Why is Facilitated Communication making a comeback? (Part I)

(I, too, am making a comeback, after suddenly becoming intensely busy with a small NSF grant–more on that later).

This post continues a series I’ve promised would take us to “highly contagious and dangerously inaccurate meme about what autism is.”

To recap my last post, from way back on October 12th:

  • The ability to acquire language and understand what other people saying is correlated with the severity of autism.
  • If you understand most of the spoken or written language that surrounds you–including sophisticated psychological vocabulary, jokes, innuendos, and other forms of figurative language–then, assuming you’re on the autism spectrum at all, you’re way far out on the mild end of it.
  • You might look severely autistic even if you can do all these things. For example, you might have such severe apraxia that you are unable to articulate speech sounds. You would then appear to be nonverbal. Nonetheless, you should still be able to learn how to produce written language.
  • ..unless you have additional motor-control or body-awareness difficulties. In other words, unless you have a combination of (1) mild autism, (2) speech apraxia, and (3) profound motor and body awareness difficulties: theoretically possible, but, in practice, extremely rare.

If you are one of these (extremely rare!) people, then how do you communicate? The most common strategy out there, as it turns out, is Facilitated Communication. A facilitator provides support to your wrist or arm while you type out words on a keyboard.

The only problem is that Facilitated Communication has been soundly debunked. In the words of this 2014 meta-analysis:

Results indicated unequivocal evidence for facilitator control: messages generated through FC are authored by the facilitators rather than the individuals with disabilities. Hence, FC is a technique that has no validity.

In the words of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

“FC is not an effective form of communication and does not provide access to communication… [it] has been associated with significant preventable harms arising through false allegations of sexual abuse and mistreatment.” (Boynton, 2012Chan and Nankervis, 2014Wombles, 2014)

In a June, 2018 article in Forbes, Steven Salzberg asks:

Why do people still practice facilitated communication? Are they even aware that what they’re doing is deeply harmful? A compelling case is made in this lengthy expose, published in 2012 by a former facilitator, Janyce Boynton, who admits that she was responsible for “graphic depictions of rape and sexual assault that had no bearing in reality.” Her actions led to a family being split apart and the parents being charged with child abuse.

Yet Boynton believed at the time that what she was doing was real–as she puts it, she simply “did not want to believe that FC was a hoax.” She also makes it clear that many of the people she learned from sincerely believed that FC was real. Boynton herself was crushed when she realized that she–and not the severely autistic child who had been entrusted to her care–was typing all the messages.

But FC’s comeback continues, and the reasons go back to… “a highly contagious and dangerously inaccurate meme about what autism is.”

Stay tuned for my next post, which I promise will be soon.

I can read this !

Hi everyone – long time, no see – it’s so frustrating not to have more time to write (!)

I’m putting this post up on the fly. 

I’m in the long, hard slog phase of last night’s hard-drive-wipe-and-reinstall event.

Recovery from a wipe-and-reinstall event entails many twists and turns, among them the (surprise!) need to search through email to recover addresses that disappeared from my address book, for reasons unknown.

Naturally, looking at email for the purposes of address-recovery leads to looking at email for the purposes of not-address-recovery…. 

… and so, because my quest to learn French (and Spanish) has nothing whatsoever to do with my desire to locate disappeared email address, I opened French Today‘s Unique French Tips —- and found I could instantly and fluently read this:

En France, les fleurs associées à la mort sont les chrysanthèmes et les cyclamènes, car elles résistent au gel et sont donc parfaites pour mettre sur les tombes en ce mois de novembre. Attention donc de ne jamais offrir ces fleurs en France… Ce serait un gros faux-pas.

In France, flowers associated with death are mums and cyclamens, because they are frost resistant and are therefore perfect to put on the tombs in this month of November. So be careful to never give these flowers as a gift in France. It would be a big faux-pas.

I stumbled over gel, although I knew the word, but that was it. Otherwise, I read these lines as quickly as I would read the same lines in English.

I’m thrilled!

I owe this to a 264-day streak on Duolingo (plus 1 year of high-school French and a few weeks of French at the Alliance Française decades ago). On Duolingo, I’ve done 6 French lessons a day for the vast majority of days, plus 1 for Spanish, the language I studied beginning in middle school and then all through high school and into college. 

I’ve also made it through 4559 of Lingvist‘s 5000 French words. It’s a good thing, too, because Lingvist’s algorithm has decided to stop giving me new words. I have no idea why. I paid for Premium Lingvist, the version that lets you practice 100 cards a day as opposed to just 50, but the program stalled out several weeks ago at 4559 words, possibly because I’m teaching and can no longer practice 100 cards a day.

Another thing to deal with.

Anyway, point is, after nearly 9 months of daily practice, I can read a simple French text as quickly as I can read a simple English text.

That’s major. 

The language apps use information-integration learning, and they work.