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Pair determined to put a new face on autism

Thanks to Claudia Becker and the MountainTop Film Festival at the Big Picture Theater, a few hundred Valley residents viewed the documentary film Wretches & Jabberers last week. Many viewers were family members, classmates, neighbors or teachers of people with autism. However, some viewers had little prior knowledge of autism. Local photographer David Garten perfectly summed up the experience for all viewers when he simply stated, “I was moved and stimulated by the film.”

The film’s website www.wretchesandjabberers.org gives the following synopsis: “In Wretches & Jabberers, two men with autism embark on a global quest to change attitudes about disability and intelligence. Determined to put a new face on autism, Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonnette, 52, travel to Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland. At each stop, they dissect public attitudes about autism and issue a hopeful challenge to reconsider competency and the future.

“Ultimately, Wretches & Jabberers is about the life-sustaining power of relationships—the personal connections that people make through communication.” Both men have very limited speech, but they have as much to say as anybody else.

The second showing of the film was followed by a Q&A with Thresher, Bissonnette and their assistants Harvey Lavoy of Community Developmental Services and Pascal Chang of the Howard Center. As Thresher stated in his January 20 blog posting, “The questions were on the mark sparking witty as usual responses from Larry and me, as you can see from the picture, I was a man on a mission.” The focus and use of fine motor skills that are required for these two men to communicate by typing is nothing short of Herculean. It is a very slow process as they carefully type out their thoughts one letter at a time; yet over 100 audience members, including elementary school students, were quietly waiting for each word on the edge of their seats. It felt like the dialog could have gone on for hours had there not been another film to screen in the theater that night.

That incredible evening had to come to an end, but the education and the inspiration can continue. To get to know more about Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette, and to find out about future opportunities to be with them, people can follow their blogs on the Wretches & Jabberers website.

These amazing men are active advocates and community members. You may encounter them in restaurants, at conferences or in the State House. If you do, please thank them for all that they are doing. Budget votes in Montpelier and Washington greatly affect support services that they and all Vermonters with disabilities rely on. When you vote, please remember Larry and Tracy and the thousands of Vermonters like them who need our support.

Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette are Vermonters; Vermonters with autism. They are advocates, bloggers and barrier breakers. They are men on a mission to educate and inspire; to improve the quality of life for people with autism and all people with disabilities. They are our neighbors and fellow citizens. I consider myself lucky to have met them to be learning from them. I encourage others to learn from them as well.

Laura Caffry

Waitsfield

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