Autism Advocacy

The ABCs of my sticky brain

Hello friends,

It has been a while since I have written a new blog post. I guess I’ve had a bit of writer’s block and couldn’t think of anything that I thought would be of interest to others. But someone asked me a question on Facebook, and it has given me some new ideas. So, thank you to that person who reached out to me. She wanted to know how I learned to spell before I knew how to express myself with typing. I didn’t start typing until I was around fifteen years old, but my relationship with letters goes back to almost the beginning.

I was between two and three years old when autism began declaring itself in me. I really can’t say if I was unaffected before that. My parents didn’t see any outward signs of it. Anyway, this is the same time that I was learning things like the ABC song and watching Toy Story. As autism took over, those things got trapped in what I would describe as a very sticky mind.

My mind seems to me like a spider web that captures my thoughts and suspends them in midair. I think most brains act as better filters or filers of thoughts and memories. Those brains file memories away in a deep recess somewhere and occasionally conjured them up after an appropriate stimulus. My brain doesn’t seem to have deep recesses, and my memories are always swirling on the surface. I remember things from very early in my childhood that others apparently can’t. It is a blessing but also a curse because all those thoughts are on a carousel in my mind that never stops circulating.

Anyway, letters occupied a large chunk of that space early on, and they became almost like friends or comfort items. I had bins full of plastic or wooden alphabet letters, and I knew every one of them, including what color they were and what set they came from. I would get very upset when any of them got lost.

When I started with ABA and began learning to spell simple words, I became even more fascinated by their power. I started thinking about letter combinations constantly and began experimenting with different sounds. I also began listening for new words or watching on building signs or billboards. I never had the patience to read on my own, but I was learning how to read in my mind just from my environment.

In school, my teachers tended to set the reading bar very low and never raised it by much because I wasn’t able to show them what I knew. But thankfully, my parents always read me age-level books which kept my mind stimulated and learning new things. I especially listened for new words and never forgot them. I figured out what they meant from the context and thought about how I would spell them. The alphabet has rules, and once you figure those out, most words make sense. Of course, the exceptions have to be memorized which I did once I started typing, either because my parents corrected me or I would watch the computer prompts as I spelled and then corrected myself as I typed.

I think most of us non-speakers figure out on our own how to read and spell long before we can actually teach our bodies to cooperate. That is why it is so important to assume competence and teach to our age level. It would avoid so many wasted years and a lot of frustration. I am proud to be part of a group of people who have shown such life resilience and am so happy that many of us are finding our voices. Hopefully by making our voices heard, things will be better for those behind us.

Thanks for reading.



  • Don Jepson

    Aaron, that is so very fascinating. Thanks for sharing that with us. It’s like you have lived a secret life that is only now being seen by those of us who have lived around you all these years. Keep on educating us!

  • Denise Pavone Storck

    Aaron, you’re an inspiration! I just learned about spelling to communicate, and my 26 year old son recently began learning this process, He is doing very well. I dream of the day he communicates the way you do. You have accomplished so much!

  • Truman Jepson

    Aaron, what an inspiration! I have just recently become aware of you and your accomplishments. I am your grandpa Jepson’s brother so I guess that makes me your uncle once removed or something like that. I lived in the Pacific Northwest for the better part of the last 68 years and was kind of disconnected from my Southern Utah relatives and their families. We are the parents of 10 children and a business owner which kept us plenty busy.

    We moved back to Southern Utah in November of 2019 and have lived here since. We actually live just a few blocks away from your grandpa and grandma Jepson. It has been great getting reacquainted with our family and friends in this area. I am so impressed with your accomplishments and it inspires me to know you better and those who are called on to share your situation in life. Know this that Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us and oviously part of his plan for you is to teach us about Autism so we can be more understanding and more inclusive of those who have this condition. I am proud to learn about you and your accomplishments and hope to meet you sometime. I am proud to be your Uncle.

  • Char Brandl

    Thanks, Aaron. You have explained this so well. I have been asking nonspeaking typers and spellers how they learned to read and spell for over 30 years now. They usually answer, “I just knew.” I think they were learning just the same way you describe. Keep up the great work you are doing – you are helping so many of us to understand and respect the folks we love and support.

  • Richard M Warner

    I’m your grandfather’s cousin so we are cousins. I would love to meet you sometime! This article is so informative and well written and you really have a wonderful way with words! The imagery about how memories are like a carousel was so interesting! Thank you and keep up the great work!

  • Stephanie Barton

    I recently purchased your first novel I never get lost in the woods which had your blog information in the back. I read your most recent blog and thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge with all of us. I am a licensed Speech Language Pathologist that learned about spell to communicate after reading The Underestimated book. I applied and got accepted to cohort M. What a journey that was and still is. I work with a variety of individuals diagnosed with autism to teach them the motor skills for poking letters to spell. I love that you are an advocate for others like you. Thank you again. Have a great day! Love Stephanie

  • Karen Sue Harrison

    Hi Aaron! It’s so nice to find this blog. I am in the process of reading I Never Get Lost in the Woods and am loving it. You are so inspiring. I learned about S2C last July from my dear sister-friend who had recently learned of it at church, and soon after that, at her high school reunion. One of those folks told her about Underestimated and we both read it because her son Spencer has autism and is a nonspeaker. Since she is like a sister to me, her son is like my nephew. Even before we finished the book, we knew Spencer could learn to communicate. We went to the conference in Herndon and learned more. We came home and quickly found Spencer a fabulous practitioner, Micka, and started working on the letterboard. Spencer has been progressively and consistently showing us that he is brilliant. I am certain that someday he will communicate with us. Thank you for posting your insights. Please continue sharing your life. I am delighted to meet you!

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