Sunday, July 12, 2009

Facilitated Communication Basics

This will be a quick, basic introduction to Facilitated Communication, from my personal perspective. I sure hope anyone with something to add will do so, and if you have questions or want further information, please let me know.

FC, as we'll call it from here on, was used very sporadically and generally without much fanfare until Rosemary Crossley started using it with children in Australia. Working in an institution for those with very severe disabilities, her first successful experiences were with young children with severe cerebral palsy (CP). One of those very special kids, Anne McDonald, is now an adult and actually lives with Rosie and her partner, Chris Borthwick. Anne, once judged to be profoundly mentally retarded, has gone on to work toward advanced degrees using typing as her means of communication.

The method involves a combination of (1) emotional support and encouragement, (2) physical support as needed, and (3) access to a letter board, choice board, or keyboard. Independent typing is of course the ultimate goal, but many people have such significant motor impairments that they may continue to need full physical support in order to express their thoughts. In general, it is recommended to begin fading the physical support early in the process, as well as having the FC user become comfortable using the method with several different facilitators. With support and access, along with lots of practice, many individuals who are unable to use spoken language in a meaningful way find an effective means of communication. FC can be used along with other interventions, is very low-cost, and opens up the possibility of unlimited communication.

News of the method was brought to the U.S. in the early 1990's by Dr. Doug Biklen of Syracuse University, amid much media excitement; but it wasn't long before the controversy set in. Making a long story as short as I can, the problem seems to be the difficulty in accepting that individuals who appear to be so severely impaired in so many ways could possibly be saying what is being typed. It hasn't helped at all that trying to set up some sort of double blind test situation to "prove" the validity of the method hasn't worked well at all.

But more and more stories are being told. More and more individuals are becoming independent in their typing. And, some positive studies have been published. I will include a few references for further reading and would love to have questions or comments posted here to get a discussion going.

To learn more about FC:

Check out this awesome video, available at major libraries across the U.S.:
"Autism is a World" - the story of Sue Rubin

A chapter from my book (SEE US SMART!):

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