2016 ASAN Gala, Service to the Self Advocacy Movement: The Arlington Five

Video [CC]

Introduction by Samantha Crane

Hi, everyone. I’d like to present our final award, an award for Service to the Self Advocacy Movement, to a really amazing group of individuals, the Arlington Five.

The Arlington Five are five nonspeaking autistic individuals in Arlington County, Virginia, between the ages of 10 and 20 who spell in order to communicate. Although each student asked Arlington County Public Schools to allow them to use their preferred form of communication at school, each was denied that right.

Instead, they were placed in segregated classrooms where they could not communicate except through pointing to pictures, using communication apps that didn’t work for them, that their teachers weren’t trained to use.

Their exclusion and inability to communicate at school has already forced four of the five students out of the public school system. Actually, maybe three. It’s kind of complicated.


But the Arlington Five weren’t willing to accept that result. Instead, they joined together and together with ASAN filed a complaint with the Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act to enforce their right to supports to use their most effective form of communication. This groundbreaking complaint sounds a call to action to protect the communication rights of all autistic people who have been denied access to their preferred form of communication.

It’s important for us to remember that nonspeaking autistic people aren’t silent. They are silenced. Without communication, we cannot access an education. We cannot access the ability to make choices about our lives. Without communication, we can’t even vote. I’m proud to say that some of our Arlington Five did vote in this election, with the communication supports that they were able to get.


We are so proud to recognize the leadership of the Arlington Five. Their struggle is not over. This complaint is not resolved. We are still working to resolve it. But we will not stop until everyone, not just the Arlington Five, but also everyone who uses supports in order to communicate, enjoys equal and basic rights to inclusion and self expression.

Thank you.


Now, I’m going to introduce everyone in order. I’ll start with Benjamin McGann. Can you come up? No, I’m going to introduce everyone, then we’re going to have the thing. I’m sorry. I’m a little discombobulated. Benjamin spent his toddler years in Nairobi, Kenya. He returned to the US and spent 10 years receiving year round interventions, including vision and speech therapy.

At 13, Ben had an opportunity to leave the nest and spend the following two years in Fiji, where he learned independent skills and how to swim like a fish. When he returned to the US, he competed at the Special Olympics state competition and won the silver medal in the 400 meter freestyle. Ben also plays ice hockey with the Northern Virginia Cool Cats and rows with the Athletes without Limits and is a proud member of the tribe.

He cast his first ballot earlier this month and celebrates his 21st birthday next week. Benjamin is the youngest of three children, he’s the brother of Bethany and Bradford, son of Stephen and Bertrand Bradford McGann.


Next is Huan. Huan is a 19 year old nonspeaking autistic student in Arlington Public Schools. An outspoken advocate, Huan presented at the TASH conference on the importance of communication and presuming competence for nonspeaking autistic individuals. Huan is a fighter.

I have been very privileged to be in many meetings with Huan on his case. Huan also, I believe, recently cast his ballot in the most recent election. Huan, please come up.


Emma is a 19 year old nonspeaking autistic woman living in Arlington, Virginia. Emma is also a nonspeaking advocate and has presented at the TASH conference with Huan and Ben on the importance of communicating and presuming competence for nonspeaking autistic individuals. Emma is also a proud member of the tribe.

Emma, if you would like to come up now, you can. If you’d like to wait, you can also wait.

And not attending right now are two other members of the Arlington Five, Trevor and J.M. Trevor and J.M. are both 10 years old. And it was decided that they would have a little bit of a hard time making it through this event. I still want to introduce them and their awards will be given to them after the gala.

Trevor is an active and social 10 year old both with autism and apraxia who lives with his
mother, father, and older brother. Though he is mostly nonspeaking, he makes every effort to communicate using words, gestures, an iPad communication app, and most effectively spelling on his letter board. From preschool through fourth grade he was educated in the self contained autism program at Arlington Public Schools. This year he attends a private special education school in Maryland.

Since 2014, he’s been using spelling on a letter board to communicate, but APS has not allowed him to use it at school, even though this is the only communication method that allows him to fully demonstrate his understanding of academic concepts and self expression. Trevor joined the complaint in 2015, along with the rest of the Arlington Five.

In his free time, Trevor enjoys walks, music, bowling, board games, swimming and spending time with his family.

Finally, J.M. wrote his bio in the first person:

I am 10 years old and in the fifth grade. The members of my family are me, my mom and dad. My favorite food is corn chips and my favorite sport is hockey. My favorite TV show is “Chopped” and my favorite school activity is reading. When I grow up, I want to be a dad. My mom is my hero because she’s nice. She’s a happy mom. She is my main teacher. My important event in my life happened in third grade. There was a lesson about animals and I could read the words. I felt happy.

Congratulations to the whole Arlington Five, and they will be presenting their acceptance speeches using a PowerPoint. Their speech language pathologist will read it aloud as well. Emma, if you want to stand with everyone, feel free. If you don’t want to, we have your award. Hi, Emma. Congratulations, Emma. Do you want to hold this? You can hold this with everyone else. I’ll put this right here.

Service to the Self Advocacy Movement Award Acceptance Speech, the Arlington Five

In life, some sons and daughters never talk. So people never think that we are smart. But I am here to tell you that we are smart. We need your acceptance. -Trevor.

When I grow up, I want to be a dad. My mom is my hero because she is nice. She is a happy mom. She is my main teacher. My important event in life happened in third grade. There was a lesson about animals and I could read the words. I felt happy. -J.M.

Thank you for this honor. Really, what we want is to be able to communicate like others. We want other nonspeaking autistics to someday have a chance to be educated and to have opportunities not available to us. What we want is to be accepted as capable learners. We are only asking for the basic human right to express ourselves. Thank you. -Emma.

I want to thank you all for recognizing us and how far we’ve come. There are five of us here, but we are here to represent the thousands of others who are still stuck in silence. -Huan.

I’m thrilled to be part of such an inspiring group of individuals and advocates. We have come so far together with the endless love and support of our teachers and parents. Let this love and support reach our friends across the nation, as well as across the globe. -Ben.


Thank you to our colleagues at ASAN. Our fight for communication rights is stronger with your support. Everyone deserves a voice. –The Arlington Five