What an Autism Treatment is Not


When did communicating in a non-verbal way become a “emerging treatment?” Here is one in many examples demonstrating how the National Standards Report does not understand the genuine meaning of autism treatment. Is a blind person who uses Braille deemed to be receiving “Braille treatment?” Of course not. The contention would be deemed absurd. It is equally absurd to propose that non-verbal communication efforts and innovations for persons with autism somehow constitute a form of treatment for the disorder. I understand the urge of academics who work in this area to elevate their research to the level of autism treatments, but in my view this is a fundamentally dishonest thing to do.  

What exactly is “Augmentative and Alternative Communication Device” treatment? It is defined by the National Standards Report as the use of “high or low technologically [sic] sophisticated devices to facilitate communication”. Allow me to translate: the use of pictures, photographs, symbols, books, computers/iPads to be able to communicate is apparently a definition of an autism treatment. If typing on a computer is a form of “communicative treatment,” then everyone who spends time on a computer is receiving “keyboard treatment.” Perhaps, we should get our health insurance companies to pay for our computers, since typing can be defined as a form of treatment!

There are two serious questions that need to be addressed: 1) Should children with autism be using these computers as communicative devices? If so, 2) Which children with autism should be using these non-verbal devices to communicate?

If a child has to use a device like this permanently, then we have failed to teach him/her to communicate as does 99% of the world. Some children may not be able to communicate without a device; however, I am of the view that a child afflicted with autism must have every opportunity to learn to communicate without reliance on either a device or sign language prior to introducing these alternatives. We don’t know whether the child can learn to orally communicate until we have provided the child a way to master the very difficult skill of oral communication. Only then should we resort to non-verbal ways of communicating.

That said, sign language and any kind of communication device should not be elevated to the level of treatment. Those behind the National Standards Report should know better!


Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D. on Twitter
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.
Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.

0 thoughts on “What an Autism Treatment is Not

  • This is quite a rant of yours.  I’m glad you brought up braille.  Much as it may annoy you that people think augmentative communication is a good thing, it actually works, unlike these magical “treatments” you want all the money to go to.  Your plan would be comparable to taking all the money away from braille–which is not much, by the way–and putting it all into efforts to make blind people read like sighted people.  YES, we SHOULD pay for autistics who can’t communicate with speech to use methods other than speech.  What kind of monster would silence the only means a person has to communicate?  It won’t spur them to learn new ways of communicating; we’re not choosing to be autistic; lack of speech isn’t something we do to piss you off.  It’s how our brains are wired, and it sometimes leaves us with non-vocal forms of communication being the only option.  What kind of monster would take that option away?  It’s a horrible plan and a horrible thing to do to a human being.  Shame on you. 


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