Saturday, April 3, 2010

Why Won't He/She Type With Me?

A common difficulty with Facilitated Communication is that a person starts typing with one trusted adult or peer but is unable to type with others. As common as this is, it's extremely difficult to sort out why this is happening.

An obvious factor is the difficulty that so many of our children or clients have with generalization. This is one of the reasons why speech therapists, occupational therapists and other specialists have tried to work in the regular classroom rather than do what is called "pull-out" therapies. It's also why in-home therapy is so highly respected - and effective - for young children.

In the early years of FC, we saw this situation developing and when dealing with parents who weren't being successful at home, we tried to ease their frustration (or guilt, skepticism, whatever) by pointing out that many of our kids were able to type at school but not at home, or able to type with one or two people at school and not others. BIG mistake! Only a few of the parents I worked with were ever successful in typing with their kids - and they had to be SO very patient and persistent in their efforts to accomplish this. Many gave up early on; others fell prey to those who were constantly pointing out to them that FC had not been "proven" and in fact might be a complete hoax.

Obviously we lost many of these kids and their families when the media started attacking everything concerned with FC. But even for those who remained supportive of what we were doing at school, can you imagine being in a situation where the teacher is having deep conversations at school with your child and you are limited at home to using pictures or pointing to meet their basic needs? And then what happens when that one trusted facilitator at school takes a medical leave or loses their job (Both of which happened to me during those years)?

If I had it to do over again . . . I would have had the parents in school as much as their schedules would allow. If their own child wasn't ready to type with them, maybe another child would be interested. I would have spent much more time in their homes, giving them support and encouragement to find ways to make FC a useful part of the home routine.

If I had had an ideal supportive school situation . . . I would have trained everyone who was interested and provided ongoing support and encouragement. We would never, ever settle for a situation where a child typed with only one facilitator - two, three or more would be desirable. Family members would be an integral part of our communication team.

If I had the ideal situation now . . . I would be giving regular training sessions to get lots of people comfortable using FC and ready to try it with people of all ages who might benefit from this form of supported communication. Every single training situation would also involve ongoing support so that no one is ever left alone trying to make FC work. I would be "on call" whenever the process seems to be stalled or breaking down.

I have many of you in mind as I write this. I know of far too many situations where FC has come to a halt, despite your great desire and strong efforts. For you, I will try to make a few more specific suggestions (since I am not close enough for a home visit, unfortunately).

(1) Go back to a video such as "Autism is a World" and watch it with your child/client over and over again. Talk about it. Remind them that you know they have lots to say and would love to be able to converse on a regular basis. This isn't just my idea, by the way. This one has come (strong and clear) from my good friend Aaron in Alberta. Thanks, Aaron - you are one of my very special teachers and a true inspiration.

(2) Find one of the books or web sites that tell of success stories. Same as above - read them aloud (over and over again, if possible). Naturally, I think my book is a great starting point, but so is "Sharing Our Wisdom" or the Breaking the Barriers web site.

(3) Find things that are highly motivating. If they can use FC to make requests for the things they really, really like - let them have it (within reason, of course)! I can't say enough about the importance of helping them see that their use of communication gives them REAL power! This doesn't have to be food or drink. Taking a walk, watching a video, even taking a break and doing nothing might have high motivational value. You know this person better than I do - trust your intuition and instincts.

(4) Look (and keep looking) for a fun situation. Maybe a TV game show? board game, online trivia or other game? Watching movies or TV together - ask basic questions about the content, move to opinion-type questions.

(5) Make every possible effort to attend a conference where FC is featured. Check out the web sites for Autcom, DEAL (for those "down under"), WAPADH (California), WOW (Colorado) or the FC Institute (Syracuse, NY).

(6) NEVER give up. Choose what works for you - a brief period set aside regularly for FC - daily, two or three times daily, maybe? Or an intense weekend where FC is the whole focus and other family members are also involved? (I am willing to come too, if we can find a way to cover my expenses. Tyler and his family in Manitoba made a believer out of me as to the value of this plan!)

Please do comment here if you have questions I can answer. If you'd rather keep it a little more private, write to me at