Facilitated Communication: Fact or Fiction? (Part One)

July 20, 2017 Abuse and Neglect Attorney
Dead end sign
Facilitated communication has often resulted in lies and false allegations of abuse.

Facilitated communication is a widely controversial method of communication. It claims to allow non-verbal individuals to communicate by typing on a keyboard, while a facilitator guides their fingers over the keys. It has been heralded by some as revolutionary, and by others as a complete farce.

Not sure why we would choose to cover this particular subject on our child abuse and neglect defense blog? Actually, once you know a little about facilitated communication, you will understand exactly why we felt that this subject was worth an in-depth look. So let’s get started…

We’ll begin with the case of Rom Houben, the Belgian native who spent 23 years in a vegetative coma after a tragic car accident. In 2006 his neurologist, Steven Laureys of Belgium’s Coma Science Group, diagnosed him as suffering from “locked-in syndrome“. This condition refers to the fact that a patient is fully aware, but cannot move or communicate due to the complete paralysis of almost all voluntary muscles.

After this diagnosis, Rom was given a facilitator. He began, miraculously, to communicate complex thoughts and emotions to the world through the use of facilitated communication. His parents were thrilled. News agencies from around the globe showed up to conduct interviews, and Houben laboriously typed out answers to their questions with the aid of his facilitator.

However, when you watch the footage of Houben and his facilitator, it’s hard not to notice that Houben’s head is turned away from the keyboard. Also, his eyes are closed, and his facilitator is typing at a phenomenally rapid pace for someone who is supposed to be waiting for cues for each letter from the patient.

Even then, many people wondered if it was real…

In 2010, Dr. Laureys decided to administer a series of tests to see whether or not facilitated communication was viable for coma patients. He hoped to determine whether Rom was in fact communicating, or if the words ascribed to him were in reality his facilitator’s. The results were rather heartbreaking.

After a series of tests, which Houben’s facilitator refused to participate in, it was determined that Houben had never in fact been able to communicate even the simplest of concepts. For example, a researcher would show Houben an apple while his facilitator was out of the room. After they had returned, Houben would be asked to type what he had been shown. There was not one single instance in which he was able to answer accurately.

Scientists say this is due to the observer – expectancy effect, which refers to the cognitive biases of a researcher. It causes them to unwittingly and unconsciously influence participants in a study or experiment they are conducting. Because this is an enormous threat to how valid the outcome of a study or experiment is, most researchers conduct double blind experiments in an effort to eliminate subjective biases.

As it pertains to facilitated communication however, many believe (and the evidence certainly seems to suggest) that it is the thoughts of the facilitator and not the nonverbal patient that are being communicated. So once again, why are we discussing this subject on a child abuse defense blog? Because facilitated communication has played a role in allegations of child abuse several times in the last few decades.

Join us next time, when we will be discussing this rather controversial topic further, and looking at the ways it has impacted abuse and neglect cases in the past. Until then, if someone has accused you or a loved one of abusing or neglecting a child in any way, contact The Kronzek Firm immediately at 866 766 5245. Our skilled defense attorneys have decades of experience protecting parents and caregivers against false allegations. We can help you too!