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.

One thought on “Why is Facilitated Communication making a comeback? (Part I)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s