Listen 2 Us - Literacy, Self-Determination, and Interdependence for Nonspeakers

Deej, The Movie

About the film...

An alternatively communicating young man dreams of autistic civil rights.

After spending his early years in foster care, without access to language, DJ “Deej” Savarese found not only a loving family but also a life in words, which he types on a text to voice synthesizer.

In Deej, David James Savarese challenges misconceptions of what a so-called “nonspeaking” autistic can do. As one of the few alternatively communicating autistics to be fully included in regular education from kindergarten through college graduation, he advances the viewers’ understanding of what they don’t know they don’t know and gives them direct access to what full inclusion looks like both in and outside of the classroom walls.




Film website




2017 Peabody Award Winner!


Peabody Award Committee's Description of the film Deej:


 2017 | American Documentary, Inc., WORLD Channel, Rooy Media LLC, Independent Television Service (ITVS)

DJ Savarese (“Deej”) is a nonspeaking young man with autism who communicates with others via text-to-voice synthesizer, and here, via documentary and poetry, tells his own story in a collaboration with co-director Robert Rooy. Deej refreshingly avoids the trap of speaking for a person with autism. Instead, the viewer hears Deej’s own reflections and editorial as he journeys through high school and seeks admission into Oberlin College as the institution’s first nonspeaking autistic student. Filmed over six years, Deej enjoys remarkable access but avoids brash intrusion precisely by allowing Deej himself to dictate the terms of engagement, to explain scenes and events, and to determine what we should hear or see. We also hear several of Savarese’s poems, beautifully accompanied by Em Cooper’s oil-painted animation. And just as Deej’s adoptive parents are guided by an ethos of inclusion, the film demonstrates how documentary engagement with autism can show its subject’s brilliance and accomplishment rather than dwelling on limits and barriers. Ultimately, Deej takes several masterful steps forward in inclusive filmmaking, while using Savarese’s poetry to offer an at-times soulful study of adolescence, leaving home, and becoming an adult. For this, “America ReFramed: Deej” receives a Peabody Award.


Go to the film's award page.


Deej Review

From the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies--

"Deej" is a film which throws popular assumptions about non-speaking autistics’ capacities into sharp relief-- exposing viewers to their biases and preconceptions-- challenging audiences to reframe what they think they know about people which society has labeled 'unincludeable'."