Chandima ‘Chammi’ Rajapatirana
Chandima is a poet and advocate who lives and works in Sri Lanka. He is 39. He started communicating by typing in 1991 while living in the United States with his family. In his poetry, essays and presentations, he examines and explains his experience of autism, especially movement difficulties and anxiety. From 2003 to 2006, Chandima gave presentations and trainings on communication at Syracuse University. He is the co-founder and co-president of E.A.S.E. (Educate, Advocate, Support, Empower) Foundation in Sri Lanka. The foundation is dedicated to bringing alternative communication techniques to people who need them and to helping people with disabilities live productive stimulating lives.
My Visit To Vermont
Verdant Vermont assists my spirits to lift. Expecting cold I found warmth, sizzling heat of laughter and friendship. Sassy Henna’s fiery hair matched the autumn leaves.
My trip to Vermont was a surprise. We had come to the US to visit family and attend a communication s ymposium in California. Nibbling my nails I hoped I could get to the film premiere.
Vermont gave me a glimpse of what it might be to have the face of a (dare say) celebrity! To have people recognize me, say my work is valued and needed dazzled me. Can I say this is easily the very best time of my life; doleful, onerous, bitter life simply blooming now.
I escaped the fetters of autism (sigh) if only for a brief week. In Vermont I was with other self-advocates insisting that the world stops rejecting our being awesomely intelligent. Grouping myself with the other travelers I hope to bring great change to dolefully archaic attitudes that exist in the world about us non-verbal people.
On Being Mute
Being mute is like having your brain gouged out. Autism/Apraxia took away my voice, and a world that equates muteness with stupidity took everything else. Yes, it really is as if my brain were gouged out. It hurts so much I want to scream. Pouring all my pain into my voice I want to scream till that searing sound fills my body, my soul, and my world shattering us all into a million fiery shrieking pieces. As an experiment just try keeping your mouth shut for a day. Just try keeping your mouth shut while they talk about you, telling your mother to put you away in an institution. You want to scream, “No, no, no” but you are mute. Cursed pity is I am mute for a lifetime.
A system that focused only on my disabilities deprived me of an education. Fortunately a determined Mom salvaged me. She searched the world over until she found a way my voice could be as loud as yours. There are many of you who still deny me my brain, but there are more of us now. More of us mute people who have found our voices through Facilitated Communication (FC) and our awesome voices insist that you deny our abilities no more.
Denied my abilities I can only get a job that will feed neither my body nor my soul. Recognize my abilities, give me a computer and for now a Facilitator and I will be able to write. What could I write about? I could begin with traveler’s tales. Yes, traveler’s tales. Traveler’s tales not about slogging through jungles or sailing across uncharted seas. I am a traveler ebulliently engaged on a unique journey between worlds. Between the quirky world of autism that I inhabit and the wearying world of “normal” that I would like to explore.
When you judge me by my muteness and deny me the power of my intellect we all lose. Ignorance and the lack of assistive technology held us autistic people hostage in the past. How many people lived alone and abandoned, how many lives lost? Hear me now. Ignorance and prejudice still hold too many of us in that silent abyss.
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