Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say

The title of this post is a famous saying, many of you will already be familiar with. The saying comes from an Australian educator, Rosemary Crossley, the developer of Facilitated Communication Training, or FC for short.  FC is a method of helping people with difficulty in planning movements, such as those with autism or cerebral palsy, to gain sufficient control of their bodies to be able to point out letters and spell words.

FC is controversial, but I really wish it weren’t. There are some small studies that claim to find that Autistics using FC are not really communicating but being used, like a puppet, by the facilitator. I have several friends who use FC to communicate and I have zero doubt that I am really communicating with my friend. I do not believe that a facilitator can manipulate anyone that skillfully using the methods of FC. I was pleased to see a much larger study showing that FC is valid communication on the part of the person rather than their facilitator because that is something I already knew, without needing a study, but it’s reassuring when science can back up our observations. FC can be difficult to test because there are aspects of the Autistic neurology that can make some of us not perform well on standard tests, but many of the participants in the study linked above were shown a word while their facilitator was out of the room and then were able to type that word when the facilitator returned with no knowledge of what word was going to be typed.

FC came to America and has helped many Autistics be able to communicate with others in a way that everyone could understand. This is a great gift and should be supported! I sometimes feel that therapists place too much emphasis on acquiring speech and almost no emphasis on acquiring means of communication. To my mind, the most crucial first thing to do when trying to help an Autistic person is to open up lines of communication. Some of us speak late and some never speak or never acquire speech that is good for communication purposes. Don’t waste one minute! Open up communication first! It can be sign language, independent typing, pointing to letters on a card or board, facilitated communication, graphic systems like PECS or Bliss, the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), or whatever works. That’s the important thing — use what works! Communication is more important than speech. The connection of communication is worth using any method that works. In the case of autism, we have a developmental delay that causes us to hit milestones later than our age peers. Speaking may come later (or not at all) but the need for communication begins at birth. Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say!

A friend came to me yesterday and said that she had a t-shirt with that quote on it and needed to get a replacement because it was starting to develop holes and show other signs of wear and age. I Googled and found another t-shirt but she didn’t want to buy from the seller for ethical reasons (which I support) so I made some designs for her. I made five designs that can be put on adult or children’s t-shirts. A couple of them are also available as stickers or greeting cards. I am sharing them here, in case someone else wants a t-shirt with this quote as well. I love this quote because it challenges assumptions and it reminds us all that ideas and communication are the important part. Using speech to accomplish these goals is great if it’s attainable. But if a person is not able to speak, we can’t just dismiss them as not having anything worth communicating!




a sunflower with the quote superimposed on it

Quote superimposed on a photo of a joyful child wearing a tie-dye t-shirt

the quote in rainbow text on a dark background


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Autism Mom on September 8, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    “therapists place too much emphasis on acquiring speech and almost no emphasis on acquiring means of communication” – such a great insight! Thank you!

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