Mar 17 2008

Facilitated Testimony in the Courtroom

In the late 1980′s and continuing into the 1990′s there were a number of child abuse cases in which convictions were based upon courtroom testimony given through a technique known as facilitated communication. The technique involves a facilitator holding the hand of a client who has impaired communication so that they can type on a keyboard or point to a letter board. The belief was that some children who were thought to be severely cognitively impaired were in fact very bright, but rather just had impaired communication. Once investigators finally got around to putting these claims to the test, however, it was definitively shown that the facilitators were doing all the communication, not the clients.

It is shocking that the extraordinary claims of the facilitated communication (FC) crowd became as widely accepted as they were prior to any skeptical investigation. It is even more shocking that today, long after FC has been shown to be nothing more than self-deception through the ideomotor effect (subtle unconscious motor movements), testimony through FC is still occasionally heard in the courtroom.

A recent case in Oakland Michigan shows all of the folly of using FC in the courtroom, and elsewhere. The parents of a 14 year old autistic girl were led to believe that FC had unlocked their daughter’s hidden inner mental life. That, of course, is the allure of FC – what parent of a non-communicative child would not want to learn that their child is vibrant and intelligent after all? But the parents, victimized by the promoters of FC into this false hope and illusion, were then doubly victimized when a new teacher’s aid at their daughter’s school, Cindi Scarsella, after two hours of FC training, immediately began to “discover” that the girl had been raped by her father for that past eight years while the mother knowingly allowed it.

A nightmare of legal and law-enforcement incompetence follows.

The school reported the alleged abuse. They are legally obligated to do so – their incompetence was in allowing FC in the first place. The local police accepted the FC testimony. When the child’s therapist, Sandra McClennen (who appears to be the heroine of this story, and the only one to demonstrate adequate competence) suggested that they could test the validity of the FC testimony by having a naive facilitator who did not know the allegations perform FC while the child was asked about the alleged abuse. The police refused McClennen’s suggestions.

The prosecutors in this case, led by Dave Gorcyca, aggressively pursued this case based upon evidence that was no better than the spectral evidence presented at witch trials during the inquisition. They were either unaware, or did not care, that FC had already been rejected by the legal and medical communities.

The judge in this case, Marc Barron, allowed the testimony, even after the child failed to answer questions appropriately in the courtroom using FC. Apparently he thought that by allowing the testimony it could then be judged, along with the girl’s competence, on its own merits. However, I fail to see the purpose of allowing testimony that is known to be false into the courtroom in the first place.

Thankfully the charges have now all been dropped, but only after the child was separated from her family and the father jailed for months. The tragedy and pain the family has endured is impossible to calculate, but I would not be surprised if hefty lawsuits do not follow (at taxpayer expense). The charges were dropped not because FC was shown to be a deception, but rather because the child’s psychologist, McClennen, testified in court that she did not believe the FC testimony was accurate and she does not believe the parents are guilty.

There are many lessons to be learned in this case – all of them should have already been learned and unfortunately this is probably not the last time such nonsense will occur. The case, first and foremost, showcases the danger of pseudoscience – of believing in nonsense. This case begins and ends with facilitated communication – a pseudoscientific modality that was promoted prior to be properly studied. It has its proponents still, who cling to their claims despite all reason and evidence.

The family was doubly victimized by the FC scam – by people who have training and authority. So this case further highlights the dangers of legitimizing pseudoscience by institutionalizing it.

The police and prosecutors were overly zealous in this case. They failed to ask the basic skeptical question – are these claims really true. Rather, it seems they were more interested in if they could make a case, rather than whether or not the allegations were true. And they clearly did not do their homework on FC. Five minutes on the internet could have saved the family from heartache, the taxpayers from wasted expense, and all the wasted legal resources.

And the judge in this case also made a dubious decision in allowing the testimony in the first place. I understand that the legal system often grinds slowly, that sometimes it errs on the side of working questions through the system rather than making an a-priori judgment, and that it has to often operate with scientific ambiguity and controversy. However, the question of FC is long past any ambiguity. FC has no place in the courtroom. I think that lawyers and judges need to have as part of their expertise detailed knowledge of what constituted legitimate testimony. It is their job to fully understand FC and why it should not be used as testimony.

Hopefully this case will raise public awareness of this issue and push FC farther to the margins.

____________________________

Follow up entry on this case: http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=259

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27 responses so far

27 Responses to “Facilitated Testimony in the Courtroom”

  1. James Foxon 17 Mar 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Exactly Steve, what is true is the only question of significance in these types of investigations. I still shudder when recalling the giddy boastings of new Child Protective Services social worker when they proudly proclaim, “I got a disclosure”. No questioning of the quality of the information, the reliability of the source or the possibility that the reports of the child may have been tainted by previous questioning/interviews by other adults. Especially in child sex abuse cases there is nearly always NO physical evidence and NO witnesses. Issues of competence and reliability are incredibly difficult to sort through when faced with a preschool age or cognitively delayed victims. FC is another sad example of possibly well meaning folk (or even self serving and manipulative) making claims that have the potential to ruin a persons life or send someone to prison for something they did not do.

  2. Steve Pageon 17 Mar 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Slightly off-topic, but I was eating my lunch recently and flicking through the channels and I came across a Dr Phil episode about a guy who was suspected of abusing a young girl (I think she was his step-sister, but I didn’t catch the start so I’m not sure). The girl’s mother, who had made the claims, admitted that she had no real evidence against the guy, and the guy said the accusations, the subsequent arrest, the condemnation and abuse that he’d received from his community and the threat of jail etc. had totally derailed his life. “Well,” said Dr Phil, “I’m sure that you understand that it’s worth doing this a thousand times, even if it’s only true in one of those cases.” Now, I’m not trying to downplay child abuse, but to be so blasé about the other 999 people’s lives was, I felt, absolutely wrong. Yes, children need protecting, but until proven guilty, so do the accused. The testimony of a child is not always accurate, especially when it’s being helped along by well-meaning but errant social workers/prosecutors.

  3. Amon1492on 17 Mar 2008 at 1:00 pm

    In response to Steve Page’s post on Dr. Phil:

    There are plenty of instances in history where the well-meaning (from their point of view) resulted in property theft, abuse of rights, and mass murder. See: Forceful relocation of Native Americans for their “protection”, Forceful internment of Jews during WW2 for their “protection”. Whenever someone believes the ends justify the means – I am immediately suspicious.

    Dr. Phil is an ignorant charlatan who has absolutely no business spewing his garbage to the masses.

    There is no doubt child abuse is horrible in all its sick forms. However, to weigh the abuse of one over the abuse of another is revolting. Dr. Phil should think about how he would feel on the receiving end of such accusations.

    I have long desired for a solution to the character/reputation assassination of those falsely accused in rape, and child abuse charges. The very whisper of said charges can kill a career and destroy a life in this age of mass communication and broadband internet. Now, more than ever should law enforcement and the courts use restraint and rely on conclusive evidence before ruining an innocent person’s life.

    Just a closing anecdote regarding a prominent professional here in our area (Chicagoland):
    A few years back, someone took an extreme dislike to this man for whatever reason. The slanderer sent out mailings to every house in his town corrupting his name with false evidence and phony documentation declaring him a sex offender (apparently the paperwork mailed out looked identical to legitimate state correspondence). These accusations made the front page of the paper and the evening news for days. The subsequent rebuke of the false claims and verification of his upstanding reputation as a law abiding citizen were buried deep in the newspaper months later. In any event, his reputation as a professional health provider was destroyed.

    Attacks like these (including facilitated communication and its use in court) are truly to be feared. The courts absolutely need some way to provide protection to innocent citizens targeted in this way.

  4. krissncleoon 17 Mar 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Is facilitate communication the same as repressed memory. I recall reading about cases going to court and using repressed memory. I also recall articles that said repressed memory is bogus. Is there a difference between the two, or is it two different ways to say the same thing?

    Thanks Steve, Kriss

  5. James Foxon 17 Mar 2008 at 3:16 pm

    S. Kriss, I’d recommend reading Steve’s previous post about repressed memories and I’d also recommend the URL links I put in comments regarding the research of Elizabeth Loftus PhD concerning repressed memory. The issue with FP mentioned in this post is more like complete fabrication with out the exercise of eliciting a demonstrably false statement by a child. The video of FP testimony I’ve seen looked horribly like a ventriloquist making the dummy say what it wanted except the “dummy” in this case was a real child with an inability to communicate of possibly even understand what was being asked. The FP translator would hold their hands and answer the questions, “translating” what they reported the unfortunate disabled child was communicating with hand movement and gestures. Buying into this hoax required a lot of credulity, suspended disbelief and emotional repression of rational thought.

  6. ellazimmon 18 Mar 2008 at 2:38 am

    There were two significant events that pushed me into full blown scepticism: one was a program where James Randi gave a group of high school students the same horoscope. The second was a PBS program on facilitated communication showing that any claim of genuine information coming from the afflicted children vanished into the ether when the facilitator was blinded from what the subject saw. But that was well over a decade ago! I cannot believe people still take this stuff seriously. Proof, I guess, that you can be very smart about some things and incredibly stupid about others.

  7. arthurgoldenon 19 Mar 2008 at 6:01 am

    The third paragraph of your blog begins with:

    “A recent case in Oakland Colorado shows all of the folly of using FC in the courtroom, and elsewhere.”

    “A recent case” is hyperlinked to an article in the Detroit Free Press (it should be Oakland Michigan) with the title:

    “Part two: Sex abuse case against Oakland couple was legal horror show”

    Did you bother to read Part One?

    After you answer my question, I plan to comment on your blog.

    Arthur Golden of Jerusalem Israel

  8. Steven Novellaon 19 Mar 2008 at 9:46 am

    Arthur,

    Thanks for the correction. I see what happened now – when checking which state Oakland was in I read the headline “A legal horror show tears Oakland Co. family apart | Freep.com …” and interpreted “Co.” as Colorado, when it is an abbreviation for County.

    I had previously read part I but did not go back to it for this detail because I thought I had the information.

    Note – I will make a correction in the original post.

  9. arthurgoldenon 20 Mar 2008 at 8:35 am

    As I ended my entry – ” I have other comments” which would include your issue of “it was not established that the 14 year old was communicating at all.” So I did not miss the point, I just didn’t get to it yet. But after I do, I will ask my question again.

    Meanwhile I appreciate that you are willing to reply and I hope that you are willing to continue this discussion. As I just wrote on your more recent blog, I am willing to match up my expertise to yours on the matters of Autism and Facilitated Communication.

    Of course, based on another statement of Professor of Physics orthodox Rabbi Leo Levy, I do not expect to convince you of my position, but I hope you will agree that it can be worthwhile to discuss ideas with someone who offers opposition.

    I will try to make additional comments within the next day. Soon I will be busy with celebrating the holiday of Purim but I can still access my computer in between the celebrating.

  10. Steven Novellaon 20 Mar 2008 at 11:04 am

    Arthur,

    I engage those who have different opinions from myself as much as possible. My advice is to stick with facts and logic.

    The statement “I do not expect to convince you of my position” is a gratuitous and thinly veiled ad hominem attack. What does this mean? Do you mean that your position is so weak that it is not convincing? Or do you mean that your position is strong and based upon established evidence and valid logic, but you expect that I am ideologically immune to evidence and logic?

    Regarding the issue of FC, despite any future points you may intend to make – you did miss the point. The accusation of abuse came from a teacher’s aide using FC. It was not the product of police strong-arm interrogation. Therefore the latter is not a viable alternative hypothesis for the source of the allegation. It was only used later to support it.

    It is also not relevant to the question of whether or not this child’s testimony should have been allowed, given the history of FC and the fact that at no point was the FC in this specific case validated.

  11. Steven Novellaon 21 Mar 2008 at 8:24 am

    Arthur,

    Thanks again for the additional information. I was aware of most of it (not th personal stuff, of course). The story is always more complicated and always goes deeper. I did not explore every nuance of this topic (it was just beyond the scope of one blog entry) and I probably will go further in a future blog – but here is my quick take on this:

    The core concept of FC I think is extremely flawed, as initially practiced it was almost entirely bogus. It caused a great deal of harm of various types. It was taught and implemented before it was properly studied.

    Now, 20 years later, the story is a bit more complicated. The vast majority of FC I still feel is bogus, as it was in this case. But we have a core of professionals who became attached to FC and did not want to give it up. Some stuck to the core pseudoscience and became fringe kooks. But some tried to make FC scientific – by putting into place protocols, as you describe.

    From the literature and number of cases I have read it is my impression that there is a small minority of cases where some type of FC can help individuals communicate – but what is happening is very far removed from the original FC claims. These are cases (and autism is actually a good target, because autistics can be very bright but have poor social and communication skills) where the child does have significant cognitive ability and their deficits are relatively isolated to communication – and where they lack the ability on their own to interface with keyboards, etc. where some physical help will improve their communication.

    In the cases I have seen, however, these children can communicate – it is just slow and laborious – and the FC makes it easier for them to communicate (your own child’s case seems to fit this mold also). This is very different from taking a child who cannot communicate at all and giving them the ability to write poetry.

    I liken this to chiropractic. The claims of traditional chiropractic are pure pseudoscience – there is no Innate intelligence life force or chiropractic subluxations. But it turns out that manipulation can produce some temporary muscle relaxation and help relieve uncomplicated back strain. This has nothing to do with the original claims of chiropractic and it does not mean the “chiropractic works.” In the same way, helping some children physically to communicate does not really validate the original claims of FC – to the point that I think a different term is in order to avoid confusion.

    Well – there you go, I went ahead and wrote another blog entry. I probably will expand this into a blog at some point.

  12. arthurgoldenon 21 Mar 2008 at 9:28 am

    Dr. Novella,

    Thank you for both the content and the tone of your long reply to my very long post, which you sent just two hours after mine.

    Although your original blog entry was “typical” of what I have found on the internet for the past decade, I do think that the first two paragraphs did not disclose the complexities you now discuss and could be misleading to readers without an in-depth knowledge of the subject.

    I also feel that the major FC proponents, including Professor Douglas Biklen, Dr. Rosemary Crossley (PhD) and her significant other Chris Borthwick, have been unwilling to engage in the type of dialogue needed to determine the more realistic parameters of their “discovery” of Facilitated Communication. I believe that in the early 1990s that these FC proponents encouraged certain content of Facilitated Communication, such as sexual abuse charges, while they strongly discouraged certain other content of Facilitated Communication, such as “spiritual” ideas which my son Ben wished to discuss. They believed that allowing the discussion of “spiritual” ideas would harm the acceptance of Facilitated Communication. To this day, these FC proponents still believe that FC can be scientifically proven and that allowing the discussion of certain content must be absolutely forbidden because it will used against FC. For example, I have been warned by Professor Patricia Edwards, the “owner” of the email group mentioned in my last entry, that if I again mention the spiritual content of my son’s FC that I will be kicked off the group. Even if I mention other ideas as I tried to do several months ago, such as that so-called “best practices” of Facilitated Communication may be causing serious physical harm to persons with more severe autism such as my son, people such as Chris Borthwick will warn others to not discuss my ideas on the email group, stating factual information that appears to me to be false.

    It will be about two days before I can post again to any of your blog entries but I am curious if any one here is already aware of the spiritual content of the FC messages of my son Ben (now written originally only in Hebrew but translated by others into English and please note that I have no involvement in promoting such messages but many other people do). Leading Torah scholars all state that my son Ben displays a vast knowledge of Torah literature (which I doubt you have any knowledge about), while I know that the facilitator (not me) does not have such a background (but neither do I). If you or others are curious, you can click on to:

    http://www.emet8.com

    or

    http://dani18.com

    I do not expect any of you, or Chris Borthwick, to have any interest in the content of the FC facilitated with my son Ben, but considering the already poor reputation of FC, why should any one try to stop it?

    Arthur Golden of Jerusalem Israel

  13. arthurgoldenon 23 Mar 2008 at 12:30 am

    Dr. Novella,

    After thinking about your more “complicated” response, given the information available to you I think I understand your position even though I wish it was otherwise. In my role primarily as a parent trying to provide a better quality of life for my son with severe autism and as a volunteer advocate of nearly thirty years for persons with disabilities, I do not think that I am the appropriate person to try to provide you any more additional information about Facilitated Communication.

    The FC proponents, such as Professor Douglas Biklen and Dr. Rosemary Crossley, are the people who should have provided you and the world as large such additional information about Facilitated Communication. Unfortunately, despite the concerns expressed by involved parents, such as Kristi Jorde (then president of the Adriana Foundation and mother of Adriana Rocha) over fifteen years ago and myself starting over ten years ago, these FC proponents did not provide such information, as correctly noted by scientific researchers of autism such as Michelle Dawson.

    As the owner of an email group with a public archives, I will continue to post messages there which can be accessed at:

    http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/autismfc/messages

    Arthur Golden of Jerusalem Israel

  14. leoneton 23 Mar 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Dear Mr. Golden,

    After having visited the sites you linked to, I am quite shocked and dismayed that you would allow you son to become involved in the promotion of an apparent miracle without being deeply convinced of the authenticity of FC.

    I also find that your statements about Dr. Novella’s disinterest in the content of your son’s alleged communication to be strident and potentially offensive to non-Jews. I am familiar with and have a great appreciation for the Torah, the Talmud and the subsequent rabbinical writings. A cursory review of the book excerpts on the “Daniel” site suggests, at least to me, that the FC messages are polemical and not related to specific parshot in a way that would lead one to conclude that the communications contain miraculous knowledge. It does seem evident that Daniel and your son are able to understand and repeat basic concepts and opinions delivered to them by their teachers and peers.

    I hope that you would agree that it is in our common interest, as ethical human beings, to scientifically determine the flaws and limitations in FC practices and to err on the side of skepticism and caution.

    -Leonard in Boston, MA

  15. arthurgoldenon 23 Mar 2008 at 11:21 pm

    One really final comment:

    Except for someone who is completely brain dead, or actually dead, Dr. Novella is absolutely wrong when he describes any 14 year-old in the United States, after at least 11 years of entitlement to a Free Appropriate Public Education (and probably early intervention services before age 3) as “noncommunicative” no matter how severely autistic and nonverbal. I previously wrote that over 30 years ago, my own 5-1/2 year-old son was evaluated as having very poor communication skills but after several years of intense language therapy (which was over 25 years ago) that my son was quite communicative. Dr. Novella replied in effect that my son was unusual (and the other persons I mentioned by name) and therefore seems to imply that his experience could not be used to discuss the efficacy of Facilitated Communication in more general terms.

    Maybe my son at that point was doing better than others with his degree of brain dysfunction, but how could any 14 year-old today in the United States be described as “noncommunicative” except if completely brain dead, or actually dead? I must publicly object to such a statement by Dr. Novella, repeated more than once in this blog. I am open to an explanation about this use of the term “noncommunicative” from Dr. Novella, a neurologist who knows about the functioning of the human brain based on deep scientific knowledge. I realize Dr. Novella states his blog is about the use of FC, but being “noncommunicative” goes to the essence of his logic and therefore must be supported by facts.

    Arthur Golden of Jerusalem Israel

  16. arthurgoldenon 24 Mar 2008 at 3:51 pm

    Leonard,

    Let me assure that I am deeply convinced about the authenticity of FC, even though in connection with this blog entry I did not have any reason to provide such information. Let me also state that I did not “allow [my] son to become involved in the promotion of an apparent miracle” – the actual facts of what has transpired are very different than what you assume based upon your human logic. Again, in connection with this blog entry I did not have any reason to provide such information. The sites I linked to were not intended to provide such information and I have had absolutely nothing to do with those two websites, which were put up within the last two years or less by other people. Instead, some of the relevant information to your concerns might be found at two websites in which I am involved:

    http://www.goldenfc.com (which contains information that is about ten to fourteen years old)

    http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/Autism-Ben_Golden (which contains information which was posted mostly three to seven years ago)

    Obviously, a cursory examination of the Daniel website could not provide a basis to judge its content, which has been reviewed in depth by leading Torah scholars who have a very different opinion than you and on which I have reasonably relied. I do not know if you have the necessary background to be able to pass judgement on its content. I have been observing my son’s Facilitated Communication for about fifteen years and your statement about my son’s ability “to understand and repeat basic concepts and opinions delivered to them by their teachers and peers” seems to be based on your human logic assuming erroneous facts that are very different than what has actually transpired.

    I am very concerned about ethical behavior and I believe that I have been very careful concerning my involvement with Facilitated Communication. However, with a deep respect for science, my ethical behavior goes beyond merely utilizing the tools of science but utilizes the comprehensive system based on proper Torah observance which fully includes the use of the tools of science.

    Although I have been researching Facilitated Communication for 17-1/2 years, my research into autism is for over 30 years and my full commitment to Torah observance as an adult has been for over 37 years. In this blog, I cannot attempt to disclose all the relevant information that went into my conclusions, but as I began this reply to you, I will end that I am deeply convinced about the authenticity of FC.

    Arthur Golden of Jerusalem Israel

  17. arthurgoldenon 25 Mar 2008 at 12:31 am

    Dear Dr. Novella,

    It is over 24 hours since I asked you to explain your statements about a 14 year-old in the United States being “noncommunicative.”

    I still await your reply.

    Sincerely,

    Arthur Golden of Jerusalem Israel

  18. Steven Novellaon 26 Mar 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Let me make my position clear – FC is complete bunk. I think whenever a facilitator is in the loop, the communication is called into question – unless the facilitator is completely blinded to the questions/information. Simply minimizing “influence” is insufficient.

    Regarding “noncommunicative” I am not sure why you are harping on this term. This is commonly used to describe someone who is cognitively impaired so that they are unable to meaningfully communicate. To deny that such individuals exist is to be in denial.

  19. charbfcon 26 Mar 2008 at 6:38 pm

    It’s always dangerous to just drop in on an ongoing discussion, especially since I haven’t read all the comments, and will not be able to stick around to keep the conversation going. But I think I can help with the concern about “noncommunicative” – at least a little.
    I was a special educator for many years, now retired. Most of my students would have carried a similar label, and we thought they were severely cognitively impaired. But the truth is that all sentient beings communicate in some way – even if it is all done through behavior, with no words spoken.
    And we were so very wrong about their cognitive level. They were unable to use spoken language to communicate their thoughts, but once we found a way to break through this barrier we began to see that they were learning all the time – and so much more intelligent than we had ever imagined.
    I used, and continue to use, Facilitated Communication. Properly used, it is valid and real, and unless you have actually participated in a facilitated conversation, at least as an observer with an open mind, I don’t think anyone has the right to imply that Art and I and others in our position are lying about our experiences. The young people I work with have to deal with attitudes like that all the time, and they deserve better.
    Anne Donnellan has long advocated for going with the “Least Dangerous Assumption.” In cases like this, I think it’s dangerous to assume anyone is cognitively impaired to the extent that they are unable to communicate.

  20. arthurgoldenon 27 Mar 2008 at 8:37 am

    Dear Dr. Novella,

    1. Since I am not ideologically immune to evidence and logic, I invite your showing me that your position is strong and based upon established evidence and valid logic. While I appreciate that you did respond to my comment about any 14 year-old today in the United States being described as “noncommunicative” [which can be found separately at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/autismfc/message/1560 ], you have not yet presented me such evidence to support your position. I am disappointed that your most recent comment to me is not up to your usual high standards. I am further disappointed that the comment from Char has not yet been posted to your blog (but can be found at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/autismfc/message/1572 ) Please do not rush to respond but instead take the time to carefully consider these matters and respond when you are ready. In the meantime, in this comment entry I will comment further on what you just wrote and ask some questions for you to consider when you are ready (which I expect would be a new blog entry).

    2. You started your most recent reply with “Let me make my position clear – FC is complete bunk.” In my recent reply to Leonard, I wrote that “I am deeply convinced about the authenticity of FC.” However, this blog entry is about Facilitated Testimony in the Courtroom” You then write “I think whenever a facilitator is in the loop, the communication is called into question – unless the facilitator is completely blinded to the questions/information.” Although our positions are different about FC in general, when it comes to FC in the courtroom, I do wish to clearly state that in that situation I agree with you that the communication is called into question. In the case of Sharisa Joy Kochmeister – my information section (a) above – her FC was accepted in court in the early 1990′s because she passed a double blind test in front of the judge and with Dr. Howard Shane as the expert witness for the other side. However, as I mentioned in my information sections (b) and (d) above – my own son Ben did not pass such tests which we voluntarily did with Dr. Howard Shane – but I believe (and realize I have yet to provide you any evidence) it was because of my son’s autism and not because of his lack of communication.

    3. You then state that “Simply minimizing “influence” is insufficient.” But is your statement based on logic? In my information section (e) above I mention an alternative procedure – asking the person to repeat the information to another facilitator who is unaware of the FC with the first facilitator – before proceeding with any court proceedings or even accepted the charges as a valid report. You know that this alternative procedure was not followed in the recent case. In the situation of my son, I wrote six days and I still would like an answer from you to the following (the question is at the end):

    I am curious if any one here is already aware of the spiritual content of the FC messages of my son Ben (now written originally only in Hebrew but translated by others into English and please note that I have no involvement in promoting such messages but many other people do). Leading Torah scholars all state that my son Ben displays a vast knowledge of Torah literature (which I doubt you have any knowledge about), while I know that the facilitator (not me) does not have such a background (but neither do I). If you or others are curious, you can click on to:

    http://www.emet8.com

    or

    http://dani18.com

    I do not expect any of you, or Chris Borthwick, to have any interest in the content of the FC facilitated with my son Ben, but considering the already poor reputation of FC, why should any one try to stop it?

    4. Although you write “Regarding “noncommunicative” I am not sure why you are harping on this term” I wish to state that I only asked the question one time and then posted one reminder a day later, which I do not consider to be “harping on this term.” I even posted at my “own” website at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/autismfc/message/1569 “I do not wish to make a nuisance of myself, so I will not keep reminding him that he has yet to reply.” Let’s just say that you and I seem to perceive things differently. Next you write “This is commonly used to describe someone who is cognitively impaired so that they are unable to meaningfully communicate.” I know that I am extensively involved with trying to improve the communication skills of persons with no effective means of communication and I did not know about such usage of the term “noncommunicative.” Where is this term commonly used? By the way, what do you meant by “unable to meaningfully communicate?” By my human logic this does not at all sound like being “noncommunicative.” Please explain your logic that these two terms are equivalent. You end your most recent comment with “To deny that such individuals exist is to be in denial.” Since I already stated that persons who are brain dead are noncommunicative, I do not deny such individuals exist. However, I have the extensive experience to know that persons who have the most extreme difficulties in communicating can, with sometimes years of effort, always be able to learn to communicate. If you have evidence that contradicts my extensive experience, please give it to me, preferably in the form of citations of peer-reviewed scientific studies.

    Arthur Golden of Jerusalem Israel

  21. Steven Novellaon 27 Mar 2008 at 9:06 am

    Note – many comments are being flagged as spam. This typically happens if there are multiple URL links in the comment. So there may be a delay because I have to review and de-spam such comments.

    If you want to avoid this, then limit your links in comments.

  22. arthurgoldenon 27 Mar 2008 at 10:24 am

    Sorry for causing that problem!

    Thank you for going to the bother of fixing the problem and getting my long comment, with its links, onto the blog.

  23. [...] I wrote about the case of parents of a 14 year old cognitively impaired girl who were charged with sexual [...]

  24. holly lighton 30 Jun 2008 at 11:08 am

    Hey Steve Novella,

    What a load of arrogant pseudoscientific self aggrandizing tripe. Truly!…….. First of all I used to observe from an relatively anonymous standpoint patients being seen at the most elite levels of academic medicine on the east coast over a period of 10 years being treated for lets say motor neuropathies. These patients, inevitably would become frustrated with the limits of either the treatments offered or the bedside manor of their physicians or some combination of both, and go to another equally pedigreed academic neurologist say……….Latov or Dalakis , et. all…………. It was a big joke among my cohorts at the time that every time the patient switched to a new big wig in academic neurology, say every 3-5 years on average, and for the lay audience, I’m talking the best neurologic specialists in this highly specialized field of medicine in the world, people Steve Novella would look up to by the way…….. The patient would get a new diagnosis! MMN (multi motor neuropathy), No wait – now it’s CIDP! (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy), no, no, wait its dermatomyocytis!
    So brilliant are you all at the mental masturbatory facility of your “science”. So very objective!

    Then let’s move on to the vast array of medications that you utilize to treat these (and all) patients ( this will get to facilitated communication later my friends worry you not!). If you look at the PDR (again to the lay audience, the “bible” of prescription medications it’s basically listing of all of the FDA required information for approved prescription and over the counter medications in the US), and look under mechanism of action (or how does this drug work?), you will find that in over 85% of the drugs in use today helping patients cope with disease, they (read medical community) have absolutely no idea how the drug works. They usually venture a guess but are very cautious to disclaim not really knowing the true bio-physiological effect of the drug. So they have no idea.

    In fact, in the “old days” (think pre–1990′s) the academic medical community actually had some balls and were willing to humbly defer to the fact that we don’t and can’t know everything but should offer the benefit of exploiting and using drugs that are helpful even if we don’t know exactly HOW they work.
    Now, (read post 1990 or so) our cowardly doctors in the name (and spirit of Novella above) have taken up the shield of “evidence based medicine” to cower from pressure the insurance companies and HMO’s, setting new standards for the use of new discoveries to not help patients saying it’s not enough that a drug works,we have to know how it works to offer it to patients! The truth is the doctors gave yup fighting the insurance companies using this new”standard” and adopted it as their own to not look as insipid and cowardly as they really are. Give it a big harvard name “evidence based” and all is well, don’t worry about what we’re supposed to be doing in life like, oh yea curing disease. just publish papers about nothing (read of no clinical significance, i.e to help anyone get better or lead to true clinical advancement in treatment). Then you’ll do real well in medicine. Oh, and then write some sniping articles about pseudoscientific practices like FC and sneer all the way home thinking how you don’t make as much money as your fathers generation when adjusted for inflation – gee I wonder why?

    Now to facilitated communication, Steve, motor planning 101. I had a friend who was a professor of psychiatry he was 80 at the time but still played tennis every week, unbelievable fit, looked like 60. So we used to meet and 1 week he doesn’t show up. Brusk message on my voice mail sounding irritated from him instead of apologetic about canceling after the fact. Next week I go to meet him and I see him in his car outside the tennis club parked just sitting and not getting out of his car. I go and knock on the window. He looks startled and peels out of his parking spot leaving me in the street. @ weeks later he’s diagnosed with a frontal lobe tumor which was thankfully removed and he recovered nicely. He later told me that he had been very irritable and found himself in multiple situations where he would go somewhere to do something and was then paralyzed in an inexplicable way from initiating the activity at hand, in my case it was getting out of the car. He knew why he was there he knew what he wanted to do – HE COULDN”T INITIATE THE VOLITIONAL ACTIVITY REQUIRED TO CONDUCT THE MOTOR PLAN STEVE.

    Volitional inhibition, ever heard of it Steve? The list of specific dyspraxic disorders are legion. So the crime of ignorance you commit as as an “expert neurologist” is harmful in the extreme to so many people locked in a world of silence by ill informed opinions that have given so little thought to the issues at at hand. It annoys me to no end (this I’m certain you ARE aware of by now) because your have the training and background of thought to give so much more sensitive consideration to the subject were you not blinded by arrogance. You assume cognitive dysfunction where in fact there is nothing more than a global dyspraxia of volitional movement. Just another ill defined motor disease Steve. Of course they can’t be put in a stringent double blinded testing environment with a wall between their helper and them. It’s antithetical to the process.

    That’s like taking a post stroke patient who cant talk and trying to grill them in an “objective testing environment” to see whether gentle supportive encouragement and therapy to help them retrieve words and produce speech using patience and multisensory reinforcement helps them to talk. But if they can’t perform as well when stripped of that support in a cold and advesarial testing , let’s say sitting in a room with a tester being drilled on vocabulary, claiming that supportive speech therapy is a hoax if the patient didn’t perform nearly as well as within the confines of a known trusted speech therapist providing support and giving the person needed cues or time. Let’s just throw out speech therapy too, why should we presume that the person has the cognitive ability to speak?

    Why because they did it before………..Ignorance guides your thinking about people with communicative dysfunction related to “developmental delay”. They have voice you just refuse to hear it.

    So sad really…………………. Best of luck to you Holly.

  25. deciuson 30 Jun 2008 at 11:43 am

    ROTFL

  26. [...] recently received this comment in response to my blog on facilitated communication. Gigi Jordon (writing as “Holly [...]

  27. Steven Novellaon 02 Jul 2008 at 10:40 am

    My response to Holly: http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=324

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