Delco nonprofit helps adults with autism communicate using letter board

In 2017, Tom Foti helped develop a program for A.A.L.I.V.E called Inside Voice.
SPRINGFIELD, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Tom Foti had goals of pursuing a job in radio but changed course after an interaction with his brother, Brian, who is autistic and nonverbal.

Brian was using a spelling board with their parents to communicate.

"Once I saw him spell 'open-ended' for the very first time, I said, 'OK, I need to learn how to do this.' I started working with him on the side, and then eventually I put my two weeks in where I was working," recalled Tom of Springfield, Delaware County.

For Tom, where to go next was an easy choice. His family had already started a nonprofit back in 2007, called A.A.L.I.V.E.

"What A.A.L.I.V.E. does is it creates social opportunities for families with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including people with autism," he said.

In 2017, Tom helped develop a program for A.A.L.I.V.E called Inside Voice. The program helps teach nonverbal and limited speaking people with autism ages 16 and up how to communicate by letter board. It's the same technique that helped his brother.

Along with Tom, Emily Pinto of Drexel Hill is the co-director of the program.

"These individuals are soaking in their environments. They're taking in everything around them. They're forming beautiful content, complex thoughts about all those things, but their body isn't able to communicate that information through speech the way that you and I are," said Emily.

Currently, Emily and Tom have around 35 students in individual and group sessions, Gregory Tino is one of them. His mother, Linda, says she didn't know that she was underestimating her son.

"He was 25 when he started, and I thought he had the intelligence of a toddler," said Linda. "He now writes a blog where he writes almost every other day with me. He writes the most profound stuff, beautiful poetry. He's written a book that took him a year and a half."

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