2 UC Berkeley students make history as 1st nonspeaking autistic graduates

Lyanne Melendez Image
Friday, May 20, 2022
2 Cal students make history as 1st nonspeaking autistic graduates
David Teplitz and Hari Srinivasen make history at U.C. Berkeley as the first nonspeaking autistic graduates.

BERKELEY, Calif (KGO) -- Someone once said, "Nothing is impossible as long as you believe in it." That best describes two nonspeaking autistic students from U.C. Berkeley who graduated with honors this week. It is a milestone for them and for Cal.

Five years ago David Teplitz decided to get on a road not taken before at U.C. Berkeley. He has nonspeaking autism.

ABC7 News Senior Education reporter Lyanne Melendez sat down with David and his mother as he showed us how he communicates through a touch-to-speech program on his laptop.

Without looking at the keyboard he taps one letter at a time.

VIDEO: Warriors' Draymond Green, former college teammate hold Autism Awareness basketball camp

April is National Autism Awareness Month and in recognition, the Warriors held a basketball camp with Draymond Green as a leading voice.

Lyanne asked him what did he want people to know about those like him with autism who are nonspeaking.

Again, it takes David some time but he is thorough and thoughtful.

"I want people to know that we can achieve a lot if we are able to participate," David's answer appears on the screen.

David and his friend Hari Srinivasen have led the path for other students at Cal with similar disabilities.

Both were diagnosed with apraxia. So, for the majority of people, the brain is able to coordinate how my jaw, lips, tongue and soft palate come together to make sounds and words. But Hari and David find it difficult to make all of those movements.

RELATED: UC Berkeley autism advocacy club hosts 5K walk to raise funds, awareness

Despite the challenges, Hari graduated with a 4.0 GPA and has now received a fellowship to pursue his Ph.D. in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University.

During his graduation ceremony, David was escorted by his aide Devon Rodrigues. He graduated with a 3.85 GPA, receiving a degree in political science with a minor in disability studies.

"How does it feel to graduate from one of the top universities in the country?" Lyanne asked him.

"It feels especially wonderful to graduate from Cal. It has been my dream for so many years and I am proud that I accomplished it. I hope it inspires other non-speakers that want to go to college to know that it is possible," he wrote.

A goal set out by U.C. Berkeley that helped improve the quality of life for individuals like David and Hari.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live