It’s pretty simple, getting a cup of coffee in a café: You choose, you ask, you drink.Unless you’re an autistic person, like Carly Fleischmann, an 18-year-old Toronto student who is non-verbal.
Her world is filled with all sorts of audio input competing for her attention, along with sights and smells — filtering all this and making her wishes known to even family members can be a herculean task. So getting a cup of coffee is not always so simple.
To give a glimpse into Carly’s everyday world, and to show how something so simple for most of us can be so difficult for someone with autism, Carly’s father, Arthur Fleischmann and his Toronto ad company, John St., produced a video, in collaboration and with direct input from Carly — who communicates with her iPad and other technological devices — called Carly’s Café, and posted it on YouTube as well as the website, www.carlyscafe.com. The latter includes some footage from family home movies and starts with a poignant quote from Carly: “Autism has locked me inside a body I cannot control.”
The two-minute 19-second video just won the Silver Lion award in the cyber, public service category at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, held in France. The annual event showcases and judges creativity in communications with 34,000 entrants this year from around the world submitting to various categories.
Last fall, Carly’s Café was used by the president of Poland to open his presentation at the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Filmed in one day on a low budget of $7,500 at a downtown coffee shop, it features actors playing a father-type figure, a sister and someone with autism. Carly herself appears in the video. There’s also an interactive aspect.
“Through multiple embedded ‘zones’ people can move their mouse around the screen and feel the visual and auditory distraction that most of us could easily block out but which becomes an engulfing hindrance for people like Carly,” says Arthur Fleischmann.
In Carly’s case, when all this distraction is coupled with a lack of speech, “the frustration skyrockets,” he says.
On her Facebook page, where she has 97,000 followers, and where she posts regularly with her iPad, Carly wrote: “Oh my Gosh! Silver Silver Silver. TAKE THAT Ashton Kutcher!”
The video ties in with a 2012 book, Carly’s Voice, Breaking Through Autism, written by Arthur, with a chapter by Carly. Arthur was quite taken by Carly writing about how someone with autism can struggle with something as simple as having a conversation in a coffee shop.
It’s been a long road of discovery and achievement for Carly, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. At the time, no one realized the great potential locked inside the child who could not speak.
But Carly, who had intensive behavioural and communication therapy throughout her childhood, surprised everyone by typing some words at age 10, to indicate a problem she was having at the time. That incredible breakthrough was just the start. She would go on to communicate eloquently with various technological devices, becoming adept at Facebook, Twitter, appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Larry King Live and others, to communicate about autism.
This fall, Carly is going to the University of Toronto, having enrolled in Victoria College’s Bachelor of Arts program which has a strong literary tradition. She wants to be a journalist. Carly’s mother, Tammy Starr, says U of T has gone out of its way to partner with us “to make this work.”
University will be yet another milestone for Carly who has long surpassed the low expectations doctors had long ago given to her parents — that she would never develop intellectually beyond the mental age of a small child.