Monday, May 17, 2010

Resistance - #1

Resistance: a force that retards, hinders or opposes motion. (Webster's New World Dictionary).

This kind of resistance is what we want to provide to people who are learning to type to communicate. Along with conveying a sense of confidence in the person's ability to think/learn/communicate and the facilitator's ability to actually make the process happen, physical resistance is essential to facilitated communication.

When we as facilitators hold the hand or wrist of a person who is learning to communicate, the observer can't tell just how much backward pressure we are exerting. And, of course, we are always trying to provide the least amount of physical support possible, to encourage ultimate independence once the process is well-established. But in the early stages, firm resistance is likely to be needed.

If attempts to begin the FC process aren't working, or if adding a new facilitator to the dynamic isn't working, I recommend adding more in the way of such resistance. I find that people watch me work with someone who types to communicate and then they try to do things just the way I do. I forget all too often to remind them that when I started out as a facilitator (way, way back in 1992), things didn't go as smoothly as they do now. And whenever I start with a new potential typer, I too have to start at the very beginning - and that almost always means providing lots of physical support: holding their hand firmly and confidently, and pulling back very deliberately until they are ready to make a movement forward toward the keyboard, letter board or choice board.

It is natural to focus on working toward independence and/or eliminating all possible facilitator influence - but as a result, a new facilitator tends to gingerly extend their hand, lightly holding the wrist or forearm, and quietly wait for something to happen. What often happens is nothing, or a meaningless string of letters, and essentially only frustration on all sides.

If FC is not working for a particular typer-facilitator duo, I strongly recommend grasping the full hand, giving lots of resistance, or pull-back, and starting out with short, single-word responses that are of high motivational value. Any time a string of three or more consonants are typed (obviously not leading to a meaningful word) stop briefly, and try again.

"Oops, that doesn't look like a word I know. Let's start again."

"Maybe that's not something you care about. How about if we just try typing your name."

"Hmm. Not sure what that might be. Can you type the word 'pizza?'"

Always remind the person that you know he has lots more words/ideas in his head, but the two of you need to learn to work together and YOU are just a beginner, so that's why you are starting out with "easy" work.

My belief is that this resistance slows the neurological process down so that the person can really think about what is being asked of them, sort through all the words, pictures, ideas or static buzzing around inside their head, and then when all goes well, produce a response that makes sense. It also breaks all the old patterns that might be in place - ignoring the questions of others; echolalic speech, typing or thinking; or whatever. Just staying in one place long enough to have someone ask a question and then consider giving an answer might be a major step forward for many individuals. A firm grip on their hand - if they will allow us to do that - can certainly help with staying put at least briefly.

Celebrate every step forward. Please do write with any questions or comments you might have.

Above all, don't give up!


  1. I remember learning that very thing at the workshop I attended in Edmonton all those many years ago.

    FC, done properly, doesn't allow the facilitator to guide the communicator's hand - you can't, if you're providing the right amount of resistance.

  2. Ah, such a good student - move to the head of the class, Miss Jannalou :-)