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Experts called Hari ‘low-functioning’ for years. Then, he found his voice

Hari Srinivasan is autistic and cannot speak. He understands everything. Until he turned 12, no one knew that but him. Then, typing gave him a voice.

When Hari Srinivasan walks through crowded public spaces, he hears everything. Surround-sound snippets of conversation. A water fountain burbling. The crack of a skateboard slamming the concrete. An airplane roaring overhead. And he hears it all at once.

Sensory overload. Because his brain can’t filter the sounds. Still, all that language? Hari’s mind absorbs it. He understands perfectly and has since he was a toddler. But for years, he couldn’t speak words of his own. Instead, his mouth gave him uncontrolled outbursts — hums, snorts, and random outbursts known as vocal stims. His hands danced. His fingers flicked the air. Doctors and behavioral experts called him low-functioning.

Then, at age 12, Hari emerged from his prison of silence. Suddenly, he had a voice. It came out of a computer speaker when he typed — robotic and stilted. It changed his life. Listen to Hari’s story here.

"No intelligence possible you say Inside the body, that acts a certain way What pray should I tell you? Big mistake to judge a book by its cover" — Hari Srinivasan, poem

Lee Romney is the Crosscurrents education reporter. You can reach her at education@kalw.org

Editor's note: This print story has been shortened from its original version. The audio remains the same. Listen to the story by clicking on the triangle above.

Crosscurrents BerkeleyEducation