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.https://i-asc.org/an-open-letter-to-my-sons-skeptics/
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:
there is a small but vocal group of individuals who are actively working to undermine these hard-working advocates. They insist that what they communicate can’t possibly be their own thoughts, but rather assert that they are being manipulated, either consciously or unconsciously, by the individuals supporting them. Their primary argument is that, back in the 1980s and 1990s, some individuals could not execute a “message passing test” developed by researchers. (There are other studies, showing that other individuals could indeed perform this task as described, but those studies are ignored by this crowd.)https://i-asc.org/an-open-letter-to-my-sons-skeptics/
(The last two statements are easily fact-checked: see the Research page of FacilitatedCommunication.org.)
Some accuse this small but vocal group of hounding families who have already committed their children to FC: my child “won’t do a message passing test for you… and to continue to demand that he do so again and again is both psychologically damaging and discriminatory.”
The small but vocal group of people I know is truly amazing. They are artists, scientists, therapists, engineers–people who have dedicated their lives to finding ingenious ways for language-impaired people in general, and non-speaking people in particular, to communicate independently.
We–I’m honored to have joined them–are deeply concerned about what the Clever Hans Effect and the Ideomotor Illusion tell us about facilitator influence. We are deeply concerned about the human rights violations and opportunity costs involved in hijacking autistic voices and in replacing evidence-based interventions that presume the capacity to learn things with non-evidence-based interventions that assume that those things have already been learned.
And no, we have no intention of hounding people who have already chosen this path–or had it chosen for them. But we are eager to reach others who may simply be considering it; those whom the real villains (is that too strong a word?) are trying to ensnare.
I should emphasize that they–the real villains–are none of the above.
Which brings me to a third small but vocal group: the professional quacks who run the facilitated communication clinics; the people who should, and probably do, know better.