Promotion of Communication Access, Choice, and Agency for Autistic Students

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Purpose: Families and professionals often consider augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) a “last resort” for persons with communication chal-lenges; however, speaking autistic adults have reported that they would have benefited from access to AAC as children. This tutorial discusses the history of this “last resort” practice and its perpetuation within the medical model of dis-ability. The tutorial focuses on communication access, choice, and agency for autistic students. Method: We provide a brief overview of the AAC community and their preferred terminology, review the history of traditional approaches to research on AAC and autism, and then examine the relationship between disability models and ableism to views of spoken language as a priority of intervention. Studies on this topic are rare, and resisting ableism requires acknowledging and honoring disabled people’s experiences and expertise. Therefore, we promote autistic expertise within the framework of evidence-based practice and discuss the experiences of autistic people and spoken language. Finally, we consider the role of the speech-language pathologist (SLP) in assessment and offer autistic-based strategies and recommendations for communication support. Conclusions: Speaking autistic students who could benefit from AAC may not have access to AAC due to the prioritization of spoken language and lack of awareness of the benefit of AAC. We recommend that SLPs and school-based professionals support and facilitate access, communicative choice, and agency by implementing multimodal communication strategies to include AAC use for autistic students regardless of their spoken language status. Promoting all types of communication and ensuring opportunities for communication across multiple modalities are paramount to a child’s agency and self-determination, as is normalization of AAC.




Donaldson, A. L., Corbin, E., Zisk, A. H., & Eddy, B. (2023). Promotion of Communication Access, Choice, and Agency for Autistic Students. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 54(1), 140–155.

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