AAC Technology, Autism, and the Empathic Turn

Janna van Grunsven*, Sabine Roeser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
123 Downloads (Pure)


Augmentative and Alternative Communication Technology [AAC Tech] is a relatively young, multidisciplinary field aimed at developing technologies for people who are unable to use their natural speaking voice due to congenital or acquired disability. In this paper, we take a look at the role of AAC Tech in promoting an ‘empathic turn’ in the perception of non-speaking autistic persons. By the empathic turn we mean the turn towards a recognition of non-speaking autistic people as persons whose ways of engaging the world and expressing themselves are indicative of psychologically rich and intrinsically meaningful experiential lives. We first identify two ways in which AAC Tech contributes positively to this development. We then discuss how AAC Tech can simultaneously undermine genuine empathic communication between autistic persons and typically developed communicators (or neurotypicals). To mitigate this concern, we suggest the AAC field should incorporate philosophical insights from Design for Emotions and enactive embodied cognitive science into its R&D practices. To make our proposal concrete, we home in on stimming as an autistic form of bodily expressivity that can play an important role in empathic communicative exchanges between autistic persons and neurotypicals and that could be facilitated in AAC Tech designed for autistic people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-110
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Epistemology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • AAC technology
  • autism
  • Design for Emotions
  • empathy
  • participatory sense-making


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