37 Facilitated Communication

Based on Research by Michael Eberlin, Ph.D. Psychology Science Minute written by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D.

Autistic children with minimal language skills cannot type words on a keyboard by themselves. Yet Facilitated Communication (“FC”) was invented. A helper held a keyboard with one hand and with their other hand guided the elbow of the child who typed with one finger.

In the early 1990s FC became so popular it was heavily marketed.  Thousands took workshops and purchased equipment. Children with no language or reading skills suddenly began writing poetry and solving complex math problems with their FC adult helpers. A miracle!

Unfortunately about 8% of children, only when assisted through FC, typed someone had sexually abused them. A 1993 court case first questioned the validity of a child accusing someone of sexual abuse only via FC.  Psychologist Michael Eberlin and subsequent double-blind studies confirmed that people with profound autism are 100% unable to accurately identify objects unseen by their helper via FC.  Thus it was demonstrated that the helpers were totally, but unknowingly, typing the FC messages via the child!

Be skeptical of miracles. Untested methods can do great harm.

General References:

Crossley, R., & McDonald, A. (1980). Annie’s coming out. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books

Peer-reviewed references:

Eberlin, M., McConnachie, G., Ibel, S., & Volpe, L. (1993). Facilitated communication: A failure to replicate the phenomenon. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 507-530.

Jacobson, John W., Mulick,, James A. & Schwartz, Allen A. (1995). A History of Facilitated Communication, Science, Pseudoscience, and Antiscience Science Working Group on Facilitated Communication. American Psychologist. Vol. 50, 9, 750-765.

KJewe, L. (1993). An empirical evaluation of spelling boards as a means of communication for the multihandicapped. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 559-566.

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