In 2016, the Autism Self Advocacy Network filed a complaint to the Department of Justice in an attempt to allow non-speaking autistic students who use letter boards to be able to use them in their schools in Arlington County. Sue Fletcher-Watson countered this idea, citing that there was minimal evidence for this type of communication technique, Rapid Prompted Movement. The main debate between the two authors is whether or not there needs to be evidence to support the idea for schools to fund it, and Fletcher-Watson believes there must be evidence.
Fletcher-Watson gives two reasons why there should be studies done to prove the effectiveness of RPM. The first is that the testing is not actually on the autistics, but the communication partners/ supporter. They, according to Fletcher-Watson, are “open to potential bias, whereby the supporter either moves the board or uses other prompts to guide the autistic user to point to specific letters.” However, there may not need to be a study for this, particularly in the Arlington case, where we have seen Emma and Huan use multiple communication partners, as Fletcher-Watson stipulated as a necessary part of testing. It would be difficult for all staff members of the GKTC to make a personality for each person and remember it between all of them.
The next reason Fletcher-Watson gives is that evidence is necessary to inform those funding the programs. While studies could be effective in this, they take time and may take away time that the autistic could be communicating. I think that empirical studies may not have to be the evidence, but instead show the Arlington Five as evidence themselves of effective communication techniques.
These readings were particularly interesting to me, as I’m from Arlington and went to the same elementary and middle school as Huan. My cousin is also a teacher at one of the high schools. Yet, I had no idea this was going on, because the “special needs” students were mostly separated out in different classrooms. I honestly am surprised that a generally progressive place like Arlington is not considering new and innovative ways to allow their students to communicate. These students clearly are facing many obstacles, including having to provide empirical evidence, which can be overcome by simply watching the students on the letter boards.
While Fletcher-Watson believes she communicated with a non-speaking autistic by “sharing smiles and laughter or frowns and yells,” I can almost certainly assure her that this autistic could have offered so much more, if she were able to communicate through a letter board or whatever way worked for her. I think that people need to be more open to different ways of communication, particularly in allowing the Arlington Five to use their letter boards in order to communicate their intelligence. We’ve seen just how insightful and smart they are, and I think it would be unfair to not allow others to experience this.