A Review of the Movie Spellers: a Documercial for Spelling to Communicate

“Quiet people have the loudest minds.” Stephen Hawking.

Thousands of nonspeakers around the world are spelling fluently on letterboards and keyboards. They are graduating from regular high schools and colleges. They have had their lives and dreams returned to them. And yet millions remain underestimated and misunderstood. It’s time to start listening.

These are, respectively, the opening and closing title cards of the new movie Spellers, a pro-FC documentary directed by Pat R. Notaro, III and based loosely on J.B. Handley’s Underestimated: An Autism Miracle. (See our review here). The movie’s trailer also includes this quote:

There’s never any doubt in my mind when someone walks into my room that they can and will spell for me. That they can and do want to learn.

The underlying message: all non-speakers have the capacity to spell out sophisticated messages.

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Mr. Epstein writes an email

On first pass I found this Wall Street Journal account of Jeffrey Epstein’s error-filled emails funny, seeing as how typos and spelling mistakes were the least of his problems.

But in fact, and like the WSJ, I find his sloppiness both interesting and disturbing. Creepy even. Everything about the man’s access to the upper tiers of money, politics, and academics feels so off, and his emails are one more thing. Written communication in normal business and professional circles looks nothing like this.

Epstein’s messages, which were peppered with typos and spelling errors, tried to give the impression that he was a close Gates adviser. . . .

“In essence this [fund] will allow Bill to have access to higher quality people , investment , allocation , governance without upsetting either his marriage or the sensitvites of the current foundation employees,” Epstein wrote on Aug. 16, 2011 to two top JPMorgan executives, Jes Staley and Mary Erdoes.

The next day Epstein wrote, “Bill is terribly frustrated. He woud! like to boost some of the things that are working without taking away from thoses that are not.”

On Oct. 2, he sent another email to Staley and Erdoes criticizing a presentation that JPMorgan had prepared on the project. “the presentation, is not tailored to bill.. He is the only person , the only one, that counts.”

Jeffrey Epstein Appeared to Threaten Bill Gates Over Microsoft Co-Founder’s Affair With Russian Bridge Player by Khadeeja Safdar and Emily Glazer, Wall Street Journal, 5/21/2023

Should we be teaching grammar rules to native speakers?

Here are some thoughts, excerpted from one of my vanished Out in Left Field posts, on K12 writing instruction, which I’ve been thinking about once again.

What seems to predominate in K12 is neither:

  • useful, explicit grammar instruction that facilitates the understanding of style rules (dangling modifiers, parallel structures), foreign language grammar, and complex sentences in English


  • opportunities for implicit learning that come from expert feedback on multiple drafts.

In terms of writing, the results of this are evident in student papers, in written instructions, in promotional materials, and even in published articles and their associated headlines.

What keeps most of us complacent about this are two phenomena

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A final post on autism-related challenges that are supposed to explain away our concerns about FC: motor control, echolalia, and word retrieval

In two of my recent posts, I discussed what we know about motor difficulties, intentional control difficulties, and apraxia in autism. As we saw, such difficulties neither justify the need for FC, nor explain why facilitated individuals (a) sometimes pronounce words that are at odds with their facilitated typing and (b) demonstrate cognitive skills during neuropsychological evaluations that are well below the cognitive skills they show when they’re being facilitated.

To recap:

  • There is no empirical evidence that the motor difficulties in autism include difficulties with pointing.
  • Language assessments that prompt autistic individuals with motor difficulties to point to things, therefore, do not underestimate their receptive language skills.
  • Apraxia of speech (AOS) cannot be diagnosed in minimal speakers: AOS involves difficulty consistently producing combinations of vowels and consonants, and the smaller a child’s consonant and vowel repertoire, the harder it is to detect these difficulties and inconsistencies.
  • There is no evidence of a “motor disinhibition” problem in autism (or in any other condition) that causes people to point to item A when they want to point to item B, to say the word “yes” when they intend to say “no”, to throw random objects instead of cleaning up, or to follow a multi-step procedure unless they type it out first.
  • In autism, gross motor problems are about as prevalent as fine motor problems, so converting a fine motor task into a gross motor task does not, as a general rule, result in a more accessible, autism-friendly task.
  • Pointing is fine motor, not gross motor.

In this post, I’ll say one more thing pertaining to motor difficulties, and then I’ll turn to two other autism-related challenges that are supposed to explain away some of the concerns about FC: echolalia and word-retrieval difficulties.

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Do facilitated individuals have apraxia issues that explain away the concerns about FC?

(Cross-posted at FacilitatedCommunication.org).

In my last post I wrote about motor difficulties in autism and argued that these challenges, however widespread they may be, do not explain away the myriad empirical problems with facilitated communication. In this follow-up post I’d like to zero in on one particular motor control issue: motor planning, AKA apraxia. My reasons are twofold. First, among the various actual and purported motor difficulties in autism, apraxia is the one most often cited by FC proponents.  Second, one of the most common critiques levied by FC proponents against FC critics is that we don’t understand apraxia and how it validates FC.

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Effing around, finding out

A few months ago, I learned the expression “Eff around and find out.” I’ve been keen on it ever since, but not till this morning did I realize how well it applies to our current predicament.

In 1945, the US army conducted the Trinity test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon. Beforehand, the question was raised as to whether the bomb might ignite the Earth’s atmosphere and extinguish life. Nuclear physics was sufficiently developed that Emil J Konopinski and others from the Manhattan Project were able to show that it was almost [ed: almost?] impossible to set the atmosphere on fire this way. But today’s very large language models are largely in a pre-scientific period. We don’t yet fully understand how they work and cannot demonstrate likely outcomes in advance.
We must slow down the race to God-like AI by Ian Hogarth

Artificial intelligence: other posts

Do facilitated individuals have motor difficulties that explain away the concerns about FC?

(Cross-posted at FacilitatedCommunication.org).

Ever since Douglas Biklen began promoting facilitated communication in the 1990s, one of his central claims—and one of the central claims of other FC proponents—has been that autistic individuals have difficulty controlling their bodies. This, purportedly, includes difficulties with motor control and motor planning (e.g., with ten-finger typing) and with what I’ll call “intentional control”: the ability to inhibit one’s body from carrying out an unintended goal (e.g., inhibiting the urge to flap one’s hands or echo a favorite phrase) that would interfere with an intended goal (e.g., intentional communication).

The term “intentional control”, I should note, is my own coinage. It’s a workaround for the fact that proponents haven’t given us a precise term for the phenomenon in question. Sometimes they call it “praxis”—and then use “apraxia” for significantly impaired “praxis”. But, outside the FC world, “praxis” is consistently defined as motor planning: planning out a combination or series of motor movements. And, outside the FC world, “apraxia”—whether speech apraxia (difficulty making intended speech sounds), oromotor apraxia (difficulty with other oral movements like chewing and swallowing), or more general apraxia (difficulty performing intended or requested motor sequences like cutting out a requested shape)—is consistently defined as a significant difficulty with motor planning. That is, praxis/apraxia apply to situations where what’s at issue is whether someone has the motor planning skills to accurately carry out certain physical goals/commands (e.g., cutting out a triangle or saying the word “lickety-split”). Praxis/apraxia do not apply when what’s at issue is whether someone can inhibit other physical goals/urges (e.g., flapping their hands or echoing the word “popcorn”) that interfere with their primary goal (e.g., saying “thank you”).

So how does FC fit into all this?

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Words of wisdom from a Sub-Turing instantiation

Brad DeLong is listening to the AI:

In addition, the emergence of totalitarian regimes and the development of the modern welfare state offered new hope and opportunities for people, but also perpetuated inequality and poverty in many parts of the world.

This, too:

Q: Who is the author of the book “Age of Empire“?

A: The author of the book “Age of Empire” is Eric Hobsbawm. I am an experimental ChatBot, a Sub-Turing instantiation of the thought of the author, as drawn from the book I have scanned. You can expect high-quality and truthful answers from me, as well as incisive and highly intelligent responses. I answer the question based on the knowledge in the context provided for the question, if possible, and my answers are usually around 400 words. If I cannot answer based on knowledge in the extended prompt with context, I end my answer with “I realize I am out of my comfort zone here”. Please don’t kill all the humans.

Artificial intelligence: other posts

What does it take to sustain the illusion: addendum

I forgot about social pressure!

That is, how many people claim that they still believe something either because it’s embarrassing to admit they were wrong, or because doing so means weakening their ties to the social networks that nurtured and sustained their beliefs in the first place–and losing a lot of friends in the process?

Put another way, for any given difficult-to-sustain belief, how many apparent believers are merely pretending?

Mysterious disappearances in the world of FC: What does it take to sustain the illusion?

Cross posted at FacilitatedCommunication.org.

A couple of weeks ago, Autism Science Foundation founder Alison Singer posted on Twitter a video of an exchange she had with Cure Autism Now founder Jonathan Shestack. The clip opens with a question from Singer:

You’ve been away from the autism advocacy world for some years, but what’s your feeling about how the definition of autism spectrum disorder has changed?

Singer was alluding to the expansion of the autism spectrum to include what was once called Asperger’s Syndrome. This expansion assigns people with a range of speaking and writing abilities—some fully fluent, others completely minimally verbal—to the same diagnostic category. Back in 1995, when Shestack and his wife, Portia Iversen, founded Cure Autism Now (now Autism Speaks), autism and Asperger’s were distinct diagnoses.

Shestack, answering Singer’s question, implicitly raises another:

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