Non-verbal teen with autism gives graduation address at school

Denise Dador Image
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Non-verbal teen with autism gives grad speech
A local teen with autism who spent most of his life not being able to express himself gave a school graduation address Thursday.

WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. (KABC) -- A local teenager with autism spent most of his life not being able to express himself. Dillan Barmache felt trapped and frustrated by not being able to speak. But on Thursday, in front of his whole graduating class, he found his voice.

On Graduation Day, so many thoughts enter your mind as you walk on stage. Dillan Barmache, 14, may have autism and may be non-verbal, but on this day his commencement message is crystal clear.

"Always look inside other people's experience in order to gain another perspective," Dillan said on stage.

For years, Dillan's ideas used to be trapped inside his head. Today they're spilling out with the aid of his tablet computer.

"I so believe that there is so much more each one of us can do for other people," said Dillan.

Classmates, parents and teachers responded with a standing ovation.

But as his mom tells us the road to this moment was often filled with frustration.

"Up until the age of 10, we were trying a lot of the interventions that are very common for an autistic child, but at 10 we realized that speech wasn't really coming in," said Dillan's mother Tami Barmache.

Not being able to express himself increased Dillan's anxiety. His movements and his mood became difficult for him to control. He desperately wanted to communicate that he was more than the few sounds that left his lips.

"We all want to share who we are, we all want to share our thoughts and ideas and questions and worries, and I think every individual has that right," said Tami.

It wasn't until he started attending Hale Charter Academy in Woodland Hills that he started to feel he could have a true voice.

"You need to have a school environment that's going to support an unconventional educational program," said.

His communication support aide Debbie Spengler attends classes with him. She provided him with a voice using an iPad and a letter-board.

Dillan expresses his thoughts so quickly you might think there's some kind of shorthand involved. But he's actually spelling out each word, letter by letter, but he's doing it so fast that you have to be quick.

"And sometimes Dillan is really polite and will go even slower," said.

On a day of new beginnings, he's most grateful that you're listening to what he has to say.

"Thank you for listening to me and for your patience," Dillan said. "I am able to let everyone know how I am feeling and exactly what I am thinking. It's life-changing, really."

Next year Dillan will attend a neighborhood high school, where he'll be taking general education classes.

He says he's really interested in how people think, and down the road may study psychology.


"Hello, my name is Dillan Barmache.

"When I examine each day, it's just incredible how a student, an autistic one, could ever feel a part of a class of future academics. Education is a better institution when all students have opportunity, plus a chance to take an idea and see the lessons within. With your mind, no one can place limits on where an idea can take you. Living without a voice creates almost no way to be heard, but there are people who refuse to think in a box. Open your mind in high school. You will learn to think about different ideas, and examine new findings. Always look inside other peoples experience in order to gain another perspective outside of books. Only then are we able to start opening our eyes to the amazing things around us. I so believe that there is so much more each one of us can do for other people, causes, and fields of study. I know too that the thought of high school is daunting, and also exciting. We will be challenged to think for ourselves as we live each day out. Part of education is showing what we have learned, so then tests measure our ability to learn, and are necessary. However, another measure of learning often seems based on insight and guidance. Insight is a guide that separates our knowledge into what we are taught and what we are capable of doing. Take a chance to experience your education in a meaningful way, and think outside the box, into yourselves. Insight always leads to truths that an individual either chooses to accept or not. Always consider looking to your own insight and seeking another viewpoint. We are the reality of our thinking life and are capable of so much if we just open our minds."

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