C4A Academy

Welcome to C4A Academy! We are thrilled to launch with 10 videos, Lessons, a Facebook group, Resources, and Support to get you started on the journey to teach your nonspeaker how to type to communicate, free of charge.

Next for Autism
NEXT for AUTISM, a national nonprofit focused on innovative programs and opportunities for adults with autism, awarded us a seed grant for this initiative. NEXT and its executive board are excited to support Communication 4 ALL.

C4A Academy will grow over time with additional videos and support, all driven by your Feedback. Please help us to continuously improve so more nonspeakers have a voice.

Learn to Type

C4A Academy is a program of internet-based instructional videos to teach nonspeakers how to type, free of charge. Please note that when we say “type” we include pointing to letters as well as pressing them on a keyboard. In every case, it would be preferable to have a live expert providing the coaching and training, but we know that is not always financially or logistically possible. C4A Academy also includes written lessons you will need to implement the program, a Facebook group, supplies, and other resources like “Ask an Expert” that will help you on your journey. We are launching with ten videos: Elizabeth’s welcome, seven instructional videos, and two background videos. We will expand our library of videos over time and want your feedback so we can constantly improve. The mission is communication for ALL!

Elizabeth’s Welcome

Elizabeth shares her C4A Academy mission and vision with you.

Instructional Videos

Getting Started:

  • A motor disorder, not a cognitive one
  • Capable learners
  • Dysregulation
  • Spelling & typing
  • Dyspraxia defined
  • Dyspraxia & the eyes
  • Communication Partner (CP) coaching

Coaching, Lessons & Stencils:

  • Types of coaching
  • Like learning to dance
  • Board (stencil) placement
  • What you need to begin
  • Lessons & keywords
  • Why start with 3 stencils?
  • Stencils with fewer letters

Lesson on 3 Stencils for a Young Typer:

  • Coach a “spell” word
  • Answer a question
  • Reset stencil for each letter
  • Hold stencils on lap
  • Copying answers?
  • Color-coded question types

Parent Coached on 3 Stencils:

  • Parent coached for a “spell” word
  • Coaching summary
    • Board (stencil) placement
    • Coaching levels
    • Not rushing
  • Parent coached asking a question
  • Coach first, then board (stencil) down

Common Challenges for Early Typers:

  • Double letters
  • Eye skips
  • Random letter poking
  • Hand-over-hand coaching
  • Lesson demonstration
  • Coaching for success
  • Coaching through dysregulation

The Cognitive-Motor Seesaw:

  • Types of questions
    • Color-coded based on level
  • Cognitive–Motor Seesaw
    • Cognitive = question level
    • Motor = device level
  • Device–Question–Coaching Interaction
    • CP explores interaction to maximize typer’s success

Coaching the 26 Letter Stencil:

  • Transition to 26 letter stencil
    • Coaching level increases
  • Simple semi-open question
    • No coaching, at first
  • Expanding the utterance
    • From words to phrases and sentences
  • Cognitive–Motor seesaw revisited
    • Move up on one side and down on other

Background Videos

Academy Overview:

Elizabeth and Dan discuss terms and how devices, questions and coaching interact in these videos.

Communication Devices:

Elizabeth and Dan discuss the progression of communication devices from 3 stencils to 26 letter stencil to letterboard to keyboard.

Lessons

Written lessons are used in the process described in these instructional videos to teach nonspeakers how to type. Please look at the lesson you have selected and make sure it is age appropriate for your student. If you have any feedback you would like to share with us for any lesson, please fill out this form. If you have a lesson that you would like to donate to C4A Academy, please contact us.

English Lessons

Spanish Lessons

Additional Sources for Lessons

Tips for Communication Partners

Things to remember before you start

  • Have your boards on your lap.
  • Have your pencil and pad for your transcript on the table, along with your lesson.
  • You are sitting at a 90 degree angle from your nonspeaker, on their right side.
  • Your nonspeaker is far enough away from the table so that the board comfortably fits in front of them without them having to move their head down to see the bottom of the board.

Starting your practice session

  • Remember to start with a strong:  GO or GET IT for each word to prevent freezing
  • Remember your hierarchy of coaching (from most invasive to least invasive):
    • Hand over hand – USE ONLY WHEN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY AND DROP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!
    • Auditory cues – tap on the side of the board where the letter is – again, drop as soon as possible!
    • Hand gesture – remember to use a flat hand
    • Verbal direction coaching – see below
    • General verbal coaching – see below
    • No coaching

Coaching

  • Verbal direction coaching:
    • Move left/right/up/down
    • Upstairs/Downstairs
    • Top shelf/bottom shelf
    • Left/right
    • Next door to the left/right
    • Get its neighbor
    • In the middle
    • Shift left/right/up/down
  • General verbal coaching:
    • Look for it
    • Find it
    • Move your eyes
    • Eyes on it
    • Look!  Look!  Look!
    • Shift your eyes
    • Keep scanning
    • Move! Move! Move!

Other things to remember

  • Be aware of proper board placement: in front of the nonspeaker’s dominant hand so that when the index finger moves forward, with the arm bent at a 90 degree angle, the finger hits the middle of the board.
  • Never (NEVER) move the board once it is in place
  • Keep up your “patter” – your voice should not be quiet
  • Do not say “great job!” etc. after every letter. It breaks the flow.
  • Never say “no” – remember that if a nonspeaker misses a letter, it’s your fault. You didn’t coach well enough. Do an eye reset, and up your coaching level as needed.
  • HAVE FUN! This is an exciting journey you and your nonspeaker are embarking on. Get pumped!

Resources

Supplies

Here are some supplies that we recommend you and your nonspeaker have for your typing lessons.

We plan on adding more supplies to this list in the near future.

Stencils

Stencils for spelling

We are working on finding a more affordable stencil alternative.

In the meantime, you can find stencils at our partners:

Sensory Boards

Sensory board for spelling

Some students prefer sensory boards over stencils and laminate boards because the multi-colored foam letters provide visual and tactile sensory input. These boards are hard to find (and can cost $50+) so Elizabeth asked her brother, Charles (who also has Autism), if he would make them for you.

Charles making sensory boards

Here, Charles is lovingly gluing each foam letter onto a board. If you would like one of Charles’ sensory boards, please give as much as you can and request it on your donation form. (Don’t forget to give us your address.) Available while supplies last!

Books

Apps

Practitioners

Here are our partner organizations where you can find a practitioner:

If you would like your organization to be included, please Contact Us.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is my child a candidate for learning how to type?

If your child is diagnosed with Autism and does not have conversational spoken language (that is, they are nonspeaking or minimally speaking), we believe they can learn to type to communicate.

Can I use C4A Academy if my child has some other reason besides autism for not being able to speak?

Nonspeaking children and adults with other conditions, including Cerebral Palsy, Angelman Syndrome, and Down Syndrome, have been taught to type. As long as the individual can lift their arm and move it side to side, we would encourage you to try C4A Academy.

What is dyspraxia and how is it different from apraxia?

Dyspraxia and apraxia are generally used as synonyms and refer to a motor planning disorder that makes it difficult for individuals to successfully initiate and complete motor movements “on demand.” For example, many nonspeakers smile normally until asked to do so for a photo.

Why do nonspeakers need to be taught to type?

Studies show how most people with autism have dyspraxia, a motor planning disorder in which a person cannot move parts of their body in the manner they want. The same dysfunction that prevents them from speaking, prevents them from typing without being taught. They need to learn how to use gross motor movements to select the letters, first from large targets on stencils before moving to smaller ones on a letterboard and keyboard.

How old should my child be to begin this program?

Elizabeth started to learn when she was five years old and says she could have started when she was four. And please know it’s never too late for a nonspeaker to learn how to type.

What should I do if my child is younger than 4 years old?

There is a lot you can do to prepare younger children for learning to type to communicate. Firstly, please keep reading a wide variety of books to your child. If you run your finger under the words, it will help build eye coordination and teach reading skills. You can also do purposeful motor exercises that are found on our partner, SPELLERS, website. It is also possible to teach children as young as 2 years old to reliably use a yes/no board so that they have some means of communicating preferences.

But my child doesn’t even know the alphabet. How can they learn to type to communicate?

Your child’s intelligence and academic knowledge has been measured through testing that requires planned motor movements including speaking or pointing to the answers. However, studies show most people with autism have dyspraxia, or difficulty with planned motor movements, and cannot respond appropriately to these tests. In our experience, nonspeaking children know their alphabet: many have taught themselves to read, in fact, at very early ages.

What materials will I need to teach my nonspeaker to communicate?

To start, you’ll only need letter stencils, an appropriate spelling lesson, a pencil and paper.

Why do I need to use these spelling lessons? Why can’t I just use a book or magazine?

Spelling lessons are formatted with a variety of kinds of questions. These questions are constructed to guide you through the process of teaching your nonspeaker first the motor skills to simply get to the correct letters and then, over time, to be able to choose words from their own head and successfully get to the letters of their choice.

Can this be done in conjunction with other therapies?

Absolutely! Typing for communication addresses only the ability to fully communicate language. Other therapies can address other issues many nonspeakers have such as fine motor skills, gross motor difficulties, learning to control dysregulated bodies so they can sit and learn, and so forth.

Should I try C4A Academy or see a spelling/typing practitioner?

We always encourage families to get private instruction if that is financially and logistically possible for them. Please see our Find a Practitioner section for more information. Even if you are able to see a practitioner, we believe you will still find these videos helpful on your journey to become a Communication Partner.

How long will it take for my child or young adult to learn to type?

There is no way to predict how long it may take a nonspeaker to learn to type to communicate. Every person has different challenges, including more and less severe motor and attention issues. And, just like learning a sport, it also depends on how much you practice. Please be patient and don’t feel rushed to get to a letterboard and keyboard: this is a joyous journey and not a sprint to the finish line Also, please be aware that some typers may never have the motor control to type on a keyboard.

Why can my child only communicate with a trained Communication Partner (CP)?

No one knows for sure what the relationship is between a nonspeaker and their CP, but certainly, a trained CP provides the nonspeaker with the regulation and confidence to overcome dyspraxia. More than that, a trained CP knows how and when to coach and when not to coach. Once a nonspeaker is able to communicate with multiple CPs, it becomes easier and easier to talk with new CPs, even those with little or no training.

We’re having a really hard time. How can I get some help?

C4A Academy has a private Facebook community you can join, where you can pose questions to other members, with support from a moderator. We also have our Ask an Expert section where you can ask a question privately. We plan to expand our support capabilities over time. Please reach out if you need help. We are here for you!

What is Augmentative and Adaptive Communication (AAC)?

AAC includes anything that helps a human being to communicate, including stencils, letterboards, and keyboards, including on an iPad or laptop.

My child is using an AAC device that has pictures and words to communicate. Why should we do C4A Academy?

All communication should be valued and many nonspeakers use multiple modalities. Our mission to teach nonspeakers to type comes from Elizabeth: “26 letters are all I need.” AAC devices with words and pictures limit what the user can communicate. The alphabet opens up the whole world for discussion.

Does my nonspeaker need to learn to use a keyboard or an iPad? They have expressly said that they prefer a letterboard.

No! Please respect your nonspeaker’s choice of ACC. Also, be aware that many nonspeakers like to use different devices under different circumstances. For example, some prefer the letterboard for conversation, because it’s faster, but prefer a keyboard for work. The choice of devices should be left to them!

What if my child has some speech? Should I try these videos?

The term “nonspeaker” is not accurate for most people with Autism who type to communicate. Most of them can speak some words and phrases, which we call “minimally speaking.” At the same time, they can now tell us that these words do not accurately reflect what is going on in their minds. Learning to type opens up a world of self-expression and gives them the opportunity to be educated.

Will learning to type decrease my child’s learning to speak?

Research shows that using AAC will not decrease speech and often increases speech abilities. Students who are learning to type often continue to receive speech therapy.

What research is there to support teaching nonspeakers to type?

United for Communication Choice has compiled more than 300 peer-reviewed publications supporting the use of AAC teaching methods that lead to typing. In particular, a groundbreaking eye-tracking study from the University of Virginia, published in Nature in 2020, measured the speed, accuracy, timing, and visual fixation patterns of nonspeakers as they pointed to letters they first select with their eyes. The study showed agency, autonomy, and authenticity in typer communication.

What typing app does Elizabeth use on her iPad?

Elizabeth has used iMean for more than a decade. You can buy iMean on the App Store for only $5 for both iPads and iPhones. It was created by Dan Bergmann, a fellow typer, and his father, Michael. The app is particularly helpful in a classroom because it has voice output.

My child does not like using the iPad to type. What other voice programs are commonly used?

Many nonspeakers use ordinary Bluetooth keyboards with voice output programs like ProLoQuo-to-Text.

What makes a successful Communication Partner (CP)?

Elizabeth responded to this question in a recent Q&A: BELIEVE IN US. REGULATE YOURSELF. GIVE US YOUR POSITIVE ENERGY.

Support

Please sign up to join our Facebook group where families support each other on their journey.

If you need more support, you can Ask an Expert.

We would appreciate it if you would give us feedback about your Ask an Expert experience.

You can also Contact Us to let us know how we can do more to support you.

As Elizabeth says, “Never give up!”

Feedback

We believe in constant improvement and your feedback can help us. Was something not clear in a video? Did you find a typo in a lesson? Did you get a helpful response from Ask an Expert? Please fill out these short forms to tell us about your experience with:

An Academy video

An Academy lesson

Ask an Expert

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Contact Us

Please contact us to let us know how we can do more to support you, or if you’d like to support us in any way.

Donate

If C4A Academy has helped your family, we would ask you to please donate if you are able so we can help more nonspeakers have a voice.