I got a response back from Dr. Leaf, which he gave permission for me to print. He followed up this response with another, expressing his displeasure that I posted my own letter before he had a chance to respond, thus opening himself up to criticism from all of you and further confusing the issues without having a chance to respond. He's got a point, actually. (Honestly, I didn't really expect a reply; I figured my email had enough of a "random kook" vibe to go straight to the delete folder.) My sincere apologies, Dr. Leaf.
I have to say, in all honesty, that I'm not sure that I agree with him that his quote was taken entirely out of context. In reading his response, however, it strikes me that the wording in USA Today ("If we could get children to talk without using technology, that would be our preference.") is a pretty indelicate distillation of what he says here, and I do agree that it doesn't represent his position very clearly.
Most of all, I appreciate that he took the time to respond, and I'm happy to pass that response on to you.
And yes, I do expect the rest of you to address me as Dr. Rob from now on. I mean it. I didn't not go to medical school so you could call me Mister.
Dear Dr. Rummel-Hudson,
I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns. All too often people are not given a chance to respond and even sometimes create controversy perhaps when there is none.
Unfortunately, my quote was taken out of context. As I told the reporter, I believe augmentative devices are very useful. It is the reason why I often recommend schools and parents utilize any devise that will give their children the opportunity to communicate their desires and equally important connect socially with their parents, brothers and sisters and friends.
However, it would be parents’ and professionals’ dream for their children to be able to communicate without augmentative devices, just as we would prefer for children to be able to be successful in school without needing an aide. Or we would prefer that a child would not need medication to control their behavior. But when this is not possible or if it is a lengthy process then anything that will help our children is a godsend!
I am concerned that in the world of Autism the expectations are woefully low and too often people settle for a prosthesis when a child could actually learn the skill. In our clinic we find among preschool age children about half of them already have functional speech even before treatment and this is consistent with what the research literature shows. The research also shows that of those remaining 50% who are nonverbal, the vast majority of them can develop meaningful speech with intensive early intervention and will not require AAC devices (or PECS, or sign language, etc.) either as a means or alternative to vocal speech. This has been our clinical experience as well. I encounter so many families who have been told to simply accept their child’s handicap and are discouraged from seeking treatment that could make an enormous difference in children’s lives. It’s amazing to see how excited people become over a new device and fail to recognize that the it might not be necessary.
We think children deserve to have the highest level of independence possible. If that turns out to be best achieved through use of state-of-the-art AAC, I am thrilled. But if a child could be talking and is not given the opportunity to access state-of-the-art education and treatment, I am greatly saddened.
Nothing I have said should detract from the joy of parents and accomplishments of children who really do need alternate modes of communication.