A call to scientists to develop communication tools for autism

My son, Leo, turned 16 in November. He’s mostly thriving: He attends a school where he is surrounded by excellent teachers, speech-language pathologists and other special education experts, and he’s the middle child in a family that adores him (the occasional sibling fireworks aside). Despite all our best efforts, though, Leo has difficulty communicating his most basic wants and needs. This is intensely frustrating for him — and for us, too.

Leo is what researchers call a minimally verbal autistic person. He has always used some words, such as Disneyland, pizza and ‘Totoro’ (a character from a Japanese animated film). Experts assumed this list would grow over time. And Leo has gained a few more spoken words with age, but his communication disability remains significant. His ability to understand far exceeds his ability to express himself.

We have tried various evidence-backed methods to encourage Leo to develop more oral speech, to no avail. So we are floundering, wondering how best to help him share what he’s thinking

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20th December 2016