Communication Series – What is Facilitated Communication (FC)?

What is Facilitated Communication?

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Next to ABA, Facilitated Communication (FC) is possibly one of the most controversial interventions or approaches ever used with autistic or non-verbal individuals. It’s use was widespread, with many schools and residential centres adopting the use of it and insisting that it worked. Documentaries were made about it and conventions were packed out by parents and carers who shared their stories of their child/family member/service user who displayed mental capabilities that no-one had ever thought were possible. Then when researchers began to look into it, it started to come apart.

Facilitated Communication (or supported typing) is a method of communciation where a physical prompter provides physical support to a non-verbal individual to allow them to type or point to letters on a letter board. It is often used with individuals who have great difficulty with fine and/or gross motor movement – hence the need for physical support to produce the typing. Whilst FC is sometimes used to help the individual point to objects, photographs, or symbols – it is predominantly used with a keyboard; and often the typing that is produced is of a high-standard.

Obviously this is appealing to parents and family members especially – if doctors have been telling them that their children or relatives have severe learning difficulties, then having this typing that suggests they are in fact of average or above average intelligence is enormously positive for the family members. However, when researchers began to investigate and carried out controlled tests – they almost universally found that it was not the non-verbal individual communicating. It was the physical prompter.

Many families, schools, and centres refused to believe this until the same controlled tests were carried out with them. Even after, some argued that in fact the non-verbal individual was “put off” by the test conditions and that is why they failed every single test. The scientific community at large, as well as most of the population, however was convinced that facilitated communication was a sham and discontinued it’s use. It hasn’t gone away completely with some families and organisations advocating for it’s use (including ASAN), but it is waning and that can only be a positive thing given the sheer amount of problems it caused.

Does it ever work? Well there are people who claim that it works for them (of course many of these people are claiming this over the internet without any verification) and it is possible that there are some people for whom FC does work, notably individuals who were first taught to communicate with FC techniques but (importantly) are now typing indepedently.

Until next time.

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