Assisted Autistic Communication Does Not Warrant Blanket Dismissal by Critics

March 22, 2021

Eye-Tracking Study Proves Genuine Communication Generated by Participant 

A recent study affiliated with the University of Virginia has examined the authenticity of a controversial communication practice for non-verbal individuals on the spectrum called facilitated communication or assisted autistic communication.  For years, this method has come under scrutiny due its reliance upon the assistance of another person who holds a letter board in front of the participant to help the individual communicate. Critics of facilitated communication have suggested that the assistant could cue the user to point to certain letters in order to type out words. In fact, the scrutiny of this practice has become so fierce that the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has published two position statements actively discouraging speech-language pathologists from using facilitated communication. However this new research, which was published in Scientific Reports, found that participants utilizing facilitated communication are genuinely expressing their own thoughts and not those of their assistant. The authors of this study came to this discovery by having the study’s participants use head-mounted eye-tracking devices which measured how quickly and accurately they looked at and pointed to letters on their letter boards when responding to questions. The researchers found that by investigating the coordination between the individuals’ gaze and movements, they were able to gain insight into how the study’s subjects plan, coordinate and execute their movements. The team was even able to draw inferences about users’ underlying cognitive processes. The study included nine total participants who were recruited from a center that specializes in alternative forms of communication for children and adults with limited speech. The subjects all had at least two years of experience using a letterboard. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that the overall dismissal of assisted autistic communication by critics is not warranted. 

Original Study

Accompanying Video to Study

NJACE Webinar on Assisted Autistic Communication

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