Researcher Challenges Assumptions About Emerging Verbal Students with Autism
According to Dr. Vikram Jaswal, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, emerging verbal students with autism face significant barriers because educators frequently underestimate their intelligence and ability to communicate.
Dr. Jaswal’s research is dedicated to “validating and supporting (emergent verbal people) with specific disabilities in their communication efforts, including facilitated communication.”
Overcoming Ableist Assumptions About Learners with Autism
Dr. Jaswal admits that he had “ableist assumptions” when he began working with a group of emerging verbal young adults with autism, but he was “bowled over by the group’s curiosity, humor, and thoughtfulness.”
According to Dr. Jaswal, much of the conventional wisdom about emerging verbal students with autism is misguided. For example, researchers and educators frequently underestimate their ability to communicate and express empathy. Working with this population, Dr. Jaswal says he was “moved by the friendships I saw and the care members of this group showed for one another.”
Resistance to Facilitated Communication
One form of facilitated communication that’s often helpful for emerging verbal students with disabilities is communicating by “pointing to letters on a letterboard held by a trained communication and regulation partner.”
There is much resistance in academic circles to facilitated communication. Dr. Jaswal relates that his experience with emerging verbal young adults with autism directly contradicts much of the academic literature he has encountered: “None of this fit with the textbook narrative that gets fed to undergraduates or the deficit-focused research that is so pervasive in the field.”
Unfortunately, there is much resistance to facilitated communication from skeptics who refuse to believe that people with autism have a rich inner life. This often occurs due the common misapprehension that “someone who does not speak does not think.”
Dr. Jaswal reports that there is “unbelievable institutional resistance” to facilitated communication coming from “a strangely influential group of individuals” who have “dismissed the possibility that people who communicate with assistance from someone else are conveying their own thoughts.”
Speech Therapy and Augmentative Alternative Communication
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is the use of assistive technology such as facilitated communication to enhance communication and social interactions for learners with autism. There’s a heated debate about whether emerging verbal students should be given speech therapy instead of being provided with ACC systems of communication.
Dr. Jaswal acknowledges that “there’s a real concern that kids and adults who don’t speak will be marginalized, stigmatized, and dehumanized.” And it’s “absolutely true” that “they won’t have access to educational, social, employment, and community opportunities.”
The “ableist assumption that speech is superior to other forms of communication” causes real barriers for emerging verbal learners with autism. This is especially problematic when it comes to student assessment. Dr. Jaswal notes that “Many standardized assessments require a verbal response, which is clearly not appropriate for (emerging verbal) people.”
Helping Children with Learning Disabilities in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley
At Woodsmall Law Group, we’ve been protecting children with disabilities and helping them make the most out of their educational opportunities for over 18 years. Our firm provides knowledgeable and compassionate legal representation in matters related to the education and community access rights of individuals with special needs.
We serve special needs children and their parents in Los Angeles County, focusing on the San Gabriel Valley. Please call (626) 440-0028 to schedule a FREE initial consultation, where we will go over your child’s needs in full. We speak English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Polish, and Spanish.