Hecklers from the Penn State conference not finished: Drexel professor decides which Autistics are really autistic

During the Understanding Autism Through the Actually Autistic Lens conference with Penn State, a group of hecklers showed up during the first session of the second day. This was totally expected and planned for. These hecklers rarely miss an opportunity to show up and harass nonspeakers any time they have an audience.

As a disclaimer, this article is long. It had to be in order to provide enough context to understand why the hecklers are a part of a long-time effort to remove communication rights from Nonspeaking Autistic people.

A few days after the conference, the heckler-in-chief published a libelous article directly naming and slandering several of the Autistic presenters and erasing the voices of all of the speakers.

People in our community often reference this group as “the Detractors.”

There are only a few of them, but they are well organized and seasoned hecklers. I have collected over 1,000 pages of screenshots of their harassment on social media and in the comments during presentations and events which feature nonspeakers who gained communication through facilitated communication (FC), Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), or Spelling 2 Communicate (S2C). These three methods can be summarized as “spelling to communicate,” or simply, “Spelling.”

Within the nonspeaking autistic community, people who communicate using a letterboard, AAC device, or keyboard and who learned by one of these methods often call themselves— or are referenced by allies as— “Spellers.”

In FC, there is physical touch from the facilitator who supports the person typing or provides feedback in the form of touch to remain on task. In RPM and S2C, there is no touch involved, but at least in the initial stages, a communication and regulation partner (CRP) holds a stencil board or letterboard in front of a speller.

The Detractors

The “detractors” are a small group of people who claim that apraxic nonspeakers are not the authors of their words, that they are like a Ouija board just reading subtle cues from their communication and regulation partner (CRP).

Their most fervid zealots are the “bro skeptics,” or the variety of skeptic that self-aggrandizes as the “real scientists” while the rest of the world is full of “pseudoscience,” “social justice warriors,” “radical ideologues,” people from the “humanities” departments of academia (as if to imply that their work is not valid), and “woo.”

They are a few of the drivers behind the SLP-BCBA merger, the “Guerilla Skeptics of Wikipedia,” a few random professionals who seem to spend all their time trying to discredit Spelling, and a few random social media personalities who hate the Neurodiversity movement.

One of the most aggressive Detractors is Katharine Beals, a linguist and professor at Drexel University who was widely known for antagonizing autistics on Twitter. Eventually, she was banned for violent threats on Twitter.

Beals and a few other hecklers showed up the second day of the Penn State Understanding Autism Through the Actually Autistic Lens conference. During the presentation, “Are Nonspeaking and Nonthinking Synonymous?” Beals and crew were asking questions that, on the surface, were subtle enough to only be recognized as offensive and inappropriate by people who have spent time in the communication rights world.

The hecklers, most of whom used pseudonyms, asked questions about “facilitator influence” (implying the nonspeakers were not the authors of their words and were being influenced by the people supporting their communication), wanting peer-reviewed sources, and about “reading minds” (implying that there’s a “psychic” or mind-reading connection).

For anyone who didn’t see the offense in the moment, Beals provided her own evidence. She followed up with an article that is like all the other articles on the contrarian propaganda website, FacilitatedCommunication.org — full of misinformation, logical fallacies, threats, and ableism. (Article linked below)

I wasn’t sure if responding would be worth the effort. Giving this kind of “reporting” attention from our large platform is what they need to remain relevant since no one is really paying attention to them outside of their tiny group of ableist antagonists.

But, in order to be active co-conspirators with the Nonspeaking autistic community, you’ll need to understand the nature of the barriers to communication rights in order to be able to dismantle those barriers.

What is FacilitatedCommunication.org?

A browse through the website where Beals posted her article will show that many, if not most, of the blogs on the site follow a formula:

  1. They call out a university, media outlet, school district, organization, or other institution that featured an autistic Speller immediately following conferences, media appearances, or noteworthy accomplishments of nonspeakers, accusing the institution of ableism (ironically), financial misconduct, or scholarly misconduct.
  2. They dissect something created by Spellers and post their real names and images of them, calling their communication “Ouija.” They claim that Spellers aren’t authentically communicating but are just reading subtle cues from a communication and regulation partner.
  3. They act like a martyr and a victim, setting themselves up as the real heroes for “vulnerable” autistics.
  4. They use “Pro-FC” as an insult.
  5. They claim S2C and RPM are facilitated communication (they’re not).
  6. They employ conjecture and logical fallacies and herald themselves as “real scientists,” treating others as ignorant pseudoscientists.

To make it easy, here’s a handy BINGO card:

Detractor BINGO card

Recent articles protest Sia’s movie, Music:

This sort of “neurological appropriation” does not bother me (nor does it bother my autistic son, who recently watched Rain Man with me). Nor was I bothered by the scenes in which Music was pinned down on the ground and restrained. Both Ziegler’s performance, and the restraint scenes, struck me as believable and realistic—and, where autism is concerned, we can always use more realism. […] But: “She understands everything you say.” Sorry, but that’s highly unlikely.

Katharine Beals

Beals is fine with insulting representation and the use of prone restraints that have killed many autistic people, including Max Benson, the son of one of our Board members. She takes issue with the notion that autistic nonspeakers have the capacity to understand conversational language.

Or this article, where she talks about the “magic” and “exotic” sensory lives of “Asperger’s” compared to “autistics”:

These accounts, I suspect, vary in their reliability and accuracy, but what matters is that many people are intrigued enough to be reading them—and intrigued enough for these exotic notions of autism to spread into the broader autism universe. The most infectious memes—the synesthesia, the accumulation of hundreds of specific images, the mono-channeling, the seemingly out-of-nowhere savant skills—will reach parents and other facilitators and will subtly influence how they, in turn, influence the extended index fingers of the autistic individuals they facilitate.

Beals, weighing in on what is “real” autism… again

Beals titled her article on the Penn State conference with all the high drama to be expected:

An extended infomercial for Spelling to Communicate via Penn State and all of our tax dollars

With the incendiary title, Beals has already revealed her cognitive dissonance, target audience, and priorities: those who are sympathetic to the narrative of autism as a burden and who consume media to have their biases confirmed.

Activating the immediate prejudice of everyone who is biased against marginalized people, she evokes the entitlement of “tax payers.”

All in the title.

I’m going to go through Beals’s article and quote excerpts, then respond below each excerpt.

This past week the Trio Training program at Penn State University hosted a three day conference called “Understanding Autism through the Actually Autistic Lens”, billed as “A virtual conference dedicated to autistic voices to better provide perspectives to those who serve and advocate for the autistic community.”


So far, so good. Beals acknowledged that the conference was dedicated to platforming #OwnVoice Autistic perspectives. So she knows that the conference is explicitly for understanding autism from autistic people.


Unfortunately the “lens” in question was in large part not “actually autistic.” True, there were over a half dozen individuals who identify as autistic and whose fluent, conversational speech dominated much of the conference. But much of Day 2 involved (1) the promotion of a variant of facilitated communication, Spelling to Communicate (S2C) by two non-autistic practitioners (Emily Pinto and Brian Foti, both from the S2C AALIVE clinic) and (2), the extraction, via S2C, of messages attributed to two of the autistic presenters, Ben Breaux and Gregory Tino.

Beals (boldface mine)

I’m actually amazed at how densely-packed the problems and inaccuracies in this paragraph are. Let’s do a list:

  1. Beals claims that most of the presenters aren’t actually Autistic.
  2. S2C is NOT a variant of facilitated communication.
  3. She claims the only “real” autistics are Ben Breaux and Gregory Tino.
  4. She erases Tiffany Joseph (nigh.functioning.autism) and Tee Unmasked (galaxibrain), two AAC users who presented on the first day and who advocated for communication rights.
  5. Brian Foti is not an S2C provider. He’s a nonspeaking autistic Speller.
  6. The language “extraction of messages” and “attributed to” Ben Breaux and Gregory Tino implies they aren’t the true authors of their words.

It’s hard to believe that someone would be so openly hateful, claiming most of the presenters were frauds and not autistic and the only real autistics were the ones she claimed were not the authors of their words.

Beals makes almost identical claims about autistic people as what the prosecutor who sentenced Matthew Rushin, a Black Autistic college student, to 50 years in prison for a car accident. Because he was “articulate,” being Autistic couldn’t matter. This is especially egregious considering that Matthew Rushin himself was a guest speaker at the conference, and this very subject was discussed.

Failing to understand autism and its complexities against the subjective experience of autistic people contributes to life-or-death oppression against autistic people, especially BBIMP* Autistics who made up the majority of presenters at the Penn State conference.

*BBIMP references Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Melanated People and was coined by Louiza Doran.

In other words, Beals establishes herself as the expert of the autistic lens and the person others should listen to on what autistic people perceive. She believes so much in her entitlement to the narrative on autism, she thought it was okay to put this in print.

Surely, no one would listen to her, right?

Except it was retweeted by the Speech Pathology and ABA SIG (special interest group) affiliated with ABAI (SPABA) and individually by the SIG’s co-chairs, Nikia Dower and Tracie Linblad

Screenshot of the SPABA Twitter profile

And Susan Gerbic, of the Guerilla Skeptics of Wikipedia…

Susan Gerbic brags about “having her way with” Tito Mukhopadhyay’s Wikipedia page.

Tito’s mother, Soma, created RPM to help Tito learn to communicate and work with his apraxic body. Tito has been through extensive and rigorous testing. At age 11, he was tested by Lorna Wing of the National Autistic Society and determined to have the vocabulary of a 19-year-old. Yet the Detractors claim he cannot be the author of his own words.

Eventually, the Guerilla Skeptics had Tito’s Wikipedia page removed. NeuroClastic preserved what used to be there.

This article was also retweeted by Bill Ahearn and Jason Travers, ABA professors from Temple University…

Travers called nonspeaker and NeuroClastic Board member DJ Savarese, “DJ Savages.”

Tweet here

It was also shared to the SPABA special interest group on Facebook.

The Detractors keep ABA as the “gold standard” and manipulate the “evidence base” by editing anything related to autism or communication rights on Wikipedia (the world’s most accessed information source) while manufacturing an “evidence base” comprised almost entirely of the self-citation from this tiny group of zealots.

Moving along…

Ben Breaux’s presentation shows him frequently looking away from the letterboard while his “communication and regulations partner” calls out letters that he purportedly typed—in some cases letters that his index finger doesn’t even get close to. Breaux frequently appears distressed and stops typing in the middle of his purported messages, directing his attention elsewhere. To get him to resume typing, his communication and regulations partner frequently has to physically reunite Breaux’s hand with the letterboard.

Beals (boldface mine)

This inappropriate and degrading dissection of my friend and fellow autistic advocate, Ben Breaux, and his communication is unprofessional and rife with bigotry and ignorance.

  1. Ben seems dysregulated, not distressed. It’s not hard to imagine that an autistic person with pronounced apraxia might be nervous presenting to the thousands of people who registered.
  2. “[…]calls out letters that he purportedly typed—in some cases letters that his index finger doesn’t even get close to.” Notice Ben pulling something up on his iPad? It’s almost like he prepared his comments in advance and was referencing his notes… like any good presenter, especially one prone to severe dysregulation. That’s where he’s looking. At his notes. Ben gave an entire educational presentation with citations about himself and why his body does what it does. Was Beals banking on the fact that her circle of people would just share her article “in the name of real science” without vetting the source? Safe bet, apparently.
  3. “To get him to resume typing, his communication and regulations partner frequently has to physically reunite Breaux’s hand with the letterboard.” It’s almost like that’s the whole point…

It really doesn’t get any better from there (Beals is quoted below in italics; nested quote was a quote from Ben Breaux included in Beals’ blog):

Later on a recorded presentation attributed to Breaux discusses his life story and the apraxia-induced body-brain disconnect (a disconnect unattested in the peer-reviewed science on autism) that purportedly afflicts him. As the voice attributed to Breaux explains, when his mother tested the apraxia hypothesis by asking him to put three teaspoons of sugar into a cup (Beals)

It wasn’t until she asked me to type on my letterboard what I purposefully wanted to tell my body to do that I was actually able to accomplish this “small” task.

Breaux, quoted by Beals

But, brain-body disconnect aside, if Breaux is the one purposefully selecting the letters, how is it easier for him to first type out, letter by letter with an index finger “I want to put three teaspoons of sugar into this cup” (42 different key strokes) than it is to simply put three teaspoons of sugar into a cup? (Beals, cont.)

This is so unbelievably demonstrative of a total lack of understanding of basic principles of apraxia that I can only imagine that Beals is writing this with the bad faith in her audience that they won’t fact-check her and will simply accept what she writes as reasonable. That’s what she did in the comments during the conference, appealing to authority by announcing that she was a professor at Drexel University.

1. She continues to use words like “attributed,” “purportedly,” “if,” implying Ben is not the author of his words.

2. She claims that peer-reviewed literature does not support a “brain body disconnect” in autism. First of all, yes, yes it does. Second, that body of research grows exponentially when this is accounted:

A screenshot from Ben Breaux’s presentation indicating autism and apraxia are not the same, but that as many as 65% of autistic people have speech apraxia. With citation…

3. Beals acts incredulous about why Ben could type out a sentence but couldn’t spoon coffee into a cup. In Ben’s citation-heavy explanation, he detailed the neurophysiological difference between motor ability and motor planning and how apraxia relates to motor planning.

For anyone who doesn’t watch the presentation, Ben explained that doing activities that aren’t well practiced is difficult for apraxic folk. He could make the food because of his extensive practice. He could point to spell because of extensive practice. Engaging in initiating new movement was much more difficult for him because it is related to motor planning, not motor ability.

You can view that presentation here (beginning at the 17:32 minute mark).

The notion that observable behaviors are not indicative of intentional behavior for apraxic autistics is bad for business for the behavior industry.

Beals then moves her focus to Gregory Tino:

Gregory Tino is calmer and more focused. He sweeps his hand vertically and horizontally at regular intervals towards the letterboard, and his mother appears to move the board to his pointer finger when it approaches particular letters. These movements are so swift, though, that it’s hard to tell which letters Tino’s finger has actually made contact with.


Beals paid so little attention to the actual presentation that she didn’t even notice Brian Foti was also a nonspeaking Speller. You can view their presentation here.

It’s a little bit funny…

It is as if Beals came to the Actually Autistic conference for the sole purpose of heckling nonspeakers and erasing autistic speakers so she could center herself.

She talks about Gregory Tino as if he’s a lab specimen for her gaze to evaluate. Instead of just believing he is actually spelling his thoughts, Beals notes he’s too fast and regulated for her to discredit.

Let me also be clear that we do not need permission to take up space or to make decisions about what communication avenues and accommodations we will use. We did not ask. We are not going to ask.

The next paragraph, though…

The chat box was filled with cheers for Tino and Breaux and queries from parents about how they can get their kids started on S2C. A few people (yours truly included) asked questions about facilitator influence and peer-reviewed research on brain-body disconnects. One of the organizers, Terra Vance, later accused us of being “colonizers” and of using our academic privilege to undermine the purportedly authentic voices of those being subjected to S2C.


Yes, I did call them colonizers. I said it, I meant it. I didn’t know whom I was referencing at the time, but when someone feels so entitled to the narrative on autism that they cannot let autistic people express themselves without trying to punt them off the stage, then they’re a colonizer.

Screenshot of the presentation with the final slide that reads, “Academia reinforces the power differential that upholds oppression by pathologizing true empathy.” Caption reads, Being colonizers, you are using your [innate] privilege and your academic privilege to undermine their, their voice.

Beals named me “one of the organizers.” I am the CEO of one of the only high-profile autistic-led nonprofits, an org that has hundreds of autistic contributors. Someone from the TRIO department of Penn State reached out to NeuroClastic to ask about organizing an #OwnVoice autistic conference. I, along with some of our administrative team, came up with a list of diverse autistic self-advocates, contacted them to see if they were interested, then forwarded their contact information to the TRIO department representative.

That is the extent to which I was a “conference organizer.” All of the presenters were then invited to help inform the details.

I can imagine Beals is also banking that the language of social justice will trigger the antipathy of her audience to bias them.

Of note, every Detractor I’ve encountered is white.


Sealioning is a rhetorical strategy often used by political extremists to derail conversations about social justice. Sea-lioning begins with a bunch of questions that look like they’re in the interest of “civil debate.”

This series of questions may seem like a well-intentioned search for answers. It’s not—it’s a simplified example of a rhetorical strategy called sealioning. Sealioning is an intentional, combative performance of cluelessness. Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning—often about basic information, infor- mation easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points—with a loudly-insisted-upon commit- ment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate. Sealioning thus works both to exhaust a target’s patience, attention, and communicative effort, and to portray the target as unreasonable. While the questions of the “sea lion” may seem innocent, they’re intended maliciously and have harmful consequences. The ellipses in the sequence above stand in for multiple pos- sible responses from targets, from lengthy explanations to pointing to logical fallacies in the questions themselves, from calling out the sealioning to ignoring it. It is these responses that the sea lion seeks to shape—and it is here that multiple harms occur.

Johnson, Amy (2017). Gasser, Urs (ed.). “The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions” (PDF). Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online. Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society from Harvard University. p. 13.

… like Beals asking for nonspeakers to provide her with peer-reviewed sources during a question-and-answer session and then feigning civility and ignorance about how that’s offensive and inappropriate.

Sealioning, or Torrancing, is a tactic used to provoke and exhaust #OwnVoice perspectives by asking for proof when a member of a marginalized group attempts to share their perspective. They are (usually) careful enough to wrap their behavior in enough plausible deniability to seem like they’re a victim to the “aggressive” [frustrated] people they’ve triggered.

Beals noted that there were tons of questions about S2C in the comments of Gregory Tino and Brian Foti’s presentation (which was one out of twelve presentations). Does answering audience questions at the end of one presentation make a three-day conference an “infomercial”? Or is that just more baseless sensationalism?

What Beals failed to acknowledge when she infantilized Gregory and Ben (and left out Brian) is that they are communication rights activists. She wants them to appear “vulnerable,” but they’re badass advocates who have a strong voice of their own. She wants them to be seen as mindless props being used by frauds, in need of rescue.

Brian, Gregory, and Ben are perfectly capable of protest. Most autistic people are, which is why there’s such a huge market for autistic compliance training.

It’s almost funny that behaviorists think autistics are going to happily sit there and mindlessly point at things because people ask them to. If they’ve tried getting autistics to do something they’re not inspired to do all day, behaviorists already know that will not work.

A CRP, Emily Pinto, who was supporting Brian Foti answered one of Beals’s questions about avoiding the potential for influence, explaining the science behind S2C. Beals followed with:

Myelination, neuropathways… this sounds pretty impressive—except for the complete absence of references to actual neurological research.

Beals, reframing Pinto’s answer and demanding impossible standards of evidence for a live event

Beals treats not being provided with a reference list in real time during a live Q&A session as if it’s a moral failure. As a professor, she has university login credentials. She could look it up instead of Sealioning.

Was Emily Pinto supposed to tie up the conference to pull up a scholarly database and build a reference list?

Essentially, Pinto explained that in the early stages of S2C (and the same is true for RPM), the focus is not to test the cognitive ability of Spellers but to support them through developing the motor planning to be able to point to letters. The risk of CRP or instructor influence is low because they are not asking difficult or open-ended questions. They give the answer to the question shortly before asking the question. The point is to practice spelling and motor planning, not to communicate novel thoughts with words.

Beals continues with,

How does telling someone that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris and then asking them where the Eiffel Tower is ensure against facilitator influence? The Ideomotor Illusion to which facilitators/assistants/communications and regulations partners are highly susceptible is especially powerful in cases where they know precisely what answer they are expecting.

Beals, once again Sealioning

This is a whole can of worms.

It was already patiently explained to Beals that the risk of influence is not even a factor in the early stages because they give the speller the words to spell. Of course that’s influenced, like it would be with anyone. They’re not measuring for cognition at that stage, they’re merely beginning to practice motor planning and spelling.

Beals unironically cites the Wikipedia article for ideomotor illusion, which notes that it has been “attributed to” (not proven to be) Ouija boards, applied kinesiology, and facilitated communication.

Now where’s the peer review?

The one Wikipedia citation is written by Howard Shane (et al.), one of the Detractors on the ad hoc committee formed before ASHA published a position statement against FC and RPM.

Are we supposed to discredit the communication of thousands of autistic apraxics because the Guerilla Skeptics of Wikipedia added an irrelevant blip to this article?

Was ideomotor effect ever rigorously tested and determined to be why people using RPM or S2C are able to spell?

No. The “research” the entire opposition to all forms of Spelling accepts as the unimpeachable truth was based on a study performed on 40 college students who all watched one VHS tape then practiced on the same fake disabled person. If 40 novice people who watched a single tape then “facilitated communication” with a fake disabled person who had nothing to communicate and was purposefully not attempting to communicate, that proves nothing but that bad research methods exist.

Katharine Beals retweeted “Peer review is a farce”

No one needs a study to understand that when someone is being physically supported to spell or type, there’s a legitimate potential for facilitator influence. All communication is influenced.

But what does that research have to do with RPM or S2C, wherein there’s no touch and no one is being moved?

Nothing, except the Detractors’ frenetic desire to create whatever rhetoric they can to invalidate the authentic communication of nonspeakers.

After Beals went through her compendium of logical fallacies, the melodrama continues with an attempt to malign Penn State as financially criminal:

But not last week’s training. As the conference organizers, Terra Vance and Kate Jones of the pro-FC organization Neuroclastic, made clear, Penn State had given them free reign and did not ask them ahead of time about the speakers and their presentations. As Vance put it, “They gave us a stage and told us to say what you need to say.” Thanking them for this unilateral control over the conference, Vance praised Penn State as a “co-conspirator” (at term that, to her, seems to mean “appendage” rather than “collaborator”, and, of course, to connote the polar opposite of “colonizer”).


Other than providing the contact information of recommended presenters, Kate Jones and I had the same access to conference organizers as anyone else presenting— but that boring fact is not as sensational a conspiracy theory as us (fake autistics) using Penn State as puppets to misappropriate federal funds to create a three-day infomercial.

Lots of controlling puppeteers over here in Fauxtistic® Land where we project dignity, respect, and competence onto real autistics…

So Penn State is now an “appendage” to our big pro-FC fake-autistic nonprofit? Is this “Big Autista” like “Big Pharma” or “Big Tobacco” or “Big Tech”?

Beals attributes “unilateral control over the conference” to me personally. I’ve been framed as Big Autista’s fake autistic overlord. Is this same unilateral control the CRPs exerted over nonspeakers to get them to type? The control that doesn’t exist?


As if to affirm its role as Neuroclastic’s appendage, the Penn State TRIO training page links directly to Neuroclastic’s website, thus putting TRIO visitors three clicks away from Neuroclastic’s donation page. Shoehorned into the presentations were also some not-so-subtle infomercials for, and appeals for donations to, Neuroclastic. One presentation also presented an infomercial for yet another FC-promoting organization, Optimal Rhythms.

Beals with some cringeworthy errors

TRIO shared a NeuroClastic Facebook post about the conference to their Facebook page. This is what Beals is referencing by stating that someone is just “three clicks away” from NeuroClastic’s donation page. The existence of a donation page on a website for a nonprofit org is pretty standard, but Beals frames our autistic-led org is as if we are greedy and corrupt.

Beals essentially sets Penn State up as a money laundering shill to NeuroClastic.

Mentioning, in context, the nonprofit many of the presenters have contributed to— which, again, is one of the only high-profile autistic led orgs out there— is not “an infomercial.”

No one made an “infomercial” for donations, either. But of course Katharine would levy the “not-so-subtle” trope to insult autistic people and imply they are tacky and socially inept…

Someone dropped a link in the chat to where this design, which appeared in Sarah Selvaggi -Hernandez’s presentation, Autistics Parenting Autistics, was available on a shirt. Is that the “donation infomercial”?

If anything, this article at least gives us multiple examples of what “infomercial” doesn’t mean…

What I did note, though, was that everything on our org’s site is totally free. There are no logins, no paywalls, no sponsors, no “premium” section for members, no popups, and no ads. We sent people to free resources.

My work with our org is 100% unpaid volunteer work. Painting me as a greedy opportunist is just manufacturing evidence— a strong suit of the Detractors.

Finally, Beals closes with going back to her tax dollars:

Anyone who is truly interested in promoting actually autistic voices through research-based practices needs to be asking why the U.S. Department of Education is funding such a stupefyingly unethical venture.


The Department of Education didn’t fund this conference. Neither did Penn State. There was a big “not funded by the TRIO Academy” disclaimer at the top of the conference.

That conference had 5,800 people who pre-registered to hear autistic perspectives. It was beautiful, and even though the presenters didn’t coordinate their presentations, themes emerged that reveal what is important to autistic people.

All of the presentations can be viewed here.

And with the few exceptions from Drexel, the audience was supportive, grateful, and enthusiastic about incorporating what they learned into their practice.

Who is Katharine Beals?

From her bio on the website where she published the aforementioned article:

Katharine Beals has a PhD in linguistics and is an adjunct professor in the Autism Program at the Drexel University School of Education and a lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She specializes in language and literacy acquisition in children with autism and has created software tools to teach syntax and pragmatics to ASD children and young adults. She has written and lectured extensively about language technologies for autistic individuals and about facilitated communication in autism.

From FacilitatedCommunication.org

Beals, with all her convoluted and bigoted views about Autistic people, is a professor at a major research university who teaches for the autism school at Drexel. She leveraged her privilege to try and hijack the audience of nonspeakers Gregory Tino’s and Brian Foti’s presentation, specifying she was a professor at Drexel University in the comments as if to wield her privilege to overwrite them.

How will her influence impact future treatment providers?

Academia is replete with this kind of pervasive bullying and exploitation of privilege when it comes to autism. The Detractors know that once apraxia is better understood by the masses, behaviorism will lose its tenuous grip on communication supports.

Beals issues a retraction. Sort of.

After publishing her article, Beals edited the parts where she erroneously accused Penn State of financial fraud and made a comment noting she sent this article to the director of the TRIO Academy, Dr. M. Walker, and her supervisor.

Karen jokes aside, this just demonstrates exactly why there are few gains on the communication rights front. The evidence of pervasive and ongoing bullying against institutions is apparent all over Beals’ regressive, paltry website.

Beals notes in her comments that in response, Dr Walker CCed Dr. Penny Hamrich, Beals’s dean, which Beals conjectures must have been because Dr. Walker was confused.

I doubt that…

Beals notes, “If [Dr. Walker] were to investigate further, she would discover that the Drexel Autism program is all about evidence-based methods like ABA, as opposed to non-evidence-based methods like S2C.”

If she were to investigate further, she would discover that the Drexel Autism program is all about evidence-based methods like ABA, as opposed to non-evidence-based methods like S2C.


It’s not only possible but highly likely that some of the content produced by nonspeakers is influenced by a parent or someone else. All communication is influenced. I was influenced by Beals when I made the comment about colonizers. Beals was influenced by me when she wrote her slanderous article.

Parents doing their children’s homework is one of the oldest human behaviors in the world. That has nothing to do with the method.

But do NOT complain about undue influence over autistic people at the same time that you advertise a therapy that is literally called PROGRAMMING and that is foist upon autistic toddlers upwards of 20-40 hours a week.

The era of humans being characterized by observable behavior is done. Messaging like what is on Beals’s website should have long ago been retired to a museum with other horrifying historical propaganda campaigns. But these people are still deeply entrenched in autism academia.

Beals has demonstrated exactly why ABA is the loudest voice in autism— and it’s not because of good science. It’s because the notion of autistic people being less human and less deserving of a voice is so entrenched in society that “leaders” in autism “treatment” are standing on shaky “evidence” that cannot stand in the modern era of neuroscience without maintaining enough prejudice and privilege.

Beals manipulated the observable evidence from the conference and created exactly the narrative that keeps her and her colleagues empowered as the voice of autism, invalidating every authentic autistic perspective as undeserving of dignity, respect, or good faith. We are all just problems that need to be dealt with, and she’s the martyr willing to do that in the name of science.

I imagine Beals didn’t write this article for you all. You’re not her target audience. My theory is the target audience is the autistic people who they expect will eventually give up because they are afraid of the next public humiliation. Or, the target audience is the organizers of this conference and future conferences who can expect to be embarrassed and harassed and have their validity as an academic institution challenged for including us.

ASHA and ABAI have been far too complicit in allowing these people unchecked authority to behave this way and to actively terrorize and publicly humiliate individual autistic people by name and photograph.

Existentially, I’m tired. We are tired.

We should not have to feel like every time we do something that takes up space in the world, we are bracing ourselves for the next public humiliation. We should not have to apologize to every co-conspirator, reporter, publication, or institution for the inevitable abuse they will incur for passing the mic to us to talk about autism in the first person perspective.

They are ABAing us. Intermittent aversive schedules. Contingent punishment.

It’s abusive. It’s inappropriate. It’s not scientific. It’s nothing but institutionally-sanctioned bullying.

If someone wants a real “evidence base,” just search “facilitated communication” on Twitter and look at the academic cronyism. And that’s just from the people who weren’t banned…

Look at the edit history to Wikipedia pages featuring autistic nonspeakers or anything related to Spelling (what hasn’t been deleted).

Now, find the autistic apraxic nonspeaking self-advocates who have robust communication who didn’t come to that communication through Spelling but through ABA. Or SLP.

No? No one?

There’s your relative evidence base.

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12 Responses

  1. This is exceptionally well written. It’s fascinating how some people can be so openly hateful been towards the Autistic community. Each presenter did a fantastic job in a way that was easy to work through and understand for everyone. The idea that we face such adversity gives me a heavy heart but my spirit is lifted by the response of various advocates to this hate. I hope that Penn State will red flag and deal with these hecklers swiftly by ensuring they are no longer welcomed in spaces where they can harm vulnerable people. Good job for everyone standing tall and being the bigger person. It can be so hard to remain professional in the face of Adversity. Some day I hope such hatred will fade.

  2. Thank you for your considered response to these hecklers. I appreciate that in responding to the libellous article considerable care and attention was needed to ensure that those autistic presenters that had been directly named and slandered were not further hurt. The hecklers attempts to erase the voices of all of the speakers is inhumane and hateful. It is vital and crucial that this information was shared taking the time to fully account the actions and words of the hecklers who have attempted to abuse their positions to inhumanly invalidate the authentic communication of non speakers and to question and suggest that presenters were fraudulently posing as autistic speakers is alarming.

    The Hecklers themselves pose as experts in their professional (sic) capacity. However I see no evidence of behaviour that is professional, reflecting or ethical.

    Thank you for your ongoing moral compass and providing a platform for all autistic people to have their voices heard.

  3. I think the Detractors are scared of becoming irrelevant and know they have no basis for their claims, so instead of admitting they’re wrong they’re attacking. It’s a smoke screen; it they can keep it up long enough they might be able to convince people who don’t really know about Autistic communication that they’re still relevant, and suppress Autistic people through fear. Keep up the good work, and thank you for the links to the conference videos. I wanted to attend but being in the UK, the times were in the middle of the night. I have the ScotAut conference vids to watch too, so I might make a day of it tomorrow.

    1. Thank you Terra for this piece. Autistic self advocates who presented – show this evil person some mercy and pray for her to find happiness in life. I think no other intervention will work with her right now. So says my functional analysis of her behaviour. She needs to have alternative ways to be happy. Right now she is relying on believing that we are charity cases and need her charity. Goodness, please help her

  4. Terra:

    It was in early April of 2019 that you wrote another deep-seated and very personal public opinion about the world of Autism. Your article two and a half years ago at this URL https://theaspergian.com/2019/04/11/how-to-change-the-world/ was forwarded to me by a friend in Montana who knew that I was just beginning to follow the exploits of a young Swedish girl named Greta.

    Greta was personally upset with the Climate Conundrum and with Business People and Politicians doing nothing about growing global emissions from combustion of fossil fuels. Today, in the midst of a new, continuing and planetary Covid Virus pandemic, –– we’ve learned that far more people around the world are dying of respiratory ailments caused by dirty, SMOGGY Air leading to unstable climate conditions –– than are those expiring of a Virulent Virus which is taking thousands of lives each day.

    I began reading your online NeuroClastic blog simply to begin educating myself more about Aspergers and Autism in general as Greta’s own statements about this condition leads her to view and judge this world via black and white, with no grays. This statement of hers caused me to notice. Greta was describing Aspergers and outlining that “we either fix this emissions problem or we don’t.” To not fix this growing problem is to accept the consequences of a rapidly warming planet which will soon shrivel and die. There isn’t any suitable middle ground here. Hummmm. She’s on to something alright…!

    Today, 31 months later, you’ve personally been embroiled by troublemakers attending a 3-day gathering of Autistic people at a University conference. Why the hell won’t they leave well enough alone and let people convene in a civil manner without throwing stones and instigating an uproar?

    In the interim of tagging along online, I sure have learned a lot about Autism –– which traits I don’t carry. No dinosaur arms and thankfully no meltdowns in the grocery store…

    Yet today I’m personally wondering about those who cannot speak and use the Spelling Board to communicate with others. I wonder why professional Linguists can’t assist these autistic non-speakers who CAN and DO Listen and Read Text Language and Interpret –– to begin physical, new exercises of their vocal cords to pronounce the basic vowel sounds of A, E, I, O, and U ? It would seem that if non-vocal people could struggle and simply begin forming these most basic of language sounds in their larynx, it wouldn’t be too long to start forming sentences like “see Dick & Jane run and play,” etc. Overnight, some would become a chatterbox playing catch-up…

    But what do I know? I’m not a Linguist. Yet can this non-speaking Autism Trait become broken by just getting some help on how to purse the lips, exhale with a controlled slight push through a voice box and begin pronouncing these five basic vowel sounds?

    Today, I’m presently saddened to learn that your recent Autism Conference was crashed by trouble makers who didn’t understand that you personally have never made a dime from your own work in forming and operating NeuroClastic. Kudos for doing such a good job, attracting many, many people to participate long distance and occasionally writing such succinct articles as a former English teacher with coal-camp accents. You’ve earned my long distance support.

    Now please take a break busy Mother of Rosie and get a good night’s sleep. Mustafa once said “that the Secret of the Universe is to Relax…”

    Think also of what philosopher Goethe said 200 years ago about stepping off the high dive in the dark of night, believing that there WILL be water in the pool below to catch you. He was amazing in his forward, positive thinking and didn’t have daylight savings time to juggle.

    Now relax please… 🙂

    1. I look forward to a ghost world: where the climate is just it’s ghost so no impersonal forces can change it, and where it can make no difference whether there is water in the pool.

  5. I’m deeply sorry to hear about all the nastiness that had been going on behind the scenes of the Understanding Autism conference—specifically the attempts to undermine some of the fantastic presenters. I just finished watching the videos from the conference. This may have been the single-most intensive and beneficial educational experience of my life. With most of the videos, I started off thinking, “This doesn’t really apply to me, so I’ll just watch a few minutes to get the gist of it.” But I ended up watching each presentations all the way through because each one significantly helped me to understand some part of myself. The fact that there are still such basic facts of human nature—ie, the fact that we are an extremely neurodiverse species—that so many of us still don’t know about shows how tight the grip is of the dominant, pathologizing paradigm. Thanks for taking a bold step to support actually autistic voices in breaking that grip. These hecklers, like most hecklers in these situations, are just desperately trying to perpetuate a self-aggrandizing (and probably financially lucrative) lie while it is in the process of being exposed.

  6. I’m distressed you had to spend that much of your time refuting this hot garbage. These people are, psychologically speaking, the same as TERFs. And, unsurprisingly, the Venn diagram of social factors between the two groups is a big fat circle.

  7. This is a fabulous article. I could praise its succinctness, accuracy and clarity, but I just wanted to comment on one thing that struck me as ironic.
    Beale’s comment “just three clicks away from the donations page”. Does she not realise that three clicks will detract over 80% of likely donators anyway? She clearly does not know her online marketing!

  8. One thing you didn’t mention was the fraudulent way Beals used her affiliation with Drexel to lend authority to her comments. Adjunct Professor simply means part-time teacher. They are hired on a course by course basis and have never been vetted through the institutional hiring process. They aren’t on a tenure track, they aren’t even on a full time employment track.

    Colleges and Universities depend upon Adjunct Faculty to keep costs low and often pit them against the full time Faculty in much the same way that industrialists pitted racial minority workers against union workers to depress wages and working conditions for everyone.

    In no way should an Adjunct teacher use their status to lend credibility to their position as an authority. To be honest Beals should acknowledge that her position as an Adjunct only means Drexel had the good sense not to hire her as a member of their full-time faculty.

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