Tasks, like taking a bath or brushing your teeth, are commonplace for those who live a fairly mainstream life. Those who have disabilities, however, live in a decidedly different reality. Everyday responsibilities for life become a strenuous burden on those who live with disabilities, even borderline impossible in some situations. A common illustration would be vocalizing; while the average person can easily verbalize feelings or emotions, someone with a communicative disability is silenced, sometimes even for life.
While there are various safe techniques used today to aid people with communication disabilities, there are also dangerous ones; a popular, yet controversial, method used today is facilitated communication. Facilitated communication is a technique invented in the late 20th century by Rosemary Crossley, an Australian who worked with disabled individuals at the St. Nicholas Institution in Melbourne. Over the years, Crossley eventually taught a young disabled girl how to read and communicate using a technique that would later go on to be called facilitated communication.
Today, facilitated communication is commonly administered by a trained professional caregiver, otherwise known as a facilitator. The process starts with the facilitator gently holding the disabled person’s hand or arm over a keyboard or any other device that displays words or pictures. By moving the patient’s hand slowly over the desired surface, he or she is supposedly able to communicate through his or her hand by typing or pointing to certain pictures (Burgess).
Though this technique looks promising, facilitated communication is a precarious technique to use on individuals with extreme disabilities due to the skepticism that the facilitator, not the one with the disability, is the source of the messages obtained, the enormous amounts of stress FC (facilitated communication) can put on family members, and owing to the fact that there has numerous sexual abuse allegations.
Be that as it may that facilitated communication claims to give voices to those with communicative problems such as autism, cerebral palsy, or brain damage, it has not been proven to be a scientifically valid technique (“Facilitated Communication”). Even more so, there has been numerous scandals around the facilitated communication community as well as criticism concerning their methods.
Some might argue that facilitated communication is a severely misunderstood technique that scientists often fail to interpret correctly, and that “not only does facilitated communication extend newfound hope to individuals with severe disabilities, but it also is a powerful tool to facilitate integration and inclusion. Individuals with severe disabilities who use facilitated communication not only are able to be included in normalized settings, but their integration occurs in a manner whereby they are able to function in a maximally normalized fashion”(Simpson).
Though it is true that facilitated communication can be difficult to comprehend, credible organizations ranging from the American Psychological Association to the American SpeechLanguage-Hearing Association have all conducted valuable experiments on the subject of facilitated communication as well as written extensive papers on the subject; both have concluded that facilitated communication is an unproved communicative procedure and do not sanction its use (Simpson). Facilitated communication also does not fully allow individuals with severe disabilities to function in a normalized fashion.
It has been recorded time and time again that of the few success stories facilitated communication has advocated, they have all been under unreliable circumstances that cannot clearly be backed, or in serious cases, completely hoaxed. Even if facilitated communication was a reliable technique to be used on those with disabilities, there will always be high chance of exploitation, whether deliberate or unpremeditated; exploitation that can result in serious psychological, physical, or sexual harm. These are the most vulnerable people in our society, and the last thing they need is a pseudoscientific treatment foisted on them by people who can’t demonstrate its efficacy” (Simpson). Facilitators often face skepticism from the public eye due to their unreliable information regarding their patient as well as them tiple scientific experiments conducted in dissuasion of facilitated communication. The most notable experiment that centered around facilitated communication was conducted with forty college volunteers at Harvard.
After the volunteers were taught how to correctly administer facilitated communication, they then went through a series of trails that recorded their interactions with a disabled volunteer. Once the research was completed, scientists were amazed to see that a majority of the ages produced from the sessions were subconsciously influenced by the college volunteers; facilitated messages seemed no more than just an “ouija board phenomenon” (Calculator).
In spite of this, the experiment’s findings were excellent proof in proving why in some instances a supposedly bilingual patient would only facilitate Spanish messages with a Spanish facilitator and English messages with an American facilitator (Simpson). If the bilingual patient truly was facilitating his own messages, it would not have mattered if he was facilitating Spanish messages to the American facilitator or vice versa. Commonly, facilitators are not aware that they are subtly influencing their patient’s answers.
Often times, their need to help is so great that they tend to ignore warning signs concerning their patients and the validation studies that conclude that there is no merit to the technique that they are using (Calculator). Janyce Boynton, a former facilitator, describes a belief so strongly put in facilitated communication that it led her to abandon skepticism altogether. Ms. Boynton says that a part of her strong convictions came from the facilitated communication community itself, even going as far as to say that their passionate encouragement about the credibility of facilitated communication could squash even the tiniest of doubts.
Today, Ms. Boynton is a strong adversary against facilitated communication, stating that she and other facilitators “cannot erase the damage we have caused by our actions, but can take responsibility for our part in perpetuating the myth of FC. It is time to put a stop to this practice that adversely affects the very people we set out to protect” (Burgess). Parents often encounter various difficulties when exploring the option of facilitated communication for their child as well. Initially, “parents are grateful to discover that their child is not hopelessly retarded but is either normal or above normal in intelligence.
Facilitated communication allows their children to demonstrate their intelligence; it provides them with a vehicle heretofore denied them” (“Facilitated Communication”). But is this miraculous technique all that it seems to be? There are countless cases of facilitators unjustly accusing parents of heinous acts against their handicapped children. Though these cases are often dismissed due to lack of evidence, similar to the Wendrow case, there are still lasting repercussions on the family’s lives, the most common being financial problems due to court costs.
Though research professionals urge that facilitated communication should not be legitimately suggested to parents until it has been scientifically validated, many are pushing for facilitated communication to be used in public schools. Many a times, school employees are forced to use facilitated communication for several of their students even though the facilitator being used has had no formal educational training.
Often, schools present the facilitator as the “savior” of the child, which of ften appeals to a parent’s innermost desire that there is yet still hope for their handicapped child to live a fairly normal life (Burgess). Yet, “this violates of a number of personal rights of individuals with disabilities, including the right to effective treatment, self-expression, and self-determination”(Tostanoski). There are many possible contributing factors as to why sexual abuse isso prominent in the facilitated communication community concerning facilitators and parents.
Many have pointed out that the sexual abuse caused by parents have only been discovered through the use of facilitators, and that of the several abuse cases filed, only a mere few have been proven true. An explanation for this may include that the letters or words chosen by the disabled person may not have been those that they really intended, or the strange fact that many of the disabled could not repeat the allegations they have made unless their facilitator also heard the question they were being asked (Auerbach).
Sexual abuse among facilitators is much more common than it is among parents of disabled children, often sparking debates and outrage among family members and the nation once publicized. Oddly enough, facilitators accused of sexual abuse do not see it as such; several claim that both they and the disabled person in mind wholly consented to the sexual act being investigated. Others even go as far as to say that they are giving their patient a voice rather than stealing it as others might do (Simpson).
Recent cases which exhibit many of the qualities previously talked about would be the Anna Stubblefield case and the Wendrow case; while the Anna Stubblefield case centered around a woman facilitator who was accused of having indecent sexual relations with her nonverbal patient, the Wendrow case focuses on a young autistic girl’s facilitator’s claims that her father was emotionally abusing her and her siblings; the case later fell apart due to lack of evidence (Burgess).
Both of these cases had harrowing consequences for the family, all as a result of a facilitator jumping to conclusions or subconsciously believing that what they were doing was acceptable and that there would be no lasting repercussions. The problem of facilitated communication can be fixed with the help from the collective public.