A Relish for Research:

 Meet the Researchers from the Motormorphosis 2020 Picnic


Change! Nonspeaking, minimally speaking and unreliably speaking individuals are on a transformative quest to synchronize mind and motor. Starting with the development of the motor skills to spell and building to whole body, purposeful movement, this epic transformation can be described as MOTORMORPHOSIS! Given the current climate, “Change” is appropriate as we all have felt the effects of COVID and our annual Motormorphosis conference was no different. This year, we adapted our  Motormorphosis conference into a “Virtual Picnic!” The Motormorphosis Picnic supplied plenty of tasty treats – a virtual smorgasbord of delectable insights into our nonspeaking world. We are so glad you joined us and if you weren’t able to make it, we’re happy to share these highlights! 

Research at the 2020 Motormorphosis Picnic
Once again, our audience seemed particularly hungry for RESEARCH! The two research presentations received a great deal of attention, and rightfully so. Dr. Vikram Jaswal’s, research on “Eye-tracking and Communicative Agency” and Dr. Alex Woolgar’s “Using brain imaging to detect hidden language ability in nonspeakers” piqued everyone’s appetite!  We thought we’d share a little taste of each. 

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakersS2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakers






S2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakersEye-tracking and communicative agency from Jaswal Labs: 

Abstract: “About one-third of autistic people have limited ability to use speech. Some have learned to communicate by pointing to letters of the alphabet. But this method is controversial because it requires the assistance of another person—someone who holds a letterboard in front of users and so could theoretically cue them to point to particular letters. Indeed, some scientists have dismissed the possibility that any nonspeaking autistic person who communicates with assistance could be conveying their own thoughts. In the study reported here, we used head-mounted eye-tracking to investigate communicative agency in a sample of nine nonspeaking autistic letterboard users. We measured the speed and accuracy with which they looked at and pointed to letters as they responded to novel questions. Participants pointed to about one letter per second, rarely made spelling errors, and visually fixated most letters about half a second before pointing to them. Additionally, their response times reflected planning and production processes characteristic of fluent spelling in non-autistic typists. These findings render a cueing account of participants’ performance unlikely: The speed, accuracy, timing, and visual fixation patterns suggest that participants pointed to letters they selected themselves, not letters they were directed to by the assistant. The blanket dismissal of assisted autistic communication is therefore unwarranted.”

Take a look at this new 2.5-minute animated video abstract of the May 12, 2020, UVA study on nonspeaking autistic people who communicate using a letterboard published in Scientific Reports in Nature. A text overview of the study and why it is important follows this video.

Free lesson!
We’d love to know what spellers have to say about this study. I-ASC wrote a free lesson on Dr. Jaswal’s eye tracking study so they can join the conversation! 


S2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakersMeet Alex Woolgar
Motormorphosis picnic goers were very excited meeting Alex Woolgar and learning about her work. Dr. Alexandra Woolgar is a program leader track scientist at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge, and an honorary associate professor at Macquarie University.  Woolgar and her research partners are interested in how nonspeaking autistic people understand spoken language. You can learn more about their approach to using EEG to study semantic comprehension published July 2020  in Scientific Reports in Nature and in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing  Research

From Woolgar Labs:
“We would like to learn more about how their brains process spoken words, using brain imaging technologies that are gentle and fast to set up. The aim of our research is to provide a chance for all autistic people, regardless of function, to demonstrate how well they understand word meanings. We hope to achieve this by creating suitable, reliable brain imaging measures that can be used as a marker of language processing in minimally-verbal autistic children.”

Another Free Lesson!
Dr. Woolgar is seeking input on her research from nonspeaking, minimally speaking and unreliably speaking people who spell and type.  Complete this lesson about Studying Receptive Language in Nonspeakers through Brain Imaging and submit your responses via the google form attached to the lesson or via email. 

Want to help advance autism research? Researchers from the Child Development Labs at the University of Virginia are looking for subjects to participate in these studies:

  • Parents of nonspeaking autistic children to participate in an online experiment about emotion (~60-75 minutes, $20 giftcard in compensation). Click here for a 2-minute screener, and we will be in touch. For more info, contact: lampi@virginia.edu
  • Non-autistic 4- to 7-year-old children to participate in an online Zoom study about perceptions of behavior (~15 minutes). Contact: zsargent@virginia.edu

Stay tuned for more highlights from the 2020 Motormorphosis Picnic! We will be sharing highlights as well as presentation questions and answers on the I-ASC blog, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn

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The I-ASC Executive Team & Motormorphosis Picnic Staff




The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through training, education, advocacy and research.  I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C) with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

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