Post 5 for 4/5: Communication is a Basic Need

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.

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5 Responses to Post 5 for 4/5: Communication is a Basic Need

  1. Vikram says:

    It does seem to present quite a burden for individuals to have to prove repeatedly, according to the rules that someone who has never met them or taken the time to understand their method of communication, that they are the authors of their messages.

  2. Flo Yan says:

    Hi Claire, I agree that simply sharing smiles is incredibly limiting with the expression of thoughts that an autistic individual may have. However, how do we find a fair balance of being open to new communication methods and also being weary of embracing other interventions, such as ABA-based practices?

  3. Sam Powers says:

    Hi Claire, reflecting on this post following the exchange, it makes me even more mad that Arlington County was unwilling to try to engage with the Arlington 5 to understand their method of communication. I will admit that in the exchange, I was highly scrutinizing the letter board communication methods and am even more convinced that it is legitimate. Especially seeing the art project take place where the Tribe had to communicate without the letterboard as well as with it, they all had the same personalities in terms of complexity and type of projects they took on as they did when speaking on the letter boards. I have no clue how Arlington could have justified their decision. There is pretty clear evidence.

  4. Brittany Halsey says:

    Hi Claire! I like your point about how smiling and laughing with the autistic person Fletcher-Watson met isn’t all that that person had to offer. Having experiences with the Tribe, this is easy to see that autistics have so much insight to offer. I agree that it is unfair for people to have to continually prove that their method of communication is accurate. I can image it is frustrating, but I hope the Arlington Five and others like them keep up their persistence in fighting for the ability to communicate in schools.

  5. Elin Woolf says:

    Hey Claire! Cool post. What makes me sad about Fletcher-Watson is that she seems to be accepting of people with autism and in her writing it is pretty clear she wants what is best for them. You sum it up well by suggesting that she is missing out on what autistics have to offer, by only reducing their relationship potential to shared smiles and laughter. I also agree with your conclusion that not being able to appreciate how insightful non-speaking autistics can be is unfair to them and unfair to everyone who misses out on getting to know these intelligent, kind people.

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