Because he couldn’t talk, Chris’ intelligence was not recognized.
As an infant, after he recovered partially from the birth trauma, he was hypersensitive and cried a lot. By age 4 or so, he had stabilized somewhat neurologically, and was trying his best to let us know he was smart and wanted to communicate. One way he tried to do that was by using switches, which you see in the film. Unfortunately, at the time Chris’ father and I believed the ‘experts’ who insisted that his actions were not consistent and did not indicate understanding of cause and effect or ability to communicate. We did not realize then how ridiculous that conclusion was— about any child—and how not presuming competence can damage a person’s life.
By the time he was nine or ten, Chris was beginning to withdraw and become very passive; giving up on his efforts to make things happen around him, or to show us that he really was smart. That passivity seemed to the next generation of experts to prove the previous ones’ conclusions: it was a vicious cycle for Chris. Then, at 13, puberty hit his neurological system like a ton of bricks. He had many difficult and painful neurological symptoms, and was even hospitalized.
As he began to recover from that phase, I read the book Speechless, by Rosemary Crossley, and it completely changed my thinking about Chris’ intelligence and his potential to communicate through supported typing, which you see him and Laura doing in the film. (See the “Song” gallery for Laura and Chris’ dialogue from the theater performance.) The supported typing was still very challenging for Chris. It was exhausting physically, and psychologically it was even more difficult for him to break through what I called his “passive shell”. But Chris kept on– courageously– because as he said, “Theater lets miscued years die”. ( His play on words being proof enough for anyone of his intelligence). He saw the theater group performance as a way to be heard and to be seen as a whole person–a person who could contribute to the “healing of the world”.
For more on this story, see “Tell the World”, an essay Chris and I wrote for Mouth Magazine.