Lit Crit Meets “Autism”: Transgressing the boundaries with some help from FC

Ralph Savarese’s follow up to Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption is the even more modestly titled See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor. Also common to both books is that much of the content derives from facilitated communication. In Reasonable People, the facilitated individual is Savarese’s adopted son, Deej; in See It Feelingly, Deej is joined by two others who communicate via FC: Tito Mukhopadhyay and Jamie Burke. Three independent communicators—people who are able to produce messages without a designated helper sitting next to them and prompting them—also make appearances: Dora Raymaker, Eugenie Belkin, and Temple Grandin.

Like Reasonable People, See it Feelingly seeks to challenge what Savarese alleges to be the dominant paradigm of autism. As the book’s publisher, Duke University Press, explains:

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Another prestigious institution gets on the “Typing to Communicate” game

Beyond the University of Virginia (via Vikram Jaswal and his Eye Tracking Study), Cambridge University is also hard at work validating the latest forms of facilitated communication. I’m thinking, specifically, of Alex Woolgar, whose work (as yet unpublished) is described in detail on the International Association of Spelling as Communication (I-ASC) website.

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A small but vocal group of individuals

They are an amazing group.  Some are poets, novelists, or visual artists.  Some have graduated from or are currently enrolled at prestigious colleges and universities such as UC Berkeley, Tulane, Oberlin and Harvard, among many others.  Most are advocates, some professionally, others as just something they do on the side to give back to the community.  Some have written op ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal, others have given presentations to the United Nations.  Some are active in non-profit advocacy groups or lead student-run organizations on campuses.  Some have shared their perspectives with medical providers, educators and architects to help these professionals understand how to better serve nonspeaking people.

And all of them compose these perspectives, advocacy statements, op ed pieces, UN presentations, novels, and poems via some form of facilitated communication. Their wrists, arms, or shoulders are held, or a letterboard is held up to them, or, at the very least, a “communication partner” sits or stands next to them and prompts them. One set of eyes is glued to the keyboard; the other set of eyes may or may not be, but an extended index finger that belongs to those eyes hovers over the letters. The moment the communication partners leave the room, all that sophisticated communication grinds to a halt. This, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Some see it differently:

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Monotropism, tunnel vision, and some small grains of truth in those pro-FC arguments

As with many out-there belief systems, those espoused by proponents of Facilitated Communication contain some grains of truth.

For example, observations of motor clumsiness in autism date back to Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger—but they don’t add up to the kind of mind-body disconnect that FC proponents claim justifies FC. Similarly, the infrequent initiations of social interaction seen in individuals with autism do not add up to the kind of generalized initiation disorder that Rapid Prompting Method proponents claim justifies the RPM version of FC.

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