For people on the autistic spectrum, life is experienced in a different way to how the average person experiences it. Some describe it as being like living in a bubble where the perception of the world is just different.
Sef, a 17-year-old autistic boy from Plano, hardly ever spoke a word. Other than randomly reeling off lines from his favorite movies, Sef was very much on the autistic spectrum. When he spoke publicly for the first time, everyone was stunned…
Sef was adored deeply by his loving parents from the day he was born. Soon after he was born it became apparent that Sef wasn’t quite like other children in many ways. It wasn’t long before he was diagnosed as being autistic, but that didn’t change the way his folks felt about him in any way.
Many autistic people with nonverbal autism are sub-grouped with LFA, “categorized by learning at most one word or having minimal verbal language.” Sef was very much on this side of the spectrum, and his parents worried that he would be the target of bullying at school…
Despite their worst fears, when Sef finally made it to Elementary school, he was anything but bullied. His classmates cared for him, held his hand and took him to his classes when he needed that extra help. Sef’s parents were thrilled but knew they couldn’t move away from such a loving community, probably ever.
Even though Sef never spoke and was clearly a boy with special needs, he was extremely popular at school, and that popularity extended in the same way into college. Sef had a close-knit social circle of people who cared very much for him, even if they had never heard him utter a word…
When Sef’s mother Vicki saw a notice inviting seniors to audition a speech for graduation, she felt she had to run the wild idea by Sef, just in case, he was interested. It would be no easy task as Sef would need to audition the speech before a panel of judges. Only Vicki and Sef’s brother were in on the plan, and then he was selected!
When Vicki ran the idea by her son in the first place, his reaction was priceless. “he jumped up out of his bed with a full-body shiver and giggle, and he said, ‘Yes!’” Vicki said, adding, “He’s not a demonstrative individual at all, and to have him shaking with excitement, with a huge smile, making eye contact, looking at me straight in the eye and firmly saying yes, it was great.”
Seven Long Weeks
While the speech took seven weeks just to write, Sef did get a bunch of help from various people. He must have rehearsed that speech a hundred times before the big day came around on June 9. The whole thing was a surprise for Sef’s folks and even his father who was almost in tears when Sef stepped up to the podium.
Class of 2018
As Sef stood up to the mic, about to speak for the first time in front of people who had never heard his voice, he took a deep breath and tried to suppress the nerves and the butterflies in his tummy. With a deep breath and a chest full of courage, Sef began…
“I Would Imagine…”
“I would imagine that to the seniors that know who I am that it is entirely unexpected that I would be standing here giving a speech,” he said. “Just by my being here speaking to all of you — me — that alone is unexpected.” Explaining that his mother and his brother Sim, a brain tumor survivor, helped him write the text, he added, “Knowing that I want to be heard — I imagine that is unexpected.”
Sef also spoke about the importance of living one’s life as an individual, “Don’t follow someone else’s dreams,” he continued, “Don’t waste time on something you never wanted. Do the unexpected. It’s your life that you are living, not anyone else’s, so do what fulfills you. Don’t fear the future, don’t fear the unknown. Will it be unexpected? Yes. Yes, it will. But that does not make it wrong.”
The speech was going well, so well in fact that the stunned audience burst into spontaneous applause at various points in the proceedings. Luke, a 16-year-old boy who was Sef’s buddy in an “angel” baseball league for special needs students, also showed up to the event, wanting to hear Sef speak.
“I was really nervous, I was saying prayers the whole entire time,” Luke said. “But as soon as I heard him start I knew he had it… When he started speaking it was like all of a sudden the boy trapped inside him all those years got to have his voice heard.”
For Sef, speaking in the way he did in front of the whole school was an amazing life achievement, and not one he ever thought he would see. The fact his whole family was there to enjoy the proud moment together with him made it the most special day of Sef’s life.
A paraprofessional called Brittney who worked with Sef one-on-one for the best part of a year said she saw a great change in Sef recently. For one, his confidence seemed to have been boosted greatly by the opportunity of the public speech, but Sef was also maturing more than he had in years…
Brittney spoke about how most people simply have no idea what life is like for people like Sef, “I feel like people have no idea what it’s like for kids like him,” she said. “They’re overshadowed. But there’s a lot of very smart kids in special needs.”
The whole vibe of Sef’s remarkable speech was not limited just to those with special needs; it was a message for everyone equally. According to Brittney, Sef was all about, “Do what’s best for you — I think that’s just perfect,” she said…
According to Sef’s mother, Vicki, Sef was aware that giving this speech was his last opportunity to be with his beloved schoolmates who he had grown up with all his life. Even though Sef prefers his own company and gets nervous around crowds, he was aware that he needed to give something back to all those people who had helped him so kindly over the years.
Sense Of Connection
Vicki said that giving the speech was just the boost her son needed to propel him from teenhood to adulthood, despite his special situation. She feels that being on that podium gave Sef a greater sense of connection with his peers, as well as with the rest of the world…
Lesson To Others
There’s no question that Sef’s speech inspired many people on many different levels and dimensions. The fact that Sef, a guy who had barely uttered two words in public in his life, was able to find the courage to read a speech up on a podium in front of all those people is something truly inspiring.
Sef’s mom summed it all up best when she concluded, “Maybe giving the speech in front of the whole room brought an awareness of those around him that maybe doesn’t normally enter his autistic world,” Vicki said. “It makes me think that in recent years, maybe he wanted to all along.”