In my last post, I mentioned several constituencies that have kept Facilitated Communication, for all its definitive debunkings, alive and well: hopeful parents, duped therapists, and well-intentioned philanthropists enriching unscrupulous institutes and their various gurus. I then ended with a teaser about a fourth constituency that has helped enable what is actually a major FC comeback: highly verbal adults who identify as autistic. But before I address their dogs in this fight, I need to showcase one more player that, until emailing with psychology professor James Todd, I’d kind of forgotten about: namely, academia.
(Professor Todd has served as an expert witness in several court cases involving Facilitated Communication).
The epicenter of US-based Facilitated Communication is the University of Syracuse, home to the father of US-based Facilitated Communication, Douglas Biklen (who learned about FC from the Rosemary Crossley in Australia), and his Facilitated Communication Institute, now called the Institute for Communication and Inclusion. That Institute, with funding from the Hussman Foundation and Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation, has been a big money maker for the University.
Less obviously money-driven is the spread by FC (sometimes called “supported typing”) into other academic institutions–a phenomenon discussed at length in a 2014 article by Scott Lilienfeld, Julia Marshall, James Todd and Howard C. Shane entitled “The persistence of fad interventions in the face of negative scientific evidence: Facilitated communication for autism as a case example” (published in Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention). Some excerpts:
In 2002, Donald Cardinal, another of FC’s earliest advocates, was appointed Dean of the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. Mary Falvey is Dean of the College of Education at California State University, Los Angeles. Her eponymous award, the Mary Falvey Outstanding Young Person Award, has been given at least twice to FC users, Sue Rubin in 1988 and Peyton Goddard in 2004. After proclaiming that FC is not only genuine, but demonstrates that children with autism are psychic (Haskew & Donnellan, 1993), Anne Donnellan (Emeritus, University of Wisconsin) became Director of the Autism Program at the University of San Diego and was appointed to the Panel of Professional Advisors of the Autism Society.
Recently and currently active academicians who have explicitly endorsed the efficacy of FC and closely allied methods, such as rapid prompting, can be found on the faculties of numerous other institutions in the US and abroad, including Zachary Rossetti (Boston University), Alicia Broderick (Columbia University), Ralph Saverese (Grinnell College), Patricia Edwards (Ashland University), Missy Morton (University of Canterbury, New Zealand), Andrew Grayson and Anne Emerson (Nottingham Trent University), Patricia Block (State University of New York at Stony Brook), Christi Kasa (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs), Christopher Kliewer (University of Northern Iowa), Sandra McClennen (Emeritus, Eastern Michigan University), Eija Karna-Lin (University of Joensuu, Finland), and Margaret Bauman (Harvard University).
Other academic institutions have included FC in their conferences, curricula, disability access, and outreach efforts. In 2012, Indiana State University’s School of Education “Sycamore Days” education conference featured a facilitated keynote address attributed to Matthew Hobson, an individual diagnosed with autism, whose typing was at times guided by two individuals (Hobson & Hobson, 2010). In 2014, the University of Northern Iowa hosted a two-day summer institute (“Inclusion and Communication for All”) highlighting the use of FC and allied technologies (University of Northern Iowa, 2014). The University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability has supported FC since the early 1990s and routinely offers training workshops in FC. The most recent instance, scheduled for October 16, 2014, was conducted by long-time FC advocate Pascal Cheng and FC newcomer, Lisa Bauhan—through whose biography we learn of a grant from the Crotched Mountain organization “to provide ST [supported typing] training throughout New Hampshire”
Institutions in which facilitated students have been enrolled and reportedly received degrees include Syracuse University, Whittier College (California), LeMoyne College (Pennsylvania), George Mason University (Virginia), Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis (Indiana), Cuyamaca College (California), and the University of Denver.
Perhaps the pinnacle of FC’s success in academia, however, was attained in July 2011, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab hosted a conference on FC, with Douglas Biklen and Rosemary Crossley as invited speakers. The program did not feature any speakers who could have challenged the science or ethics of FC. In addition to talks, the conference featured training workshops on “Getting Started with FC,” “Typing for Social Interaction,” and “Two Handed Typing,” among other topics. Although it is likely that many disabilities services offices do not entertain FC as an accommodation option, Lakes Region Community College in New Hampshire appears to be the only higher education institution in the US with a published policy prohibiting the use of FC in the classroom.
I’ve wondered recently what I’d do if I had a facilitated student in one of my classes. Would I risk getting in trouble by refusing to give credit for facilitated work until questions of authorship were soundly resolved? Professors have already been confronted with this issue at Oberlin, Penn, and Tulane, where as we’ve seen, facilitated students have enrolled and in some cases graduated. Were any of these professors sufficiently informed about FC as to have serious concerns about authorship, and sufficiently brave to dare to withhold credit?
There seems to be plenty of freedom to promote FC in academic settings, but perhaps not as much freedom to opt out.