Facilitated communication (FC) is at the center of a passionate debate. Proponents of FC claim the technique shows “unexpected literacy” in children with autism, and often reveals above average to high intelligence in children previously considered mentally handicapped. Such claims are ambitious, and would alter the face of autism treatment if proved. However, enormous controversy surrounds facilitated communication.
What is Facilitated Communication (FC)?
Facilitated communication operates on a simple principle. The FC facilitator places a hand over the child’s hand, arm, or wrist. Both hands are positioned over a keyboard. According to FC theory, the child then “guides” the facilitator’s hand to the keyboard keys. With the aid of this assisted typing, facilitated communication advocates claim children with autism have produced poems, shared in-depth conversations with the facilitators, and written elaborate essays.
Arguments Against FC
Many autism experts view facilitated communication as a deeply flawed, even damaging, system. They believe that the facilitators are unconsciously projecting meaning into the children’s hand motion. The children are not typing: all the information is subconsciously provided by the facilitator.
Autism research seems to back this theory up. Although some tests indicate that facilitated communication works, the majority indicate that, once control measures are introduced so the facilitator cannot influence keyboard choices, FC does not live up to its claims.
In spite of available research, many parents and special education services support facilitated communication. Advocates of FC point to this fact as proof the system works. Skeptics point out that the parents of children with autism are often desperate for any therapy that “cures” or improves autism behavior. Suddenly being told by facilitated communications facilitators that their children are, in fact, highly intelligent and communicative, skeptics say, plays upon parents’ own vulnerabilities.
Sexual Abuse and Facilitated Communication
Facilitated communication has been linked to false charges of sexual abuse. FC facilitators are taught that thirteen percent of the children they treat are sexually abused. Opponents of facilitated communication charge that this influences the facilitators subconsciously, leading to typed charges of sexual abuse made by children against their parents. Under scrutiny, the charges have proven false: facilitators had “interpreted” children’s hand movements incorrectly.
Such false charges leveled against the parents of children with autism casts a dark shadow over facilitated communication. FC has yet to be accepted by the medical community as an autism treatment. The controversy is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. Parents of children with autism should consider FC with extreme caution, just as they should any unproven autism treatment.
Carroll, R. (nd). Facilitated communication. Retrieved October 20, 2003, from skepdic.com/facilcom.html.
Jacobsen, J., Mulick, J., Scwartz, A. (1995). A history of facilitated communication: Science, pseudoscience, and antiscience: Science working group on facilitated communication [electronic version]. American Psychologist 50(9), 750-796. Retrieved October 20, 2003, from www.apa.org/journals/jacobson.html.
ReligiousTolerance.org. (nd). Facilitated communication: All viewpoints. Retrieved October 20, 2003, from www.religioustolerance.org/fc_comm.htm.