Facilitated Communication: Fact or Fiction? (Part Four)

August 2, 2017 Abuse and Neglect Attorney
Facilitated communication? Is it real, or nothing more than smoke and mirrors?

Thanks for joining us again, as we unpack the complex and controversial subject of facilitated communication, and the role it has played in false allegations of child abuse. If you’re only joining us now, we recommend that you spend a few minutes catching up on our previous articles in this series. For those of you who’ve been with us from the beginning, let’s move on…

It makes perfect sense, when you think about it, why facilitated communication had such a positive reception when it was first introduced. After all, the first person to use it for attempted communication made phenomenal progress, and experienced significant life improvement.

Back in 1977, Rosemary Crossley attempted to use facilitated communication with a 16-year-old cerebral palsy patient named Anne McDonald. Physically Anne was shrunken and contorted, but she responded well to social interaction, and Crossley wondered if she may have more mental ability than people realized.

She began to work with Anne, using a method of her own devising, which she called ‘facilitated communication’. A mere two years later Anne hired an attorney, sued the state of Victoria in Australia in order to win her release from institutionalized care, and went on to attend college and write a book entitled “Annie’s Coming Out”.

The world was enthralled. Parents everywhere who wrestled with the certainty that their non-verbal children harbored untapped greatness, would finally be allowed to shine. Facilitated Communication clinics began popping up all over the US and Canada, like a crop of unexpected mushrooms. Breakthroughs were reported across the world.

But was it all it was cracked up to be…. or nothing more than smoke and mirrors?

No one seemed to be asking that one critical question – is this truly a window into the mind of the nonverbal patient, or are we just having belabored communication with a group of facilitators?

Dr. Doug Wheeler, the coordinator of the autism program at the O.D. Heck Developmental Center in New York, was willing to ask. He designed a series of tests in which students using FC would be shown photographs of everyday objects, like an apple or a pencil, and asked to name them. Their facilitators would also be shown a picture, but theirs was of a different object. They couldn’t see each other’s pictures.

In 180 trials conducted with 12 different students and their facilitators, there was not one single instance in which the student was able to accurately identify the object they were shown. In every single case, the word typed by the “student” was a description of the item shown to the facilitator. Every. Single. Case.

So who is behind all the messages, poems and stories that have poured like water out of FC users the world over? According to Dr. Wheeler, and the many researchers who came after him in questioning the validity of this method, the answer was: the facilitator. In many cases, the facilitators themselves were so invested in being part of something of this magnitude, that they were unwilling or unable to see their own role in it.

In the words of one of the facilitators from the O.D. Heck Developmental Center, “I wanted so hard to believe that it was real, that I wasn’t able to listen to objective thinking about it. It grabs you emotionally right here and once you’re hooked, I mean, you are hooked.”

So what now? If facilitated communication has indeed been proven to be a hoax, then why does it still have the power to tear families apart and send parents to jail for crimes they didn’t commit? In the fifth and final installment of this article we will be looking at this question more closely, and discussing possible answers.

Until then, if you or a loved one have been falsely accused of sexual assault, or implicated in a child abuse or neglect case, you are going to need highly skilled defense attorneys on your side. Neglecting or abusing children are allegations that are taken very seriously by both CPS and police officers. So if someone has accused you of this crime, call The Kronzek Firm immediately at 866 766 52345. We are here to help you.