A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Lao Tzu, 6th Century B.C.
For thousands of children and adults on the Autism Disorder Spectrum (ADS), the ability to talk or communicate has been disrupted, or virtually eliminated in many cases, by the neurological disorder that affects 1 in every 88 children in the US*. To the "outside world," these non-verbal individuals are considered to be mentally handicapped and uneducatable beyond basic "life skills" like learning to use utensils to feed themselves.
That all changed in 1977, when Rosemary Crossley, a teacher at St. Nicholas Hospital in Australia, claimed to have produced communication from 12 children diagnosed with cerebral palsy and other disabilities and argued that they possessed normal intelligence. She went on to develop the form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) now known as Facilitated Communication (FC).
"FC is giving most non-verbal people a chance to say what is on their minds. Year after year they waited for a gift of speech. Yet until Rosemary Crossley discovered FC, I and others like me kept begging God in vain. Hostile petty people will try to take our painfully gained freedom from us. Tear our hearts out if you must, do not take spiteful revenge on us by pretending concern for us while hypocritically muting us."
Chammi Rajapatirana, Facilitated Communication Digest, Vol. 2 No. 4 (Aug. 1994)
Facilitated Communication training is widely used by people with a variety of communication handicaps, including non-verbal autistics, to help them find their voice, the ability to communicate, frequently through the method known as supported typing.
The objective of FC is to take these people trapped in their own bodies from an uncommunicative state to a place where, with the support of a trained facilitator, they have the ability to "talk" through a computer keyboard or other Assistive Technology (AT) device.
What Exactly is Facilitated Communication?
Put simply, facilitated communication training is:
- A strategy which supports the physical, communicative, and emotional needs of a person with a communication disability to move more purposefully in order to express themselves through an alternate mode of communication
- A method of training a person to ACCESS an AAC device or low tech display in order to communicate
- A method of teaching someone to point and control their movements in order to communicate
In facilitated communication. a partner or facilitator makes it easier for a non-speaker to access a communication aid by providing structured physical support. Facilitated communication training combines this support with exercises designed to improve the communication aid user’s hand use, with the aim of enabling him or her to use communication aids independently.
The goal of FC training is to take these non-verbal individuals down a path from uncommunicative to supported typing to, ultimately, independent typing without the need for support. While it can be a long journey, with difficult steps along the way, the rewards for those who make it are priceless.
For more information about Facilitated Communication, read:
(PDFs open in new windows)
- What is Facilitated Communication
- Basics About Facilitated Communication or Supported Typing, Institute on Communication and Inclusion at Syracuse University
- Introduction to Facilitated Communication Training, Autism Summer Institute, Concord, NH, August, 2012
- Facilitated Communication Outcomes, Rosemary Crossley’s analysis of FC 10 years after its introduction
“Finding a voice through typing is no simple task. It does not mean just typing words. It takes courage to face skeptical eyes; it takes time to become independent – a long time in some cases. It does not mean that our voices can’t be powerful and a change in the world. Only we can relate how we think. We can be empowered through our thoughts, our fingers, our voices. We don’t need to yell to tell people how we think. Our voices come through typing but they are OUR VOICES and they tell the world who we are.”
Amy Sequenzia, Non-verbal Autistic and FC Advocate, 2012
As with any journey, the path to independent typing takes a number of steps to complete. In this series, we will take a look at those steps, beginning with understanding what Facilitated Communication is.
* Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html)
Next: Step 1 – Facilitator Training