Why we should not presume competence and reframe facilitated communication

In all the excitement surrounding Twitter suspensions and blog shutdowns and disappearing comments on YouTube and questions about my son’s diagnosis by lay people who’ve never met him, and shadowy cult leaders in France who believe that “English spelling is human thought made visible as text,” I forgot to mention that I have a new publication on facilitated communication in Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention.

Here is the abstract:

In their recent article in Frontiers in Psychology, “Presuming autistic communication competence and reframing facilitated communication,” Melanie Heyworth, Tim Chan, and Wenn Lawson argue for a positive reappraisal of facilitated communication (FC). The authors base their argument on several dozen problematic claims. Some of these claims rely on inaccurate assumptions about augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), conversational pragmatics, message passing tests, cognitive testing, cueing, recent discoveries about autism, and/or the empirical research on FC. Other claims involve circular reasoning or are not supported by the studies cited as support. Still others involve biased characterizations of FC critics or biased takes on key concepts pertaining to FC and the rights of people with disabilities. This article will examine each of these claims, explaining what is wrong with its underlying assumptions, its underlying reasoning, or its characterization of FC critics and of disability rights. As we will see, there are no grounds for a positive reappraisal of FC. 

The article I critique exhibits a disturbing trend in academic publication: authors increasingly cite articles that don’t support their claims, and peer reviewers increasingly fail to catch them at it. In my review, I compile into a chart about a dozen such claims, including one about “epistemological violence” against non-speaking autistics that is “supported” by an article about power relations in health care between doctors and midwives.

For anyone who wants to make sure they’re getting accurate information, chasing down the author’s footnotes (or un-footnoted claims) is absolutely essential. (And often, you find yourself learning interesting things in the process–e.g., about power relations in health care).

My full critique of Heyworth et al’s highly problematic pro-FC article is available here. If you’d like to access it and are unable, please contact me.

3 thoughts on “Why we should not presume competence and reframe facilitated communication

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