A Tulane student defies autism boundaries

Tulane student defies Autism boundaries

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - He can't speak, but Benjamin Alexander has a lot to say. One typed word at a time. Ben hasn't spoken since the age of 2, when he was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy.

His parents still help him with many routine tasks, but what's remarkable about this 22 year old is his voice within, found in his writing.

Ben typed on his computer: "Children receive gifts throughout their lives, Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays…. for me the autism gift box contained a ghastly demon who arose and robbed me of a normal childhood."

Ben was a chubby-cheeked smiling toddler just starting to form words when things changed.

"We really didn't expect anything until 18 months old. He stopped looking at me. I couldn't even get his attention when I would sing to him," his mother said.

Eventually, his parents, both doctors themselves, got the diagnosis they feared: autism, often called "pervasive developmental disorder" back then.

"I guess using the word autism just had a horrible, horrible connotation," said Sam Alexander, his dad.

One in 10 people with autism are nonverbal, meaning they don't have meaningful language. Years of therapy led to Ben typing at age eight.

"I could see in his eyes, the intelligence that was trapped in that body, and I knew we had to find a way to get it out," said his longtime special education teacher, Judy Nodurft.

She used what's known "facilitated communication" with Ben holding her finger to support his own as he typed.

"Being allowed to work with them, I realized that this was a way that kids could communicate," she said.

Ben graduated from high school with honors and got into Tulane University. He's an English major with a 3.7 grade point average. His dad is his constant companion on campus.

"I'm the GPS. I direct him where he needs to be," Sam said.

He also provides a steady hand when Ben types.

In their wildest dreams, Ben and his parents hope for a cure for autism some day.

"I don't look too far in the future. I think that's a depressing thought. But things change. Ten years ago, I never would have imagined - or even five years ago - that Ben would have been at Tulane."said Ellen Schneider, Ben's mom.

Ben says he simply wants people to know he is here.

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