Autism, Communication, and Agency

About 30% of autistic children and adults have limited ability to use speech. Most are never provided access to an effective alternative way to communicate, severely limiting their educational, social, and employment opportunities. But some nonspeaking autistic people have learned to communicate by pointing to letters on an alphabet board held by an assistant, a method that has enabled them to share their thoughts, to express their knowledge, and to advocate for themselves. Concerns have been raised, however, that the assistant rather than the nonspeaking autistic person is the actual author of text produced using this method—that the assistant somehow signals to the nonspeaking person which letters to point to. In this talk, Dr. Jaswal describes recent research that used eye-tracking to quantitatively characterize the performance of nine nonspeaking autistic letterboard users as they responded to several questions. Results showed that a cueing account of their performance is unlikely: The speed, accuracy, timing, and visual fixation patterns suggest that they pointed to letters they selected themselves, not letters they were directed to by the assistant.

Younger siblings of children with ASD are known to be at higher risk for developing language delays. The Infancy Studies Lab at Rutgers University-Newark has created an engaging interactive acoustic experience with the aim of helping baby siblings of children with ASD develop better pre-language skills known to be important for optimal and efficient language acquisition. Watch this short video to learn more about how to participate in this exciting, innovative research study.