing preconceived perceptions about
non-speaking autistics and what they are capable of.
The film provocatively asks the question of those in the audience, “What if we’ve been wrong
about every single one of them?” What if we have grossly underestimated each nonspeaking
autistic’s cognitive abilities; and worse, what if we continue to miss out on the contributions of
these beautiful minds–millions of them? Spellers not only asks this of the viewers, the film
provides undeniable proof the world is now moving towards the answer through the work being
done by trailblazing spellers who are able to communicate their thoughts for the first time in
their lives. https://spellersthemovie.com/
Spellers is inspired by the book Underestimated, co-written by nonspeaker Jamison “Jamie”
Handley, 20, and his father J.B. Handley. Having spent the first 17 years of his life unable to
communicate, Jamie then began the process of learning to spell to communicate using a stencil
letterboard poking one letter at a time with a pencil. Within months he became fluent. Today, he
is an autonomous typer using a keyboard and computer, a published author, film producer and
chairman of a nonprofit board. As he explains about himself and his peers, “we think, feel, and
learn just like everyone else.” Currently, there may be over 50 million people worldwide who are
underestimated and imprisoned in this world of silence, as was Jamie.
Longtime autism supporter Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg and her husband Donnie Wahlberg
teamed up with Spellers Freedom Foundation as Executive Producers. “Donnie and I are so
incredibly proud to be Executive Producers on such a groundbreaking, awe inspiring, and
tear-jerking documentary,” she said.
Producer credit in Spellers includes the leader of this nonspeaker uprising, Dawnmarie Gaivin,
RN, BSN, AT-ACP. A charismatic force in the movement, she co-created the Spellers Method™, founded her own clinic in San Diego, and is coaching her own two sons with spelled
communication. https://spellers.com/ Her boys, Evan and Trey, appear in the film along with
Dawnmarie. “The frustration and humiliation these nonspeakers have felt only pales in
comparison to their desperation for the world to know how intelligent they truly are,” she said. ”If
only more could unlock their bodies from the prison known as apraxia. Thankfully, for
thousands, that day of freedom has come.”
According to Dawnmarie, in spelled communication methods, the first step is reducing the
demand on an apraxic person’s motor system and using low tech stencils to spell out words.
Apraxia is defined as inability to perform particular purposive actions. This is a common
challenge with those affected by autism. Through a carefully constructed hierarchy of
increasingly complex motor and cognitive demands, new neural pathways are formed. Through
daily practice and the gift of neuroplasticity, these pathways ultimately connect the person’s
trapped expressive language to their brain’s motor strip so they can begin spelling out their
intended thoughts. This process takes time, but far less time than years of related therapies that
never coach the body or the intentional motor system of the nonspeaker. Through a
choreography of intentional motor, ocular motor, and spelling on low tech augmentative and
alternative communication devices, nonspeakers everywhere are being released from lifetime
sentences of silence and isolation.
One of the many screening events took place in Coldwater MI at Tibbits Opera House.
Immediately following the film, a panel consisting of professionals, and parents took the stage to
field questions from the audience. The panel included Dr James Lyons-Weiler PhD, MS
CCC-SLP and licensed S2C practitioner Alyssa Miller, and movie host and autism dad, Joel
Troyer, who has developed a close relationship with Dawnmarie and JB Handley. According to
Dawnmarie, many of these newly interested parties are being directed to opportunities available
through the Spellers Freedom Foundation. https://www.spellersfreedomfoundation.org/
There are eight nonspeaking “spellers” featured in the documentary—Aydan, Evan, Sid,
Maddie, Jamie, Vince, Cade, and Elizabeth—who all found their voice through the miraculous
process of using a letterboard to communicate their thoughts and feelings. They have inspired
thousands already, and may now be the sparks that ignite an international spellers revolution.
About Spellers Freedom Foundation
Spellers Freedom Foundation is a 501c3 charitable foundation whose mission is to provide
every nonspeaker with access to communication via scholarships, school trainings, community
building, and advocacy. The organization was created by a family with a fluent speller who was
compelled to get the word out to the world. https://www.spellersfreedomfoundation.org/