Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Facilitated Communication: Autistic Kids as Ouija Boards

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I just got a list email from James Randi where he previewed one of his upcoming articles on his site. He linked to a transcript of a PBS article about Facilitated Communication and Dr. Douglas Biklen. According to Randi on a previous article,

Dr. Douglas Biklen is the genius behind “facilitated communication,” the claptrap idea that has some scientists convinced that severely autistic children are actually geniuses who write poetry and have intellectual abilities far beyond what we ordinary mortals can ever suspect. This bizarre process consists of a “facilitator” holding the typing hand of a child, and “guiding” it on the keyboard of a special machine. The child can be screaming, struggling, looking at the ceiling, or even on the floor with its hand held over the keyboard, yet intelligible words appear. The “facilitator,” however, watches the keyboard carefully….


It seems that facilitated communication is somewhat like the ideomotor effect, the phenomenon at work when using a Ouija Board.

According to the Skeptic's Dictionary,
Facilitated Communication (FC) is a technique which allegedly allows communication by those who were previously unable to communicate by speech or signs due to autism, mental retardation, brain damage, or such diseases as cerebral palsy. The technique involves a facilitator who places her hand over that of the patient's hand, arm or wrist, which is placed on a board or keyboard with letters, words or pictures. The patient is allegedly able to communicate through his or her hand to the hand of the facilitator which then is guided to a letter, word or picture, spelling out words or expressing complete thoughts. Through their facilitators, previously mute patients recite poems, carry on high level intellectual conversations, or simply communicate.

and Skeptic's dictionary on The Ideomotor Effect:
The ideomotor effect refers to the influence of suggestion or expectaton on involuntary and unconscious motor behavior. The term "ideomotor action" was coined by William B. Carpenter in 1852 in his explanation for the movements of rods and pendulums by dowsers, and some table turning or lifting by spirit mediums (the ones that weren't accomplished by cheating). Carpenter argued that muscular movement can be initiated by the mind independently of volition or emotions. We may not be aware of it, but suggestions can be made to the mind by others or by observations. Those suggestions can influence the mind and affect motor behavior.


Of course, this would suggest that those involved in FC are only naive, not immoral. I think that perhaps many parents who were taught the technique are playing Ouija Board with their kids. But is Biklen simply hapless or immoral? Stay tuned to randi.org for more, and read the PBS transcript. Faced with this info, how can anyone be simply naive?

By the way, the advocates at Breaking the Barriers have turned it into a political issue. they are activists for "the right to communicate."
  • Communication is the foundation for all interactions. Meaningful relationships develop when each person is respected, valued and embraced as an active member in every interaction. True friendships are born on a level playing field. "Inclusion" moves from being a politically correct thought to a true experience. All people bring a unique gift and life experience to any interaction. Seeking that gift begins by acknowledging the personhood of an individual first and labeling them last!
  • A method that is effective for an individual needs to be respected and supported, even if some question its validity for everyone. Every person is an individual and has the right to communicate with the method they choose and or effectively have the ability to use for communication.
  • If a person communicates differently you may have to listen differently to support them.
  • We need people to understand that labels of autism or mental retardation are how people without disabilities try to label our experience - but really it is a label for your experience - what you see or experience a person doing. The label or what you see them doing tells you nothing about what they are experiencing or what they "get" from what their actions. This needs to be learned on a person-by-person basis.
  • Facilitated Communication has been a controversial form of augmentative communication. However, many of us who require touch to type have used facilitated communication for a number of years, and this form of communication has allowed us to achieve incredible progress, and has made a significant difference in our lives.

Incredible--apparently the site was designed through the use of human ouija boards! I agree, that it is very important to let people have a voice. That is precisely what this "technique" is preventing!

" Every person is an individual and has the right to communicate with the method they choose."

That would be great, if these individuals were choosing at all! Stuff a ball-gag in your kid's mouth, tell everyone what she is saying, and then claim that she "chose" to speak through her mother. Great. Perhaps this is naiveté, but as we know, willful ignorance is the cause of great injustice and evil.

Finally, as one would expect, the ball-gaggers use their human ouija boards to beg for money:
What we ask of each of you
…Sign on to the Right to Communication Resolution

Support funding for alternative and augmentative communication – including funding for access to equipment and facilitators.

And that's always what it comes down to, doesn't it?

12 comments:

mikefrandsen said...

This blog is probably the most ridiculous thing I have ever read in my life. Why is it so hard to believe that some autistic people who are non-verbal have intelligence? The "ouija board" comments aren't even worth responding to.

FC is very real. An autistic friend of mine, Chammi Rajapatirana, has been using it for 15 years. I've witnessed him communicate through FC on over 100 occasions. He is featured in the Time Magazine article. You can find other quotes from him by doing a search on the internet. Chammi is brilliant. My record against him in Boggle is 10 wins and 34 losses (I just beat him today) and I have a Masters degree and I am pretty good with words. Read one of Chammi's essays at http://www.tell-us-your-story.com/_disc118b/0000000d.htm.

Chammi used to be part of a group that uses FC (www.lonesomedoves.org). You can also do a search on FC user Jamie Burke. There was also a documentary called "Autism is a World" about Sue Rubin, who communicates through FC.

I have witnessed firsthand as a volunteer many nonverbal autistic individuals who use FC successfully. Without FC, they would not have any opportunity to communicate.

FC, which allows disabled people with few or no verbal skills and poor motor skills to communicate by typing or pointing to letters with the assistance of a facilitator, could potentially open doors for hundreds of thousands of autistic people. Unfortunately, FC has been swept under the carpet for the last decade by those who refuse to admit that it can help those with autism to communicate, at a time when autism is reaching epidemic proportions.

FC proponents do not claim that it will improve the problems of ALL people with autism. Because it may not work for all such individuals does not render it completely ineffective. Even if one assumes that FC only works in some individuals with autism, or that for some autistic people, the technique only works marginally, does that mean that the technique is completely invalid and that nonverbal autistic people should not be given the opportunity to communicate?

Clearly, there exists an extremely wide variety of capabilities of people with impaired communication skills and within autism itself. If the standard to be used in determining whether a technique has efficacy means that it must be effective for all people with disabilities, there will never be a "proven" successful technique. Autistic people range widely in their skills and deficiencies.

We’ve seen what happens when the media fails to do investigative journalism and instead rehashes statements made by so-called experts about a topic. Maybe people should view FC users themselves instead of quoting those whose “studies” are questionable and misleading because of the conditions under which they operate and who funds the studies. Fortunately, some reporters are investigating for themselves.

On Feb. 25, 2005, CNN aired a segment about FC reported by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Gupta asks an FC detractor, "There are some extraordinary examples of people who seem to have benefited tremendously from facilitated communication. How do you explain that?"

The so-called expert responded, "No, I can’t explain that."

The writer of the previous blog uses the quote "great injustice and evil." I think that's exactly what the blog by "Hellbound" is.

Hellbound Alleee said...

I know you wish to believe this, because it would be great--if it were true. But this is a racket started by people who do not have the best interests of severely autistic people in mind. This is a great way to make $$$$$

I appreciate that you think I am evil. But I assure you I am not. I do not hate autistic people. I hate that autistic people are being used as mouthpieces (rather than the other way around, as is claimed) for people's wishes, and people's pocketybooks. You might as well put a ballgag over the mouths of autistic people and use them as handpuppets. It's sick, and it's wrong.

Read the articles. I'm sorry you feel bad. But FC is simply dumb. I NEVER SAID AUTISTIC PEOPLE WERE STUPID.

Francois Tremblay said...

mikefrandsen : I am very generous about scammers and people of that ilk, but even I think that FC scammers should go to jail. People like you should be considered on the same footstool as KKK members.

mikefrandsen said...

The comparison to "KKK members" is offensive, hateful, inappropriate, and sickening. It’s way over the line.

By the way, nobody makes a lot of money off of FC. It’s also completely inaccurate to say that it is a scam.

And my response was to the previous comments, not about the person who wrote them.

Hellbound Alleee said...

So then you think it`s okay to exploit individuals for money, or personal wishes? To use someone as a puppet for money and attention? To toally disregard their humanity? I see the connection quite clearly.

Human ouija boards. Read the article. Take your FC and make a million dollars with James Randi. If you can prove it to the James Randi educational foundation, then by all means use the money to actually help these individuals. Until then, LEAVE THEM ALONE. Exploiting these individuals, and defrauding their families makes racism look like church.

Hellbound Alleee said...

I'm sure some people really want to help others, and it's sad, because this is harming others. As far as making money, there's plenty to be made in selling training materials, just like Amway. So not only are the families being defrauded, but so are the young hapless trainees.

Training Packages, only 600 dollars!

I don't even want to think of this nonsense, and luckily most people don't. Luckily we have people like Randi to spread the word.

There's another good article to complain about over at Bad Astronomy Blog. Perhaps he is less passionate about its harm to people than I am, and it might be a more pleasant exchange. I'm done.

Francois Tremblay said...

"The comparison to "KKK members" is offensive, hateful, inappropriate, and sickening. It’s way over the line."

No it's not. It's perfectly warranted. You are no better than a member of the KKK. And this is generous.


"By the way, nobody makes a lot of money off of FC."

I don't care how much money they make. They are evil exploiters and fraudsters.


"It’s also completely inaccurate to say that it is a scam."

Then use the word "fraud".

richard.dawkins said...

Hi, I have experienced FC first hand today. I was caring for a young autistic man and accompanied him to an FC session. I was unsure about the technique firstly due to the church-like vibe of some of the people there. Then I saw it being used.

It was ridiculous. Here is someone who needs help with everything else in life but can somehow manage to type without looking or focussing at all on what he's doing. Not to mention spelling complex english words correctly when it is only his second language. None of what he communicated was neccesarily unique to him either, the facilitator could have quite easily invented it. Plus most of it was full of classic manners and corny, obvious statements. Still...how could I be sure, the people helping him seemed sincere and friendly, how could they be making it all up, using him to communicate such lies that he has nothing to do with. If I was right, it made me feel very bad about even being there. Besides that there was a whole room of people with disabilities sprouting stories and poetry at superfast - no looking- typing speed. My skeptic senses were screaming at me. I knew google would have the answer. And it did. This is bullshit. They made him say what they wanted.

But I have no way of proving it. Except....I tried it out for myself. A moment alone and I got the board out...Held his hand just like they did. Asked a simple yes or no question. He tapped the board. Four times in absolutely no recognisable order. I tried assisting movement slightly in one direction or another...nothing...no sense. Where had his magical typing skills gone? Perhaps I should take the two day course? yeah right. and learn how to direct his hand to what I think he might want to say. It's crap. At least for this guy, I'm sure it doesn't work. Absolutely sure. Maybe for some it might though, I'm not arrogant enough to suggest that I know it doesn't work for everyone.

But I do know that it is severely wrong to put words in other people's mouths. No matter what their intellectual ability or focussing ability. Find another way. I don't care how desperate you are, this is not the answer. You're only hearing what you want to hear. I know people are writing down what these people are "saying" ! and it angers me, this could be used to affect this persons life...used as evidence. Plain evil.

richard.dawkins said...

Hi, I have experienced FC first hand today. I was caring for a young autistic man and accompanied him to an FC session. I was unsure about the technique firstly due to the church-like vibe of some of the people there. Then I saw it being used.

It was ridiculous. Here is someone who needs help with everything else in life but can somehow manage to type without looking or focussing at all on what he's doing. Not to mention spelling complex english words correctly when it is only his second language. None of what he communicated was neccesarily unique to him either, the facilitator could have quite easily invented it. Plus most of it was full of classic manners and corny, obvious statements. Still...how could I be sure, the people helping him seemed sincere and friendly, how could they be making it all up, using him to communicate such lies that he has nothing to do with. If I was right, it made me feel very bad about even being there. Besides that there was a whole room of people with disabilities sprouting stories and poetry at superfast - no looking- typing speed. My skeptic senses were screaming at me. I knew google would have the answer. And it did. This is bullshit. They made him say what they wanted.

But I have no way of proving it. Except....I tried it out for myself. A moment alone and I got the board out...Held his hand just like they did. Asked a simple yes or no question. He tapped the board. Four times in absolutely no recognisable order. I tried assisting movement slightly in one direction or another...nothing...no sense. Where had his magical typing skills gone? Perhaps I should take the two day course? yeah right. and learn how to direct his hand to what I think he might want to say. It's crap. At least for this guy, I'm sure it doesn't work. Absolutely sure. Maybe for some it might though, I'm not arrogant enough to suggest that I know it doesn't work for everyone.

But I do know that it is severely wrong to put words in other people's mouths. No matter what their intellectual ability or focussing ability. Find another way. I don't care how desperate you are, this is not the answer. You're only hearing what you want to hear. I know people are writing down what these people are "saying" ! and it angers me, this could be used to affect this persons life...used as evidence. Plain evil.

Mary Ann said...

Facilitated Communication - Possibility of Third Party Influence
By [http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Mary_Ann_Harrington]Mary Ann Harrington

This article examines facilitated communication, a controversial process, where hand or arm support is provided to individuals, often diagnosed with severe autism, who are unable to type on their own. Two studies (Cardinal et al. and Weiss et al.) showed positive results. These studies were reviewed, (Mostert, 2001) yet, I question whether the reviewer considered all the variables. What do you think?

"Facilitated Communication Since 1995: A Review of Published Studies," (Mostert, 2001) examined FC studies that were published since previous reviews by Jacobson, Mulick, and Schwartz (1995). The results of the review support and confirm the conclusions reached by previous reviewers of empirical FMC literature. Studies using tight control procedures did not support FC.

Studies providing less stringent control offered mixed results. The two studies that purported to have positive results, Cardinal et al. and Weiss et al. (as cited by Mostert, 2001) were challenged. The reviewer felt positive results were probably due to methodological controls. Cardinal et al. (as cited by Mostert 2001) claimed that: (a) "under controlled conditions, some facilitated communication users can pass accurate information," and (b) "measurement of facilitated communication under test conditions may be significantly benefited by extensive practice of test protocol." Cardinal's protocol (as cited by Mostert) was as follows:

1. The recorder asked the facilitator to come into the room.

2. The student was shown a word on a flash card by a "recorder" out of view of the facilitator.

3. The facilitator said the letters aloud as the student typed them.

4. The recorder wrote those letters on the data sheet exactly as said.

5. The student was always given the same positive comment regardless of a correct or incorrect response.

6. The facilitator left the room and the recorder repeated the process.

There were 43 subjects ranging from ages 11 to 22, exhibiting a range of disabling conditions such as autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy and developmental delays. All were identified as having severe communication disorders. Results showed that 75% of the students were able to pass information to a "blind" facilitator to a greater degree than they were able to without FC. Fifty-three percent were able to pass messages in at least 2 out of 5 trials by the end of six weeks.

Mostert felt the study had methodological problems. Possible errors in data collection, degree of possible guessing, inconsistency of researcher presence, prior knowledge, and preconceived assumptions that may have led to a desired study effect were mentioned as problems that could have affected outcomes.

There are other variables that I believe were overlooked. It is important to note that the 27 recorders Cardinal used were teachers and other school personnel who were involved with the subjects in similar educational activities and had provided a supportive environment prior to the study. Mostert did not consider the possibility of recorder influence via mental prompts from the recorder.

The recorder knew the words that were to be typed.

The recorders had previous relationships with the students as teachers and paraprofessionals.

The students had been using FC for sometime. (Cardinal, 95)

I hypothesize, the recorders may have been sending out the image telepathically. They may have also sub-vocalized.

Weiss et al., (as cited by Mostert, 2001) studied a single subject. Study participants were the subject, an experienced "naive" facilitator, and Weiss, as the experimenter. With the naive facilitator absent, a short story was read to the subject by the experimenter. While the facilitator was out of the room, the experimenter asked the subject questions about the story. The subject answered with the experimenter acting as the facilitator. When the naive facilitator returned, he asked the subject the same questions about the story. Accurate responses were received on trials 1 and 3 but not on trial 2. Trials 1 and 3 occurred in the classroom and trial 2 occurred in the home. Based on the result, Weiss et al. made two claims: (a) Story information elicited by the questions emanated from the subject, not the facilitator, and (b) The subject was unexpectedly able to use inferential and abstract reasoning.

Mostert contends that this also had a problematic methodological approach. Concerns included: 1} possible experimenter influence, 2} the consolidation phase matched the test phase, 3} the experimenters did not explain why in trial 2, the questions asked of the subject were markedly different from the experimenter versus the naive facilitator, 4) a referee was only present for the third trial, and 5) inferential material passed was predictable to the story.

Based on my experiences, I hypothesis that it is possible the subject was receiving the information telepathically from "the experimenter," who was privy to the questions.

I suggest, based on personal experience, that influence does not necessarily come from the person who is providing physical support, but can come from another party privy to the information. Answers may have been transferred from the experimenter via inadvertent "mental prompts." This also helps to explain the unexplained failure in trial 2, when the questions asked of the subject were markedly from the experimenter versus the facilitator.

Mostert suggests the possibility of physical cuing, but steers clear of the communicative relationship that occurs between sender and receiver. Based on years of personal experience, I postulate that it is possible that Cardinal's subjects and Weiss's subject achieved positive results with a naive facilitator because the recorders and the experimenter may have inadvertently cued them via mental prompts. ( I have had similar experiences. For example, one day I was facilitating with a child and he typed Tom. I said, Tom??? I was confused because it was out of context of our interaction. Then my assistant who was standing next to me said, Oh, I'm sorry, I was just thinking about my friend Tom.)

Summary:

I hypothesize that the source of the information varies. Many children can pick up my mental prompts whether I'm engaged in facilitation or not. I have seen some glean information from others in the room besides the facilitator. It is possible that they also communicate with each other. To my knowledge, formal studies of mental and/or sub-vocal prompts have not occurred. It is long overdue. It is time we come together, ask the right questions and get to work!

Mary Ann Harrington MA

Reference:

Cardinal D. N. (1995) Presentation of results of a validation study regarding facilitated communication . January 30, 1995 Chapman University, Orange, CA.

Mostert, M.P.(2001) Facilitated Communication since 1995: A Review of Published Studies Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 287-313.

Since 1995: A Review of Published Studies Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 287-313.

I have used FC as a strategy in conjunction with many others. I am not consumed with "who" is emanating the communication. My experience indicates that Influence can and does occur. The connection between the person typing and the facilitator or agent is a phenomenon that needs to be acknowledged. I hypothesize that the source of the information itself varies and is dependent on the individuals involved. Thought sharing; right brain connection; savant skill; vibration frequency matching; shared energy field; open hearted joining; access of higher level of consciousness; entrainment, spirit/soul connection; telepathy; entanglement. Pick the words you are comfortable with. Questions and comments are appreciated.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Mary_Ann_Harrington http://EzineArticles.com/?Facilitated-Communication---Possibility-of-Third-Party-Influence&id=627196

Frank said...

Just when you think that something like facilitated communication - without question a simple ideomotor effect - cannot be made to seem more invalid, Mary Ann Harrington introduces "Thought sharing; right brain connection; savant skill; vibration frequency matching; shared energy field; open hearted joining [my personal favorite]; access of higher level of consciousness; entrainment, spirit/soul connection; telepathy; entanglement." All things that, like fc, do not exist. TELEPHATHY!!! Problem solved. As long as it is entirely untestable, facilitated communication "works".

People like this are dangerous, not charmingly harmless, and far too many. Better to pay attention to the actual empirical evidence, consistently in favor of the "communication" coming from the facilitator, regardless how it seems when you are there. As a child playing with a Ouija board with my friends, I would have told you positively and emphatically that I was NOT moving the indicator. ooo-OOO-ooo

There is plenty of work to be done to assist people given the diagnosis of autism, based on actual science. We really don't need mystery. Diverts time and energy.

Frank J Marone, PhD, BCBA-D

Mel said...

I work with a nonverbal autistic individual. FC doesn't work if the individual is looking away or not paying attention. The autistic individual must be engaged in the FC. Until I met him, I didn't think FC worked either. But one day after returning to his home from being out, his mother asked him what we did. And this is before I had a chance to give her a summary. She held his hand over the keyboard and he typed in detail what we had done and even things I said. From that day on, I knew at least for this young it worked. Besides I can tell you that when I use FC with him, I never lead him or guide in him anyway except to provide a slight backward movement in his wrist. Once you bring his wrist back, he then moves it forward and does all the work.