Nonspeaking Autistic Students Resources
Welcome to the xMinds Nonspeaking Autistic Students Committee webpage. Our goal is to contribute to the improvement of educational outcomes and experiences of nonspeaking and minimally speaking autistic students in Montgomery County by providing information and data on and from nonspeaking autistic students. This is a work in progress and we encourage questions and open conversation, as well as suggestions for additional information to be added to this page. Please note that inclusion of any therapies or communication methods on this page does not constitute an endorsement by xMinds.
For more information, see our playlist on Supporting Nonspeaking Autistic Students on the xMinds YouTube Channel. You’ll find interviews with nonspeaking autistic self-advocates, hear straight from nonspeakers about the successful inclusion of students, learn about functional communication plans, and hear about the importance of an education team presuming competence in autistic students.
What exactly is speech? And why do we describe individuals as "nonspeaking" rather than "nonverbal?"
According to the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) website “Speech” is “how we say sounds and words” and includes articulation, voice and fluency.
Because the term ‘nonverbal’ derives from the Latin word for ‘without words’ it perpetuates the inaccurate assumption that individuals without speech are unable to use words entirely. In fact many nonspeaking autistic individuals communicate using words even if they do not communicate by speaking those words; instead they communicate by writing, typing, using sign language, letter-boards,or eye-gaze -- and they very often understand words they read and hear. It is for this reason that we prefer the term "nonspeaking" over the more commonly used term "nonverbal." The term Nonspeaking is not only more accurate, but is preferred within the autistic community, according to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.
What is AAC or Augmentative and Alternative Communication?
Communication devices, systems, strategies and tools that replace or support natural speech are known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). These tools support a person who has difficulties communicating using speech. They can be as low tech as using sign language or pencil and paper and as high-tech as electronic voice-generating devices. Examples of AAC are found later on this xMinds webpage, and you can see a comprehensive introduction to AAC here.
Myths About Nonspeaking Autistic People
Popular misconceptions about nonspeaking autistic people:
These statements are untrue. To get a fuller picture of what nonspeaking autistic people are really capable of, we invite you to explore the resources on this page from nonspeaking autistic people themselves, as well as the academic research and other media we have collected here.
There is a dearth of data on people with autism who are non– or minimally–speaking, so that even the most basic information is hard to find.
Surprisingly, it is not even known with certainty what percentage of autistic individuals fall within the category of non– or minimally speaking. Estimates range from 25% to 40% of all individuals with autism. From our review of the research, it seems that the most commonly cited proportion is one-third.
Here is what we can estimate for the number of non– or minimally speaking autistic students in Montgomery County Public Schools: Based on the 2023 CDC report on prevalence of autism, 2.8% of the 160,554 MCPS students are autistic. That means about 4,496 -- or almost 5,000 MCPS students are autistic. If 25% to 40% of the autistic students are nonspeaking, the population of nonspeaking autistic students in MCPS may be in the range of 1,124 to 1,798 students.
Straight from the Real Experts: Nonspeakers
For Whose Benefit?: Evidence, Ethics, and Effectiveness of Autism Interventions. This white paper discusses autistic people's perspectives on the ethics and purpose of autism interventions. It explains the ethical problems at the heart of the popular autism intervention Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and the lack of evidence to support ABA. Published by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
Creating a "Profound Autism" Category Is Segregation, Not Progress. The parent of an autistic individual explores the issues with using the term "profound autism." Posted on the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism.
Controversy associated with Facilitated Communication and RPM. In 2018 the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) issued a position statement discouraging the use of Facilitated Communication and RPM, claiming that the words were cued by facilitators and were not the words of the autistic nonspeakers. The autistic community and other advocates of nonspeakers responded strongly in opposition to ASHA's position. Find out the autism community's objections to the ASHA position statement here. Relying on the ASHA statement, MCPS currently does not support the use of RPM or Facilitated Communication by students.