Alex Alciati, 20, has never been able to speak, but has developed a unique way of communicating with others.
"Early on he taught everybody that a move of his arm or a shake of his head was yes or no," said Sandy Hesler, Alciati's Community Integration coordinator.
Alciati, a senior at Jamesville-Dewitt High School, was also born with low muscle tone, which keeps him wheelchair bound. In addition to Heseler, his mother, Diane Nappa, and several nurses participate in his care.
It was with their assistance that Alciati was recently able to complete his first poem for a creative writing workshop he takes at the DeWitt Community Library.
The assignment was to write a poem inspired by one of the works of art on loan to the library from the Everson Art Museum in Syracuse.
Alciati chose the painting "Self-Portrait with Monkey" by Mexican artist Frida Khalo. He also watched a documentary about Khalo's life to gain a better understanding of the artist before writing his piece.
His writing assistants first asked what aspects of the painting he wanted to focus on and then which words he wanted to use. As he can only answer yes or no questions, the 20-line poem took about a month to complete.
"So there's a lot of labor and thought that goes into it," Hesler said.
She has been working with Alciati for 14 years and can easily detect the sometimes-subtle movements he uses to answer questions. Moving his left arm or shaking his head means no, moving his right arm or raising his eyebrows is a yes. Alciati will also shrug his shoulders if he has no particular inclination. In addition, he sometimes uses an electronic communication device with switches for yes and no and a computerized voice to indicate his answers.
Hesler said Alciati decided to focus on Khalo's character and appearance in the painting and described her as firm, confident, loyal and proud.