Burdened with the label of autism — and for decades a specter of “severe retardation,” as well — 37-year-old Goddard had no “voice” until 1997, when she learned to use a facilitated communication device. Now, she painstakingly pecks out letters with one finger and relies on the machine to convert her words to speech, although capitalization challenges and misspellings go with the territory.
She recently used the device to co-author a book with her mom, Dianne Goddard. Titled “I am intelligent, From Heartbreak to Healing — A Mother and Daughter’s Journey through Autism,” the non-fictional story details Peyton Goddard’s life from her trials with an educational system that segregated her and was inflexible to her special needs through her years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse by trusted extended-family members and even a school employee.
For years, Goddard, who lives in Point Loma in her own wing of her parents’ home, was forced to live in a speechless world, where few people realized what was bottled up inside her. Even her mother, who has a degree in education, regrets she wasted too many years obsessed with trying to “cure” Peyton and make her “ordinary,” instead of embracing her uniqueness.
“For so long, I felt this is a tragedy,” said Dianne Goddard. “It’s so much better seeing it as a gift.”
Peyton Goddard was 22 when, despite her challenges with uncontrolled body movements — what she calls “motor madness” — she learned to type with the help of her mom and other facilitators, who provide support and resistance on her arm and wrist.
The first words from the woman who was once prone to violent outbursts and bizarre, self-destructive behavior, who was deemed “a hopeless case” by so many were: “I am intlgent [sic].”
Denied a high school diploma, she pushed to attend Cuyamaca Community College. To quiet her body so she could engage her mind, she worked jigsaw puzzles in class. And, with the help of her parents and a team of supporters, educators and doctors who believed in her, she graduated class valedictorian in four years.
Writing the book turned into a decade-long project that took Dianne Goddard to some very dark places, where her daughter had been suicidal for years.
“Not until we wrote the book did I realize that she felt treated as subhuman,” Dianne Goddard said.
Peyton Goddard writes of her pain: “Pity I’m poisoned by hopeless way I feel wherever I’m less to you. I know intelligence in my somewhat-differently-operating brain; you presently are verifying by the daffy ways I move that I am an idiot. Therefore, opportunities for learning and living I am not allowed, and wasting I am … Walks I need because it is scary to stand still.”
Her doting dad, Pat Goddard, a former executive vice president for Chart House restaurants, has taught her to ride a bike and even ski.
Dianne Goddard points out that the book “I am intelligent” is about healing, “not curing, but living.” Published by skirt!, it is available at numerous outlets, including Amazon.
Before she was 12, Peyton Goddard spoke a little. But despair, repeated abuse and warnings “not to tell” robbed her of her voice.
Even so, she listened to her mother read the likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare and even taught herself to read some of her older brother’s classic books.
“My brain was hungry to learn so upping read I did,” she expresses. She writes in poetic old-English style, using metaphors and obsolete words, as well as some invented language.
“I’m tell this worrisome world that eases our awesomed if all persons areas freed are sweetly treasured as important,” Peyton Goddard types.
Of the private hell that long imprisoned her, she adds: “It was reaping fears that I’m human news nothing.”
Peyton Goddard sees herself as an advocate for undervalued children. She writes in her own parts of the book, which she assiduously edited herself: “Understaters utter I’m no one. I’m broken, moldy bread, throwaway trash, great leper. Now I know I’m a voice of never-heard voices. Nothings need to be heard.”
She “speaks” at school and community groups. At one event, she challenged her audience.
“I am not able to control by body,” she wrote. “I cannot talk. I need help to do most things. But I can open my heart to most people … Can you do that?”
Sitting on her living-room sofa, she whispers a few words, and Dianne Goddard is hopeful her daughter eventually will regain some speech. For now, Peyton Goddard has explained to her mom that it’s difficult for her mouth to say what her brain is thinking.
So, Dianne Goddard keeps Peyton focused on the keyboard, reminding her frequently, “Keep going” and “What’s next?”
Peyton Goddard writes this to her readers: “Ultimately the veil will drop when you, like me, are looking through eyes years rested on prejudice not, in God’s hands equal and fearless of the dashing hurdles that face us.”
Dianne Goddard said she’s fortunate that, by writing the book together, “We got to know each other on the level of the heart that some talking families don’t know.”
For more information, visit Peyton Goddard’s website, www.peytongoddard.com.