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.
It’s also long been recognized that a significant percentage autistic children, including some who are severely autistic, show a precocious ability to spell and decode writing language (aka hyperlexia). But this isn’t the same as having advanced skills in reading comprehension and expressive writing.
And even the most “medicalized” models of autism have long recognized that even the most severely autistic people can crave human connection, feel basic empathy, undergo intense sensory experiences, and have intellects that are easily underestimated. But that doesn’t add up to a sociable genius locked inside an uncooperative body, who, under FC, is capable of authoring evocative poetry, philosophical musings, and socially conscious advocacy statements concerning autism and neurodiversity.
I’ve recently been thinking about two additional grains of FC truth that don’t add up—cases where proponents confuse objects of attention with sensory experience.
One is monotropism—an invented neuropsychological condition in which those afflicted are unable to hear and see at the same time. Believers in monotropism say that such people are “mono-channeled”, where channel means sensory modality. In ways that no one has made clear, monotropism is supposed either to justify the use of FC, and/or to explain why FCed individuals can type without looking at the keyboard.
The other is tunnel vision, which is supposed to explain why FCed individuals sometimes type the wrong keys. I encountered this for the first time last week in this video shared by Janyce Boynton:
As far as monotropism goes, the grain of truth is this: it’s long been recognized that individuals with autism have difficulty with switching their attention from one thing to another. This makes it difficult to follow a social interaction with multiple participants, or to listen to a lecture while writing down summary notes. But that’s not the same as not being able to simultaneously hear and see things that emanate from a single object of attention: e.g., to simultaneously see the teacher and hear what he says.
As for tunnel vision, the grain of truth lies in long-standing observations that autism involves a narrow attentional focus. According to early editions of the DSM, dating back to 1980, one of the diagnostic symptoms of autism is “preoccupation with parts of objects.” Accounts by neuropsychologists like Uta Frith and Francesca Happe, dating back to the mid-1990s, have proposed that autistic individuals have “weak central coherence”: something that Attwood, in his 2007 Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, likens to seeing the world through a telescope. “The details are visible but the context is not perceived.”
But Attwood’s telescope is a metaphor. Narrow interests and preoccupations with parts of objects have to do with what attracts someone’s attention, not with what they’re able to see. The boy in the video may have narrow interests and preoccupations, but that doesn’t explain why his index finger touches letters other than the ones he purportedly intends.
Nor does it explain how his facilitators are able to differentiate between intentional and unintentional letter selections.
As with all the other arguments offered by FC-proponents, there is probably a simpler explanation for what’s really going on.