Tuesday, 24 November 2009
From: Dr. Chun Wong
A few weeks ago, we took a look at Carly, a young girl who has Autism. She is non-verbal however she independently communicates via keyboard to her family, friends, Twitter Followers and Facebook Friends. She often fields questions from followers and she answers them herself. Once in a while her father has been known to send out a message just making a general request. Recently, for example, Carly’s father sent a message out kindly asking that people use Twitter to communicate with Carly as opposed ro Facebook. This was simply because Carly prefers Twitter over Facebook. Other than these once-in-a-while instances, Carly communicates everything herself with near no assistance.
As common as individual communication methods have become, there are still some non-verbal people who are unable to successfully use a keyboard. Hand-eye coordination is required to be able to utilize the keyboard method and many people lack this skill, especially if they have Autism. There are alternative methods of communication that have opened the doors of possibility for those who are non-verbal and lack the hand-eye coordination to successfully use a keyboard. One method in particular is known as Facilitated Communication or FC. In this method, specifically targeted to those who cannot type, there are two people involved; the communicator, (whom is often autistic, deaf, mute, etc) and the Facilitator. The facilitator is responsible for conveying the message of the communicator by assisting them in finding the right key, easing their hand to the desired letter, or pressing they key down that the communicator indicates.
Despite the numerous success stories that have come from this method, it is still under much controversy and has been for years. In 1977, Rosemary Crossley claimed to have successfully used facilitated communication with a group of non verbal children. In 1989, the Facilitated Communication Institute was founded by Douglas Bilkin at Syracuse University in New York. The school was designed to educate families who were exploring such a method.
Facilitated Communication has had its advances over the years, but both medical and psychology experts claim that there is not enough hard evidence to prove the success of FC. In the 1990’s the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association issued statements that opposed the use and validity of FC. Their main criticism being that the facilitator had influence over what the communicator was attempting to say.
In 1997, Diane Twatchman-Cullen, the editor-in-chief of the Autism Spectrum Quarterly journal published “A Passion to Believe: Autism and the Facilitated Communication Phenomenon. ” In the book, Twatchman-Cullen takes a look at the conditions that led parents, teachers and others to depend on FC.
Also featured in the book is an examination of the study that Twatchman-Cullen conducted in 1990 of three adults with non-verbal, non functioning Autism. All three people spent their educational and informative years in institutions so they had no real external exposure. With a facilitator, however, all three were able to communicate ideas about the outside world.
“I don’t think that the vast majority of people were deliberately typing their own messages,” she said. “I really don’t believe that, but I do believe there was unconscious facilitation.”
Though rare, there have also been a few cases in which individuals have graduated from using FC to independent communication.
It is estimated that there are about 700 - 1,000 people worldwide who communicate using FC.