The Boy Who Couldn't Speak by Ben Howard
This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent
A speech pathologists office
It’s a small, claustrophobic space in a cubicle, square shape. Sterile
furniture takes up the space; a desk, some chairs, various pictures in
frames. There’s a door that leads into the space from the back.
Perhaps some potted plants. The only things of color in the space is a
beaded ball play space meant to utilize motor skills, various trains,
trucks, and other toys. The beaded ball space comes in all sorts of
colors; bright reds, oranges, blues. Primary colors meant to direct
ones attention. There is a CD player on one of the corners of his desk.
We see two figures enter from the door, AUTISM and ADHD
They are both dressed in white morph suits, with
black etchings all over them. I imagine Autism has a blank expression
with these black etchings, with very angular, straight lines etched
into Their suit. Meanwhile ADHD has the expression of a wild animal,
with the etchings leading off in all sorts of directions and patterns.
Autism moves like an automaton, with very mechanical, precise
movements. ADHD moves like a wild beast, distracted by everything and
every small movement. In short, they don’t move like people.
Behind them enters THE DOCTOR. The Doctor wears a standard white lab
coat, dark beige colors, and looks inviting, albeit sterile in
decorum. They have a clipboard and a pencil.
THE DOCTOR: (To himself) Today’s date: December 21st, 1998.
Appointment for evaluation site: Children’s Hospital in…(noticing
the audience): Oh, um…hi. I…I didn’t think I’d be reporting
this, to ummmm…you all. (Pause) Are you all…are you all here to
listen to a foreword to an evaluation? Because, I asked the other
evaluators to make sure that this was a closed session…I...I suppose
it wouldn’t be in bad form to ask you all to- (noticing ADHD and
Autism) Oh, God, not…not, not these. I suppose it’s also not in
bad form to explain who these particular characters are. This is
Attention Hyper Active Disorder, or, better known as ADHD. While the
diagnostic term may sound fairly self-explanatory, it is not, what
many may commonly say, “someone who can’t focus on anything”,
even though these individuals display regular difficulties with that
ADULT JOHN enters
He is dressed in a striped sweater, black jeans, and low-top shoes; an
average, wanna-be blend in college student. He’s not entirely sure
of how or why he got there. He sees The Doctor monologuing, realizes
why he’s there, and decides to look around the office, fidgeting
with some of the toys, inspecting them. He doesn’t want to be rude
and interrupt just yet. As he enters, ADHD join him at his side, ADHD
trying to divert his attention in a million different directions while
Autism quietly walks beside him, maybe stroking his sweater, feeling
the texture of the environment around Itself, quietly.
THE DOCTOR: ADHD is defined in our profession as a high level of
mental and physical activity that results in cognitive disruption,
thus off-centering the individual’s ability to adapt to certain high
stress, focus oriented tasks. Simply put, without over simplifying an
individual with ADHD’s needs, they have a tendency to not sit well
with tasks or requirements that ask them to sit in one place for very
long. Many with ADHD, while incredibly industrious, simply will not
attend to things they don’t enjoy or already don’t take an
interest in due to the already moderate to severe cognitive load they
undertake when learning something new that takes time. And Autism,
is… well…a bit more of a vexing beast. Not to say that those with
autism are animals or less than human. Because they are. And I won’t
stand for anybody that will imply or suggest a thing about any of my
patients or clients that suffer with it. (Pause) How did you all get /
in here, exactly?
JOHN: Wow, your bedside manner must be impeccable.
THE DOCTOR: (Taken aback) Oh Jesus, I-I’m sorry, who are you exactly?
JOHN: Unimportant. Please. / Continue.
THE DOCTOR: I really don’t feel comfortable knowing that someone can
just walk into my office like that. Now, who are you?
JOHN: I don’t think those are the important questions / you should
be asking, Doctor.
THE DOCTOR: Please, explain yourself, or leave.
THE DOCTOR: I…I beg your pardon?
JOHN: And/or? Simple question, really.
THE DOCTOR: I’m not / following.
JOHN: Well, see, normally when people walk into a room unannounced,
like I did just now, and are asked to explain themselves, in the
manner that occurred just now, there’s normally an expectation that
they will also leave. Hence, why they, that being the operative
“you” in this figure of speech, will also say, “Please explain
yourself, and/or leave.” And I noticed you gave me the distinct
choice to either explain myself…or leave. Like, like, like…like
it’s the allusion to freedom of will that will compel me to answer
your question…(He’s lost himself) which was…?
THE DOCTOR: (Fascinated): Explain yourself?
JOHN: Right…which I won’t…which means…
THE DOCTOR: Well, I don’t see why you need to leave / just yet, but
I still want to know why you’re here.
JOHN: And I don’t see why either. And why? Why does it matter?
THE DOCTOR: Because you...(Realizing something) You have a
JOHN: No, I don’t.
THE DOCTOR: No, I believe / you do. Let me consult my files / on hand
JOHN: No, I believe I don’t. Listen please, PLEASE. DON’T.
THE DOCTOR: Then tell me what it is you want, and what you’re doing
in my office
JOHN: (Pause) Finish explaining who that is (Pointing at Autism) to
those people (pointing to the audience) Then I’ll talk.
THE DOCTOR: Do you…do you know who these people are?
JOHN: Yeah. I invited them here. (Pause. He’s left hanging there)
Right, guys? You can’t leave me hanging / here.
THE DOCTOR: Who are these people?
JOHN: Well, they’re an audience.
THE DOCTOR: I’m s-sorry, a what?
JOHN: An audience. Honest question, do you have a hearing problem?
THE DOCTOR: These people are an audience?
THE DOCTOR: As in, they’re spectators.
THE DOCTOR: For a…
JOHN: Go on. Say that magic word.
THE DOCTOR: A performance? That’s who these people are? I was
incredibly shocked to already see these people here, but they
seemed…separated from me so I wasn’t too concerned with it…
(Pause) Did you already know what I was going to say?
JOHN: Yes. And no.
THE DOCTOR:(Longer pause) I have some questions.
JOHN: As I’m sure you do.
THE DOCTOR: First and foremost, if this is a show, with people
watching…does that make you and me…?
JOHN: Do you leave all of your thoughts unfinished like this?
THE DOCTOR: Characters? No, no, no, I’m not, I’m more than
thoughts on a page / I have a whole life ahead of and before me.
JOHN: Believe what you wanna believe. Look, that bit isn’t really
important right now, just pretend that these people are apart of
some…what do they call it? (A horrible pause. The Doctor is trying
to grapple with this) What do they call it? When the surgeon is
conducting surgery and people are watching it?
THE DOCTOR: (Dejectedly) An operating theater.
JOHN: Right! Just pretend you’re giving a, a seminar on this or some
shit like that and these people have come out to have a sort of…
“educational experience”. (To audience) Right, guys?! (Waiting for
an audible response from the audience) Ok, let me…break the ice
here. This sort of “call and response” is for you guys. So, when I
look at you, you’re more than welcome to respond. I know, it’s a
little awkward, but we’re gonna have to be…friends, for an
evening. RIGHT, guys?! (When he hears the audience come back at him,
he’s vindicated by it) Oh good, I’m not just screaming into the
void for no reason anymore. Ok, great, Doctor…take it away please!
THE DOCTOR: (Complete disbelief, pause): I…I’m not entertaining
this. I’m calling security.
JOHN: I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
THE DOCTOR: And why is that?
JOHN: You’d make them very upset. (Indicating Autism. On this,
Autism turns to face The Doctor. Silently. Mechanically.)
THE DOCTOR: You’re referring to Autism.
THE DOCTOR: An abstract manifestation of a learning disorder.
JOHN: Sure, if that’s what you wanna call it.
THE DOCTOR: (pulling out a cell phone) I’m not hearing / any more of this.
JOHN: Oh sure, but you’ll certainly be hearing more of The Screech.
(Autism moves silently to the side of John, still bathed in a soft blue)
THE DOCTOR: The what?
JOHN: Make that call and find out.
The Doctor shrugs him off, dials the number, and a piercing, blood curdling screech permeates the theater
Autism crouches into a ball and self-stimulates, while John stares The
Doctor down. The Doctor can’t handle the noise. The Screech should
make everyone’s skin crawl and want to jump off them. It shouldn’t
be pleasant in the slightest. The Doctor stumbles back, and he
accidentally presses play on the CD player, and The Screech is stopped
short by Fur Elise by Beethoven reverberating throughout the theatre.
John, Autism, and ADHD stop, transfixed, in a trance. The Doctor sees
this, and is intrigued.
THE DOCTOR: (to himself) Ok, duly noted. (He lets it play for a few
moments, takes some notes, and then presses pause on the CD. Autism,
ADHD and John are woken out of the trance) Are we more…adjusted,
now? (Pause) I won’t ask about that just yet. I’ve had my fair
share of patients on the spectrum but…that’s a bit-
JOHN: Overly dramatic?
THE DOCTOR: Yeah. That’s an applicable term.
JOHN: So how about we put down the phone and tell our lovely audience
about our non-verbal / friend here?
THE DOCTOR: I don’t believe that as a professional I should be
JOHN: Then put aside your beliefs for the sake of art. It’s what any
good artist does.
THE DOCTOR: Oh, is that right?
JOHN: At least, the ones that make a profit.
THE DOCTOR: What exactly are you trying to do here?
JOHN: I just told you, I’m trying to make a play-
THE DOCTOR: Yes, but about what exactly? What are you setting out to
do with this? Why me?
JOHN: (Pause) I don’t know.
THE DOCTOR: You don’t know what you’re trying to do?
JOHN: Should I? Does it really matter? Does anything matter?
THE DOCTOR: Yes, yes, and that last one keeps me up at night but I’m
going to go ahead and say yes.
JOHN: (Long awkward pause) I never have.
THE DOCTOR(Realizing what he’s dealing with): Then maybe I can help
JOHN: How would you…Ooooh, I see what / you mean! Oh my GOD I could
just kiss you!
THE DOCTOR: I can explain what Autism is to, yeah, yeah. Oh please
JOHN: Right, sorry, sorry…(indicating the audience) Please, uh, go on.
THE DOCTOR: So, do I stand here or-
JOHN: Oh, just stand where you were originally, yeah, yeah.
THE DOCTOR: Ok, ok…(facing the audience) So, as I was saying, Autism
is a bit more complicated to explain in the…vernacular sense
sometimes, so I’ll try my best.
While The Doctor explains, we see John and ADHD become incredibly impatient
It gradually builds, until eventually they find themselves fidgeting with
anything that isn’t nailed down in the office, and eventually
manipulating Autism’s limbs, face, poking It, etc. Autism barely
reacts, as if in a catatonic state, but merely tilts its head in a
sort of faux quizzical expression
THE DOCTOR: Autism is defined as a spectrum in which the disorder
moderately, or severely, impairs social communication or interaction.
Typical symptoms associated with autism range from inappropriate
social interactions and gestures, repetitive behaviors, and a typical
misunderstanding of sarcasm, irony, or detailed nuances of
interaction. As I was saying earlier, this is not to say that everyone
on the ASD, the Autism Spectrum Disorder that is, is functionally the
same type of person; many experience different grades of these
symptoms, and many still find great success in their lives. What many
characterize Autism as though, is the typical “non-verbals”
populace, or, put more simply, the ones who weren’t quite able to
develop complex thought or speech…or, in some extreme cases, no
speech capabilities at all. (To John, finding him not paying attention
along with ADHD Did that suffice?
JOHN: Oh, uhh, yeah…that sounded perfect.
THE DOCTOR(Kindly, patiently, but still through gritted teeth): Were
you paying attention?
JOHN: Yes, yes I was and, and you wanna know how?
THE DOCTOR: Please. Enlighten me.
JOHN: Because, because…I think that bit at the end…
THE DOCTOR: Which one?
JOHN: The one about the “extreme cases, no speech” deal…I think
it should be “The Ones Who Couldn’t Speak.”
THE DOCTOR: Uhh, ok…may I ask / why?
[End of Extract]