“I am not special. All non-speaking students with autism can be taught to type,” Bonker told WESH. “That is my mission. We need to change the way the world sees autism. Just because someone cannot speak doesn’t mean they can’t feel and think.”
This was the inspiring message Elizabeth stated in an interview with WESH. Her strong persona led her to successfully gain this achievement, regardless of her nonverbal autism condition. She graduated college with flying colors — a diploma was worth the celebration, but being one of the valedictorians was the icing on the cake.
Elizabeth was one of the four students in Rollins College that was given the valedictorian title. Despite her condition, she was nominated to deliver the commencement speech. The valedictorian inspired the crowd without saying a word — a text-to-speech program gave her voice. The tool made hundreds of graduation attendees listen to what a person with nonverbal autism has to say.
“I am one of the lucky few non-speaking autistics who have been taught to type,” Bonker said. “That one critical intervention unlocked my mind from its silent cage, enabling me to communicate and to be educated.”
“God gave you a voice. Use it,” she told the crowd. “Because if you can see the worth in me, then you can see the worth in everyone you meet.”
In an interview with WESH, Virginia Breen, Elizabeth’s mother, explained how the text-to-speech program works. Breen read her daughter’s message for her during the Zoom interview. Virginia also added that she almost burst into tears while she watched her daughter take the podium.
“I think because it was such a long journey for us, you know, there were times which felt a bit hopeless,” Virginia Breen said.
For her, it was the greatest Mother’s Day gift she could ever receive that day, and it was a win for her daughter — making her proud more than ever. Breen also gave a message to parents who have children like Elizabeth — she hopes that they allow themselves to be inspired and never lose hope.
“Your children are capable, and we need to keep investing in them, advocating for them, believing in them.”
Elizabeth’s advocacy did not just stop with a speech; and she is now the founder of a non-profit organization called “Communication 4 All.” Its mission is to serve as an inspiration and voice for people with nonverbal autism.Whizzco