So why is it that hard-core Neurodiversity (ND) advocates embrace the thoroughly-debunked and often abusive practice of Facilitated Communication (FC)?
So what does a group of highly verbal people who identify as autistic have to do with facilitated communication—and why, as I suggested in an earlier post, do they support it?
The group of highly verbal people I have in mind identify not only as autistic, but also as members of a movement called “Neurodiversity.”
While this movement proclaims to be primarily about advocating for full acceptance of the gamut of neurological differences that constitute humanity, it has, over the years, narrowed down to a much more rigid ethos—an ethos that I’ve learned a fair amount about in a half-year of sometimes heated interactions on Twitter.
To appreciate why today’s hardcore neo-Neurodiversity advocates support facilitated communication, we need to begin by deconstructing this ethos. Here are its central claims:
In my last post, I mentioned several constituencies that have kept Facilitated Communication, for all its definitive debunkings, alive and well: hopeful parents, duped therapists, and well-intentioned philanthropists enriching unscrupulous institutes and their various gurus. I then ended with a teaser about a fourth constituency that has helped enable what is actually a major FC comeback: highly verbal adults who identify as autistic. But before I address their dogs in this fight, I need to showcase one more player that, until emailing with psychology professor James Todd, I’d kind of forgotten about: namely, academia.
Continuing from where we left off, Facilitated Communication’s lack of credibility is multi-faceted.
As we saw in my last post, the messages that FC typically generates are highly suspect. With their often perfect spelling, sophisticated vocabulary, figurative phrasing, bland messages, and stilted tone, they don’t sound like they’re coming from the young kids and teenagers being “facilitated”–especially as these particular individuals seem to lack the Joint Attention behaviors necessary for picking up even the most basic vocabulary.
And now for my promised but much-postponed discussion of the actual messages generated by Facilitated Communication (FC).
- “Forget labels. My autism does not define me”
- “I think I was lost in some way. I know I was retarded meaning I acted like my worst nightmare.”
- “I find that only FC allows for fully telling people what I want to say.”
- “I find that I need a lot of practice to become fluent”
- “Took a year before I was able to type with fading support”
- “I am not stupid as some people used to think”
- “I would not get to this stage if I did not get full support initially”
- “The truth is I am always trying to promote open communication to show that is what I do all day and I am getting really tired of people insinuating that I wear a puppet string because this is hard enough without people rooting against me.”
- “My voice works it’s the words that come out that throw people off the intelligence trail.”
- “The beauty of my mind is often ignored by my difficult body that is very childlike in movement.”
- “Doing fish lips to the audience is an expression of funny playfulness but can be interpreted as simple mindedness. Silliness is acceptable in those who are believed smart but for those like me it indicates stupidity”
Here’s one more example of facilitation via held-up alphabet board.