PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A teenager who spent his life almost silent has found his voice, and has now graduated high school. There are moments in life so significant that it can be hard to put it into words. But what if those rare speechless occasions were every moment, every second of most every year.
Jennifer Brady noticed developmental delays in her son, Nicholas, when he was just a toddler. But one stood out as he grew up: almost complete silence, described as selective mutism.
“He just started to do this, ah, ah and nothing was coming out,” Brady said.
But her son’s inability to speak at length didn’t mean he didn’t have something to say, as Brady learned when Nicholas was about 10 years old.
“Finally, my phone was sitting on the bed and he picked it up and typed out the words ‘I can’t speak,'” Brady said.
This went on for years until the family found out about Commonwealth Charter Academy, where he attended high school online. No one had to know that he didn’t speak.
“I didn’t know. The first year, I had no idea until the end of the year. I had a conversation with his mom over the phone,” guidance counselor Adrianne Erb said.
Thanks to the non-traditional schooling and encouragement of his guidance counselor, teachers and mom, through CCA, Nick found his voice.
“It was kind of like when you have something on the tip of your tongue, I couldn’t verbally say it,” Nicholas said.
Though it can still be hard, clearly, Nick can verbalize his thoughts now.
“I was young, I didn’t know what to expect with my life,” he said.
On Thursday, he graduated with high honors, a 4.0 GPA and was accepted to every college he applied to.
“I didn’t think my son would be successful with school and I certainly didn’t think he would be a speaker at a graduation ceremony when speaking was the one thing he struggled with the most,” Brady said.
“I started CCA quiet, shy, slow and uncomfortable,” Nicholas said.
That’s the other thing, Nicholas was selected as his graduation class speaker.
“I now gradate with a new confidence, a new sense of accomplishment, a strong feeling of pride and a voice that I did not have before CCA,” Nicholas said.