Colchester's Mark Utter Brings Nonverbal Autism to Blog and TV | Live Culture

Colchester's Mark Utter Brings Nonverbal Autism to Blog and TV

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Mark Utter - COURTESY OF UTTER COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES
  • Courtesy of Utter Communication Strategies
  • Mark Utter
It's hard not to feel like a slacker when comparing one's work ethic to that of Mark Utter. 

Longtime readers may recall Seven Days' April 11, 2012, cover story about Utter titled, "Utterly Mark: A Vermonter with autism makes his inner voice heard through film." It examined how the then-47-year-old, who'd been diagnosed as mentally retarded as a child because he was unable to speak, finally overcame nonverbal autism via an alternative method known as supported typing or facilitated communication — FC for short.

For the last eight years, Utter’s FC "facilitator," Emily Anderson, has been helping him type by holding his elbow and occasionally offering him verbal encouragement. Eventually, Anderson helped Utter write and direct a 25-minute award-winning autobiographical film called “I Am in Here: A View of My Daily Life With Good Suggestions for Improvement From My Intelligent Mind.”

Never willing to remain silent for long, Utter has since launched his own blog, which went live in July, called Utterly Mark. According to Anderson, he was first inspired to begin blogging in the summer of 2013 while attending a  conference at Syracuse University's Institute on Communication and Inclusion, where others with similar disabilities were blogging, as well. A year later, says Anderson, Utter launched his own blog, using several pieces he'd written previously.

Since then, she says, Utter has been cranking out posts on a range of topics — disabilities, horses, his travels, the recent winter snowstorm — at a rate of about one per week. That's no easy task for someone who can take as long as five minutes to write a single sentence.

According to Anderson, who still works with Utter on his writing two days each week, the response to Utter's blog has been enthusiastic and positive. She reports that more than 400 people from around the country now receive Utter's weekly email blasts about his new posts.

Among the posts that generated the most discussion and feedback was one two months ago about his latest media project: Utter's television interview program on CCTV in Burlington called “The Uttering Mind.” The premiere episode, which first aired on October 30, featured an interview with Paul Schnabel, the Vermont actor who played Utter’s own mind in I Am in Here.

As Anderson explains, it would have been easier for Utter if he had simply typed out his questions in advance. Instead, she says, "He did it like a real interview, where one question inspires the next one.” Utter typed his questions, with Anderson's help, while a computer-generated voice reminiscent of Stephen Hawking's spoke his words. To make the interview more broadcast friendly, CCTV's Meghan O'Rourke edited out some of the dead air, though kept some of Utter's FC process so that viewers could still get a sense of the challenges of communicating this way.
And who's the next interviewee due on "The Uttering Mind"? None other than Seven Days columnist Jernigan Pontiac, the Burlington cabbie who writes the twice-monthly column, "Hackie." According to Anderson, that interview is tentatively slated to air sometime in January 2015. 

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