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Facilitated Communication (FC) is a technique whereby a paraprofessional called a "facilitator" allegedly helps a formerly non-communicative person to communicate. The best known uses of FC are in cases of autism, mental retardation, and cerebral palsy. This technique has given great hope to many and grief to some, with few validated results.
The movement in favor of FC seems to have peaked in the 1990s and was severely impacted by a scathing Frontline report on PBS.
Syracuse University maintains an institute for the teaching and study of FC. Despite the fact that FC is used primarily for diseases of the mind, the institute is not hosted by the psychology department, which should not be surprising given that the American Psychological Association takes an official stand against FC.
Some of the most common methods of FC are to have a facilitator and patient guide each other's hands to letters on a keyboard or letters and words on a specially designed communication board.
Study of FC
Any report of the subject must be communicated via the facilitator, making studies that assume that any of the facilitated communications are true, inherently invalid. Like the argument "the Bible is true because the Bible says the Bible is true", such studies would be employing circular logic.
Nevertheless, valid studies have been designed to test the most basic question: who is communicating, the subject or the facilitator? One good study design takes a sceptical view: show the subject an object so that they can clearly see it, when the facilitator is not present, and then bring the facilitator back in and ask the subject to use facilitated communication to describe the object. Such studies have found that FC does not exist. FC is therefore operating by the same mechanism as dowsing and ouija boards — the ideomotor effect.
While scientific study has failed to prove FC any more valid than a ouija board, like many such pseudosciences, "testimonials" make up the bulk of supportive evidence. Publication of controlled studies peaked in the 1990s with the near universal failure to validate the technique. The only positive studies are either testimonials, or very small poorly controlled experiments.
The implications of accepting FC, despite its unproven status, are many:
- Giving unrealistic hope to families
- Diverting funds from proven techniques and programs
- Making clinical and legal decisions based on "FC" communications from otherwise uncommunicative persons.
There have been cases where allegations of abuse have stemmed from reports obtained by FC. One in particular is the case of "Carla", who was removed from the care of her family several times because of reports of abuse made via FC. In her case and several others, the communication was tested and found to be invalid, showing essentially that the facilitator, rather than the subject, made the allegations, leading to pain for the family and subject, and expense for the state.The court system has taken a dim view of FC.
Similar unproven communication methods
The following alleged communication methods for non-verbal people are also scientifically unproven (and are allegedly just rebrandings of facilitated communication):
- Rapid Prompting (aka "Soma Rapid Prompt Method")
- Supported Typing
- Mostert, M P.Facilitated communication since 1995: a review of published studies.Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders. 31(3):287-313, 2001 Jun.
- Wheeler DL, Jacobson JW, Paglieri RA, Schwartz AA.An experimental assessment of facilitated communication. Mental Retardation, 1993 Feb;31(1):49-59.
- Michael Eberlin, Gene McConnachie, Stuart Ibel,and Lisa Volpe. Facilitated communication: A failure to replicate the phenomenon. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.Volume 23, Number 3 September, 1993.
- Elliott W. Simon, Donna M. Toll and Patricia M. Whitehair.A naturalistic approach to the validation of facilitated communication.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Volume 24, Number 5 October, 1994
- Gorman B.J. Facilitated communication: rejected in science, accepted in court-a case study and analysis of the use of FC evidence under Frye and Daubert.Behavioral Sciences & the Law. 17(4):517-41, 1999.
- SHARON L. HOSTLER, JANET H. ALLAIRE and RICHARD A. CHRISTOPH.Childhood Sexual Abuse Reported by Facilitated Communication. Pediatrics. 1993;91;1190-1192.
- Department of Social Services ex. rel. Jenny S. V. Mark S.,
593 N.Y.S.2d 142 (N.Y. Family Court, 1993)
Although his case does not relate directly to employment, it does relate to the testifying of persons with communication difficulties in court in general under the ADA. In 1993 this New York family court held that a child or children with autism, who allegedly had been sexually abused, would not be permitted to testify in court through the use of facilitated communication because:
- (a) facilitated communication is not a form of communication that is generally accepted within the scientific community;
- (b) the use of facilitated communication is not required by the ADA.
- The Pseudoscientific Phenom — Facilitated Communication — Makes a Comeback