What’s the Verdict on Facilitated Communication?

Facilitated communication (FC) techniques have been questioned for decades with autistic and non-autistic people on both sides of the debate. If you are a neurotypical who does not use facilitated communication, you may be too far removed from the conversation to have an adequate perspective. This article compiles some viewpoints on FC coming from the autistic community.

What is Facilitated Communication (FC)?

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), Facilitated communication (FC) is a technique in which physical, communication, and emotional support is provided by a facilitator to another individual. An example of FC that is most hotly contested is when a facilitator guides the individual’s hands to help type a message. FC has received widespread criticism over the years, with opponents accusing the facilitators of speaking for the autistic individuals and even using the method to abuse them (see resources section). Despite this criticism, many from the autistic community have spoken out in support of FC:

  • “All people on the spectrum have a valid and functional ways of communicating and that is equally diverse in both receptive and expressive language.” –Paul Isaacs
  • “RPM and spelling-to-communicate are advances in thinking brought to us to help free Autistic people from the confines of their inner selves and express not just our physiological needs, but our hopes, dreams, and desires to be a part of a loving world. This is not abuse, it is freeing us from abuse. If you think we are using these kids as our personal mouthpieces, then you give us way too much credit. In order to create the proposed illusion, a parent, as a speech partner, must create an entire being different from themselves, create different vocabulary, and continue this effort with amazing consistency. I love and appreciate the parents I work with, but none of them are so clever and devious as to pull of a hoax of this magnitude for this long with this level of consistency.” –Laura Nadine
  • In this interview with Amy Sequenzia, Sequenzia asserts that there are several users that go on to type independently and keep their writing style. She also says, “FC is not for everyone, but it works for many. And if it is how a person chooses to communicate, this should be respected. I hope readers can be curious about FC without being dismissive, and I hope my voice is valued as my own.”
  • “People need to be open-minded and ready to listen without judgement. I believe that without the means to communicate, people without speech are reduced to mere shadows, without the right to claim their humanity. For me learning FC was a huge watershed that enable other people to acknowledge me as an intelligent person who is basically similar to them. With FC I can take part in things which are meaningful and live a richer life. I object to anyone or any organization that try to take away this basic right, the right of a person to make decisions and to seek to relate to others.” –Tim Chan
  • “I thought that love and life alone would never change but typing greatly changed my amazing life. Having a lot of good support and love in my life has helped me be more free and be Kelsey. I am excited to do more of my future the way for me.”-Kelsey Krause
  • ASAN’s recent Letter to ASHA On The Right To Communicate stresses the individual right to communicate and chastises the organization for not reaching out to the disabled community when establishing ASHA Ad Hoc Committee on Facilitated Communication (FC) and the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) (“Committee”), in summer 2017. The letter states: “As autistic self-advocates dedicated to advancing the rights of all people with developmental disabilities – including non-speaking people – we are committed both to ensuring access to a wide range of effective communication supports and promoting research on effective supports. We do not take positions on individual communication support methods or techniques. Nevertheless, we believe each non-speaking person has a right to use the method of communication that works best for them, as determined by an individualized analysis. Moreover, we believe that no single method of AAC will work for all non-speaking individuals.”

While there are certainly outspoken autistic people who oppose the use of FC (I have personally met one), they are harder to find than those who support it (or–and this distinction is important–harder to find than those who support the individual’s right to use whatever method of communication is most appropriate and effective). The loudest voice in the FC debate suggests the practice promotes fraud and abuse. But when approaching a dialogue about FC or engaging with someone who uses FC, it’s useful to remember:

  • Just because there has been evidence of abuse used with FC in the past, this doesn’t mean abuse occurs for all people in all situations. It also shouldn’t discredit the entire practice for every individual in all situations.
  • Due to abusive or inauthentic situations that have been revealed in the past, it’s important for FC to be approached with genuine efforts to support the autistic person, screen for any abuse or misuse, and regularly assess the technique for ways to improve or teach independence where possible.
  • Dismissing FC without careful evaluation or consideration of the individual and the specific situation doesn’t presume competence.

I’d be interested in hearing any perspectives based on personal experience you or someone you know has had with facilitated communication.

Other Sources:

A few sources citing the controversial background of FC:

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/07/a-controversial-method-for-autism-communication/491810/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2018/06/18/facilitated-communication-may-be-an-abuse-of-human-rights-why-is-a-university-teaching-it/

A father’s explanation/evidence of FC’s efficacy with his son.

http://www.ralphsavarese.com/reasonable-people/about-fc/

Facts about FC:

http://www.autism-resources.com/papers/facts_about_FC

 

 

 

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