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Facilitated Communication and AAC for Individuals with Autism
Research by Sara Cook and Sarah Choss
CSD 823x Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Michigan State University
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What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?

         Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a collection of developmental disabilities that can cause a wide range of social, communication and behavioral problems.  ASDs are considered "spectrum disorders" because every case of autism is different and the individual would somewhere on a continuum of a variety of characteristics.  Symptoms can range from very mild to severe and not every individual with autism has the same exact set of symptoms.

Characteristics include:
  • Deficits in social skills
  • Deficits in language/linguistic development
  • Unusual behavioral deficits
  • Deficits in emotions or emotional self-regulation
  • Heightened sensitivity (sound, pain tolerance, food textures, etc.)
  • Deficits in school-related skills

Facilitated Communication

       Definition: Facilitated communication (FC) is a technique in which physical, communication, and emotional support is provided by a facilitator to an individual with a communication disorder (communicator).

       Facilitated communication for individuals with autism is to provide assistance for that individual to communicate with others in society.  The difference between facilitated communication and augmentative communication is the lack of independence of facilitated communication.  Augmentative and alternative communication is where  the individual with a communication deficit uses a dedicated speech generating device or some other physical mode of communication such as word/alphabet boards or eye-gaze boards. Facilitated communication participants may use some of the same devices as an AAC user but the person's arm or hand is being guided by a facilitator to, for example, type out a message on a keyboard.

            "Helping" Autistic People to Speak

Augmentative and Alternative Communication for Autistic Individuals

           Definition: Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas.  Below are some examples of AAC devices useful for individuals with autism.

Benefits to using AAC:
  • Provides independence for the individual
    • Does not require a facilitator or assistant at all times
  • Functionality
    • For individuals who are nonverbal, AAC devices can provide a way to communicate his or her wants and needs. In some cases, these alternative devices will help foster oral speech and language development.
  • Social Skills
    • Allows the individual to engage in meaningful communication exchanges with others in his or her environment.

AAC and Autism

Speech Generating & Non-Speech Generating Devices

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

    PECS is a form of AAC that is typically used as an aid for children with autism and other special needs.  This evidence-based practice can be used with preschoolers all the way up to adolescents and adults. 

    PECS was designed to assist in functional communication so that non-verbal individuals can tell another individual his or her wants and needs.

    DynaVox Mayer-Johnson provides a wide array of speech generating devices used to assist individuals with cognitive, language, and physical impairments.  These devices run on a microsoft windows-based configuration and use the InterAACt communication software.  Resembling a tablet, these touch screen devices can be configured to be used with a camera mouse or eye gaze for the severely physically impaired to smaller less extensive devices for children or less physically impaired with just a basic touch screen option.
Apple iPad with Proloquo2go

    Proloquo2go is a newer, cost efficient option for individuals in need of a touch screen communication device.  This software is similar in its purpose as a DynaVox with built in symbols for picture or text-based communication. This program has natural sounding text-to-speech voice in American English and British English. Since this is not a dedicated AAC device or an evidence based practice, insurance companies will not yet provide coverage to individuals to get an iPad.  


     Boardmaker is a software created by Mayer-Johnson that allows educators to create a wide range of educational printed materials such as communication boards, sequences, individual pictures and symbols through Picture Communication Symbols (PCS). 

    One example of how Boardmaker can be used for children with ASD would be the option to create colorful visual schedules or social stories for these children to follow.
Board Maker


Beukelman, David & Mirenda, Pat (2005). Augmentative & Alternative Communication. Pittsburgh: Paul H. Brooks Publishing

Wallis, C. (2006, May 10)."Helping" Autistic People to Speak." Time.Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Facts About ASD. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from