The Autistic Self Advocacy Network opposes the final position statements from the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) regarding Facilitated Communication (FC) and Rapid Prompting Method (RPM). These statements take a broad position, based on incomplete and absent evidence, that all communications by users of RPM and FC should be presumed not to be their own words. These statements are disrespectful and dehumanizing. ASAN is particularly concerned by the dangerous precedent set by these statements, which we fear may lead to further infringement on non-speaking individuals’ fundamental human right to communication.
ASHA did not develop its positions in collaboration with self-advocates. Notably, although ASHA permitted – and received – comments from non-speaking autistic people, it failed to meaningfully engage with self-advocates or self-advocacy organizations during the process. This failure is particularly grave in light of the fact that the position statements are highly likely to result in the denial of language-based communication to individuals who have no comparable and usable alternatives. It is irresponsible, inappropriate, and unjustifiable to develop policies that may affect the rights of non-speaking autistic people without meeting or collaborating closely and continuously with self-advocates.
Furthermore, ASHA’s position statements were based on anecdotal case studies and the absence of confirmatory research. This is an insufficient evidentiary basis for denying communication supports to all people who use those particular supports. Instead of creating sweeping new policies, ASAN urges both ASHA and disability service professionals broadly to engage in individualized analysis to determine which communication supports are most effective for each person. For example, while some individuals may be proficient in American Sign Language (ASL), handwriting, specific augmentative communication apps, or typing, others are not. Not only is such an individualized analysis widely considered to be best practice, but it also conforms to the ADA’s mandate that communication supports be consistent with individual preferences.
The right to communication is a critical tool necessary for the free exercise of all other rights, including self-determination and self-advocacy. It is therefore vitally important that non-speaking individuals maintain access to the forms of communication that are most effective for them. ASAN will continue to defend that right, as we do all others. We urge ASHA to withdraw these statements and engage in a collaborative process with nonspeaking self-advocates to determine how to best promote access to effective communication for all. Our community deserves nothing less.
For more information, please contact Sam Crane, Director of Public Policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.