Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette are the stars of Wretches and Jabberers, the documentary film by Oscar award-winning and two-time Academy award-nominated filmmaker Gerardine Wurtzburg. Wretches and Jabberers follows two non-speaking autistic men (Tracy and Larry) as they travel the world, reaching out to other non-speaking autistic people in an attempt to change public perceptions surrounding intelligence and autism.
"Leading man Tracy," as he jokingly refers to himself, is a terrific public speaker. I have seen him speak, by typing, many times now, and each and every time I am riveted. It isn't just the poetic way Tracy puts words together, it is his humanity, his humor, generosity, and ultimately, his tremendous compassion for this world and the people who inhabit it, that makes people sit up and listen to every word he taps out one painstaking letter at a time.
The following is a conversation Tracy and I had over a seven-month period.
AZ: Tracy, how would you describe the documentary Wretches and Jabberers that stars you and Larry Bissonnette?
TT: Our film catapulted me to realize my dream of traveling the world to educate, learn and change old attitudes of discrimination toward people of varying abilities. The Larry and Tracy duo illustrates how intelligence is often worked out in a much different way. Our journey takes us to places of enlightenment and our humanity, humor and intelligence comes shining through our typing. Our mission to spread the reality of our amazing intelligence through our typing is our way of promoting the Presumption of Competence dispelling myths. Our story is one that is a road trip for two friends who are in Larry's words "more like you than not."
AZ: "More like you than not" is such a wonderful description. So much of the literature surrounding autism is about the "deficits" of autistic neurology compared to non-autistic neurology. Can you talk about the assets and the similarities?
TT: In my way of thinking, my experience initially was uncontrollable anger for the life I had trying to break through the misunderstanding in school. Kids can be brutally honest, reflecting the language that was the accepted norm in my childhood. Labeling kids is crippling. MR (mental retardation) on a diagnostic chart equates to NOT a candidate for the honor roll. Now I am able to communicate the reality of autism. I met Monk Hogen during the filming of Wretches and Jabberers, shining his wisdom on my autism. My true desire and purpose in life is breaking the walls of injustice down and my autism is the gift God gave me. I now focus on how I am connecting with all kinds of people through my work on the road. The high I feel in my own community is so wonderful, knowing that people want to know me. The man I am today is because my autism is the gift I was given to be a leader to anyone who has ever felt less than human based on their appearance. Martin Luther King knew that hurt and he took it to the mountain of peace. My mind is more like a Mensa candidate than I can type. My life is a testimony to the lesson of humanity. Like Larry typed "more like you than not" is the guiding principle to inclusion.
The anger on stage during my presentation in Japan was related to the lost opportunities in my education. I kept shouting out my automatics like "Look at me now! The kid you told one another to keep in isolation now is mentoring students which is healing salve to old wounds of injustice." The other anger in Sri Lanka is more about the heat in the way it took my overly heated mix of perspiration soaking my clothing to extreme discomfort. Also, the popular foods in their culture are not in my comfort zone. Finland washed my anger, turning my heart to love of the climate. The cuisine helped too. Primarily, beautiful lands of countryside put my spirit at ease. Henna melted years of lost hope by crumbling away the feelings of isolating my heart to love.
People in the world often fear the paradox that autism usually presents. Larry and I mostly felt gracious vibes in our travels but the camera crew likely alters reality. To reflect on the cultural attitudes, the typing of my international friends is the true compass pointing to injustice.
AZ: For children who may be trying to cope with similar frustrations and anger, what do you suggest to them and their parents, teachers and therapists?
TT: This is my mission to show kids and their supports that putting communication to the top of their list of priorities is vitally cleansing to the mind. Releasing deep thoughts is the key to alleviating anxiety. Frustration leads the body to unproductive anger. Being able to show intelligent thought is the path to happier futures and true quality of life, leading to purpose. That is what I sought and found with typing.
AZ: Was there anything others might have done to help when you were overwhelmed with anger?
TT: Harvey and I have trust in our partnership. I need his firm yet kind support to stay on course with managing my autism. Harvey and I work well together. Typing is my outlet and open communication is the key. Long term shared goals helps to keep me on track. Harvey's commitment to my communication is the big time dosing of calm energy that I need. The commitment to presuming competence is the major breeze of refreshing air to cooling anger.
To read the rest of our conversation click 'here'.
Ariane Zurcher can be found on her blog: Emma's Hope Book where her daughter, Emma, increasingly writes.
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