Facilitated Communication (FC): the controversy is over. FC is a valid communication method for some people with autism.

 


An example of a facilitated communication letter board. Photo by Mike Frandsen.

 

Facilitated communication, or supported typing, has been a godsend for people with autism and other disabilities who are non-verbal or have limited speech, because it enables them to communicate. Here’s an in depth article about FC on Examiner.com.

Many people with autism, who were formerly thought of as retarded, have learned to type independently after first learning to communicate through FC. Those people include Chammi Rajapatirana, Sue Rubin, and Jamie Burke.  Burke learned to speak the words as he types them.

Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher are other FC users who learned to speak the words as they type them.  Their story is told in an upcoming documentary, Wretches and Jabberers.  Here’s a video of Chammi typing independently.

FC is controversial because some studies have concluded that in certain cases the facilitator has led the FC user to letters and words. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to do FC, and if facilitators don’t do the technique correctly, that shouldn’t invalidate the entire method of communication.  The Institute on Communication and Inclusion at Syracuse University, the national leader in FC, has published training standards.

Many people with autism who have learned to communicate through FC have described the ability to communicate as something that makes life worth living, and they liken it to being freed from prison.

Candidates for FC include those who can understand but don’t have verbal communication, and those who need a steadying hand to help them avoid tremor, impulsivity, or help them feel their bodies.

FC can include the facilitator’s hand on the typist’s hand, or on his or her shoulder, back, or even leg.  The role of emotion is important in FC to encourage the FC user, and studies fail to take those intangible factors into consideration.  The facilitator also provides the FC user with verbal feedback.

Many people with autism also have movement difficulties.  For example, most people would assume that if you ask a person to get up off the couch, and the person doesn’t, then either he must not understand you or he is being non-compliant.  But in fact, movement disorders such as apraxia may prevent someone from responding, even though he or she may want to.

The bottom line is that a lack of speech does not equate to a lack of intelligence.

I’ve played Chammi in Boggle about 50 times.  He’s won about 35 of them, and I’m pretty good with words.  The modified form of the game involves pointing to adjacent letters in columns and rows to make words.  A friend of mine, a Cal-Berkeley grad who also has an MBA, split two games against Chammi yesterday.  (Another friend of mine, a Duke grad who is also a lawyer, has beaten Chammi in a few close games)

The strongest case for FC can be summarized in this way:

1.  Many people, formerly called profoundly retarded because of a lack of speech and other difficulties, learned to communicate through FC.

2.  Many of those people who first learned to communicate through FC later learned to type independently. (Some of them learned to speak the words as they type them).

3.  They would not have learned to type independently had they not first learned through FC.

Yet, most of the medical establishment doesn’t approve of FC, meaning that they would rather have these people not communicate at all rather than through FC.  For some people, FC is their only hope of communicating.  Imagine how many people are living lives of isolation, who are intelligent yet presumed to be retarded, and who are not given a chance to communicate.

Click here for the article on Examiner.com.

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