Monday, November 30, 2009

News Story - Man in Coma

Yet another exciting story in the news. I will try to provide a direct link, but in case that isn't working, try Google: Rom Houben, Belgium, man in coma starts to communicate.

And almost as soon as the story broke, the skeptics recognized that the communication method the man is using looks a lot like Facilitated Communication. So the nay-saying begins. My heartfelt compassion to the man and those who love him. What an insult it is to have your communication questioned rather than your awareness and intellect celebrated!

But that is of course what most of my friends who type to communicate deal with all the time. There's a major difference, however. Mr. Houben had been leading a normal life as far as his ability to communicate and live on his own. The people I work with had difficulties either from birth or shortly afterward. They never had the chance to show people around them that they were really thinking, caring beings. And again there is an exception to this scenario: Many young kids with autism develop normally, often reaching milestones ahead of the charts in the pediatrician's office, with an extensive spoken vocabulary documented by their parent. Suddenly, or gradually, they then lost the ability to speak, play, or interact in a "normal" way.

Mr. Houben's mother never stopped believing that her son was "in there" --- and this went on for 23 years! She and others are now able to communicate with him by supporting his hand and providing access to a keyboard. He talks about being lonely and frustrated, saddened by his father's death. Now, he has typed, "I simply want to enjoy life. I notice a big difference now that I'm back in contact with the world."

The use of brain scans was an important key in this particular case. Once the doctors saw positive evidence of much more brain activity than would be expected when a person is in a vegetative state (VS). In fact, his level of brain functioning is described in the CNN article as "fully functional!"

I am greatly disturbed to realize there is still such a serious backlash to news like this, still such a strong belief that a person who is unable to speak (or move!) must also be unable to think. Can we instead rejoice with Mr. Houben, his family and medical team, and use this opportunity to study others who are "locked in" and unable to communicate their inner thoughts?

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