Peyton Goddard was wordless for a decade. Labeled a low-functioning autistic person, her words dwindled at age six until, at 12, she stopped speaking at all. Tics and uncontrolled movements made it impossible for her to use sign language.
Professional “thinkers,” as her mother Dianne now calls them, believed that Peyton was severely retarded. They funneled her into restrictive classrooms, and didn’t realize she could read.
Then in 1997, at age 22, Goddard’s world opened. Using a keyboard while a facilitator held her arm, Peyton Goddard first began to write.
“How did she know how to spell? How did she know how to read?” Peyton’s father Patrick asked. “… Almost everything she shared with us was a constant surprise.”
The method is called facilitated communication, and it remains highly controversial in special education circles, where some believe that facilitators have too much power to guide what is written. The Association for Science in Autism Treatment calls it “inappropriate”; the Autism Society of America, which does not take stances on treatments, says it isn’t scientifically validated. Skeptics compare the tool to a Ouija board.
The Goddards disagree, and say that Peyton Goddard’s words are her own. Ensconced by her parents, Peyton Goddard slowly types out sentences, her arm supported by her mother. She writes prolifically, her brow furrowed, lips pursed. Binders, color-coded by year, labeled by month, line the shelves of their Point Loma home. When she finishes a thought, she chuckles aloud.