Why would a promoter of free-range childhood promote coercive quackery for society’s most vulnerable children?

In a recent article at the New York Post, “free range kids” proponent Lenore Skenazy inadvertently promotes what all the available evidence suggests is the opposite of a free range childhood: spending hours drifting one’s finger over a letterboard and, in response to subtle subconscious cues and not so subtle prompts from the person holding up the board, slowly picking out one letter after another in sequences that sometimes number several dozen letters long.

Talk about helicopter parenting! This is about as bad as it gets.

If you want to provide these kids with a free-range childhood, then help them learn independent, efficient communication–not pseudo-communication in which they depend on an adult to get in their space and constantly prompt them to keep going. At least one of these kids can speak: he pronounces the word “letterboard” fluently and intelligibly. Why is no one helping him develop his speech skills? Why is no one teaching these kids ten-finger typing? The actual answer, of course, is that this kind of communication doesn’t lend itself to cuing the way hovering your index finger over a held-up letterboard does. But the claim made by Skenazy, who only cites S2C and RPM proponents rather than autism experts and scientists, is that these children, and other non-speaking kids, have fine-motor control difficulties (there’s no evidence of that) and that pointing at a specific letter on a letterboard “with your whole arm” is a fine-motor movement (it isn’t).

Skenazy is certain she’s a careful enough observer to know that these kids weren’t being cued. After all, as she points out, no one was actually touching them while they typed. Skenazy seems to have no concerns or questions about the letterboards not being stationary.

As I wrote in a comment on her piece:

Sorry, but unless you’re an expert in subtle cuing, first-hand observation is extremely misleading. If you read up on the autism spectrum and on language and literacy acquisition in autism, you’ll see how unlikely all this is. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and practitioners, if you ask them, will come up with all sorts of reasons why they won’t subject this to rigorous testing. For more information and a repository of research on this, see https://www.facilitatedcommunication.org/

3 thoughts on “Why would a promoter of free-range childhood promote coercive quackery for society’s most vulnerable children?

  1. Hmmm .. I watched the video embedded in the article, “Joe, who has autism, answers a question about the Great Depression” and I noticed a couple of things. First, the teacher is very openly coaching Joe (“get up to the D!”, “eyes!”), as well as moving the letterboard while Joe points to it. Second, what Joe is allegedly doing is actually extremely difficult. How many of us could painstakingly, one letter at a time, spell out the sentence “Many people thought the government could have prevented the Depression”, with no visual cues, without missing a single letter? I doubt that I could, or at least not reliably. The teacher provides herself with visual cues by writing down the words as they’re completed, so she can keep track of the sentence, but how could Joe be doing it? And the question I keep asking myself is: if Joe is capable of spelling out this sentence, why can’t he be given a computer keyboard and do his own typing?

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  2. I want to ask proponents of this method these questions: why is the facilitator necessary? Why can’t the students learn to use a standard keyboard? What would happen if you brought in a facilitator who doesn’t speak English — would they still be able to transcribe the student’s letters correctly? If not, why not?

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