I first learned of Carly’s story through YouTube. A long time ago (6, maybe or 7 years), I stumbled upon a video of a news report about her life. It made me think a lot about the way we communicate and interact with people, and also how we might end up taking things for granted in our lives.
As the video in question (click here to go watch it!) tells us, Carly Fleischmann was born with autism, which would be the general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. She lived the first years of her life having difficulty doing the most basic things like walking, sitting up, interacting with the world around her and, most importantly, being unable to communicate with other people. Not even the excruciatingly long hours of therapy were of any help.
But one day, when she was eleven, something happened that changed Carly’s life forever. She ran to a computer and typed a word, the first thing she was ever able to tell her parents. “Hurt”. Then, she typed “help”. While this is a basic, mundane thing for most of us, to her it meant everything. A girl that had been labeled as “mentally challenged” her whole life could finally express herself and tell people what she needed, wanted and thought about.
And boy, did she tell people. Her words showed that she was just a girl that didn’t have full control of her body, totally capable of understanding and communicating normally. Also, being able to talk, even if it’s a non-verbal conversation, to other people helped her condition improve drastically. She even wrote a book about her life experience!
To think that something we do easily on a daily basis, like greeting a person or telling other people what we feel, has had such a huge influence on Carly’s wellbeing and development still amazes me. We normally don’t think about how privileged we are, especially when it comes to these regular, daily actions like communicating with other people, until when we leave our comfort zone and are not able to do those things anymore.
As for me, the first time I felt like that was when I came to live in Japan as an exchange student, in 2008. I had never been abroad alone before, and while I could communicate in English and Japanese to a certain extent, that was the first time in my life that I couldn’t be understood fully by my peers.
It was like being a child again, having to learn vocabulary, expressions and social customs that used to be obvious to me. Getting misunderstood and being scared of doing something wrong were things I felt on a daily basis, and will probably still feel as long as I live here. And while this experience isn’t even close to what Carly has to deal with in her life, it still makes me appreciate so much the fact that I can express myself. Also, it made me try harder in order to be able to tell people my thoughts and feelings in other languages.
I guess that’s why it makes me so happy to know that Carly has been doing well, against all the odds. Since the interview that brought her story to light, she has had to face many ups and downs in her health, but she never gave up on her work as an advocate for people with autism and on her dreams. To be heard, to be understood, to be anything that she wants to be. And now, one of her dreams actually came true! Some months ago, she uploaded on Youtube the video of her first interview as a talk show host, with her guest being no one less than Hollywood actor Channing Tatum. (Watch it here!) Again, by trying her best to make her thoughts into words, Carly showed us that it is possible to find your inner voice, in your own way.
And you? Have you ever thought about the importance of communication? Have you had any issues expressing yourself? How did you manage to overcome it? Or are you still trying to find yourself? Here at the ICC, through our many events, we try our best create a community that can help all Waseda Students express their inner voices too.
You can always count on us!
F. S. T. (ICC Staff)