Nov 08 2012
Facilitated Communication (FC) is a technique for allegedly aiding those with communication impairment, such as some people with autism, to communicate through typing or pointing at a letter board. The idea is that some children have greater cognitive ability than is apparent through their verbal skills, but they lack the motor skills to type or write. The facilitator in FC is trained to hold and support their client’s hand, to help stabilize it, so that they can type out their thoughts.
FC was enthusiastically embraced by the special education community in the late 1980s and early 1990s but problems quickly emerged, namely the question of authorship – who is doing the communicating, the client or the facilitator?
The scientific evidence came down clearly on one side of that debate – it is the facilitator who is the author of the communication, not the client. The American Psychological Association has reviewed the available evidence and produced a position statement that concludes:
The short version of this long story is that study after study showed that facilitated communication didn’t really work. Apparently, the positive results that had generated so much enthusiasm were the results of a subtle process in which well-intended facilitators were answering questions themselves – without any awareness that they were doing so.
A 2001 review by Mostert came to the same conclusion – that the evidence supports the conclusion that the facilitators are the authors of communication in FC. He also points out that there is a relationship between the rigor of the studies and the results. The most rigorously blinded studies are all negative, studies with some blinding but also with problems are mixed and often show some positive results, and unblinded studies are all positive, showing dramatic effects. This pattern mirrors that of ESP and many other pseudosciences that are primarily the result of self deception.