Facilitated Communication (FC,) also known as Supported Typing (ST) is, put simply, a technique in which physical, communication, and emotional support is provided by a facilitator to an individual with a communication disorder (communicator). Facilitated Communication Training (FCT) is a strategy within the methods of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) where the facilitator provides a system of supports in order to enable more effective pointing to targets for communication.1 With assistance, the communicator types to communicate, using various levels of support, a variety of tools and equipment, and across a range of life situations.2 In addition to providing physical support needed for typing or pointing, the facilitator provides verbal prompts and emotional support.3
FC is a strategy that looks to provide the least amount of organizational support needed for effective communication, build communication, and fade the needed supports as the communicator’s (often referred to as the “typer”) proficiency levels improve. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including pointing to objects, photographs, pictures and whole words. Both ‘low tech’ and ‘high tech’ equipment are used in applying the method.
There has been quite a bit of controversy related to the efficacy of FC, much of it related to the fact that, until now, there were no standards of training for support personnel that established a set of Best Practices for facilitators or other professionals in the field. But that is beginning to change.
One of the primary motivators for this change, in addition to the overall increase in the general public’s awareness and acceptance of autistic individuals, is the establishment of the Wellspring Guild in 2016. Wellspring Guild is an organization of top Facilitated Communication / Supported Typing Master Trainers who are developing a national training system for all that communities that want to improve their support services for their nonverbal autistic citizens (communicators.)
Wellspring Guild’s Mission
“Communication is essential to citizenship and community participation. The mission of Wellspring Guild practitioners employing a uniformed standard of practice of Facilitated Communication Training to ensure for all a meaningful voice that is personal, authentic, and effective.
It is the belief of the Wellspring Guild Board that an increase in trainers across the country would help solve the inconsistent availability of training. They are currently developing online training, webinars, and support forums to help people through the getting started and skill building processes would also support families to have more successful outcomes.
Wellspring Guild is open to all who are supportive of individuals who type to communicate. This can include family members, friends, advocates or general supporters. Being supportive means directly supporting a communicator, participating in interactions with a communicator, acknowledging the typed outcome of the individual’s communication, or advocating for an individual and their communication. The cost of membership depends on which level the member joins as, starting at $10.00 for communicators.
At the heart of Wellspring Guild is a coalition of communicators, families and professionals, facilitators and trainers dedicated to Best Practice of Facilitated Communication Training (FCT.) The “standards” of best practice for FC training were first issued in 2000, and the concept of ‘best practice’ has been a central message of proponents of the method ever since. Wellspring Guild is building on the message of best practice by developing a curriculum for the teaching of FCT and pushing for a consistent training process across the US. While WG is not creating best practice… they are building on it.
Wellspring Guild’s training programs are based, in large part, on the work conducted by the Institute on Communication and Inclusion (ICI). For almost 20 years, ICI, which is part of the School of Education at Syracuse University, has been giving a voice and a means to communicate to people with disabilities who may have otherwise been living in silence or isolation by conducting research, establishing “Best Practice” guidelines, and promoting support for people with disabilities to communicate in schools and society. ICI has been the preeminent ‘voice’ of FCT in general, and best practice in particular, as leaders in the areas of research, training and advocacy. In many respects, WG is an extension of the ICI, working to further develop and strengthen the practice of FCT.
Because the Wellspring Guild will offer ongoing support to trainers, coaches and educators, families can be assured of a high-quality standard of training for their nonverbal autistic children. One of the first steps they have taken to accomplish their goals is to establish definitions for the various support professionals in the field3:
- Facilitator: Facilitators are individuals who provide the full complement of support as described in the guidelines of Best Practice, and adheres to the principles of Best Practice with regard to fading and use of minimum level of effective support.
- Coach: The coach is a facilitator who has demonstrated the ability to effectively provide support to 3 different communicators, can explain the components of FCT to new facilitators, and can help others through the Getting Started and Skill Building process. The coach also can assist the Trainer in doing assessments for individuals interested in FCT.
- Trainer: The trainer assesses potential communicators for candidacy, develops programs of instruction, teaches others about FCT through workshops and presentations, spearheads the fading process and helps develop elements of responsible communication through message passing and other signs of authorship.
- Master Trainer: The master trainer has successfully worked to teach, train and implement the principles of FCT across a variety of ages, disabilities and environmental settings. The master trainer has a full understanding of disciplines within categories of communication, education, advocacy as well as related therapeutic fields in order to assist communicators in their path toward independence. Many master trainers have experience in navigating the legal process.
The Wellspring Guild Board is comprised of noted educators and professionals in the field, including:
- Marilyn Chadwick, MA CCC-SLP, Master Trainer, President of the Board: Marilyn is considered a leader in understanding Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) strategies. She has provided training on Facilitated Communication across the United States, as well as Canada, Israel, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Europe. As the Assistant Director of the Facilitated Communication Institute (1992-2010), she has contributed to the development of numerous videos and training materials, organized conferences, and helped develop the FCT standards and master trainer curriculum.
- Darlene Hanson, Master Trainer, Director of Communication Services, REACH: Darlene assisted with the writing of the Best Practice Standards for Facilitated Communication Training distributed through the Institute for Communication and Inclusion (ICI) of Syracuse University. Darlene has co-authored research and articles on communication for those with severe communication impairments, and is a co-author of Investigation of Authorship in Facilitated Communication, (Journal of Mental Retardation, Aug. 1996).
- Pascal Cheng, Master Trainer, Educational & Communication Specialist, Howard Center: Pascal has a M. Ed. and C.A.S. in Special Education from the University of Vermont and has worked for over 30 years with children and adults with developmental disabilities in school and community settings. As part of a national network of Master Trainers in Facilitated Communication, he works as a consultant to schools and agencies and regularly participates as a trainer in local, regional and national workshops and conferences.
- Jean Trainor, Former CEO/Chief Inclusion Officer, Veridian Credit Union: Jean graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with an Accounting Degree and earned her Certified Public Accountant designation. She became CEO/Chief Inclusion Officer of Veridian Credit Union in 1990 and remained in that position until May of 2015, when she recalibrated to begin working with her son, Nate. She currently serves at Inclusion Connection, a not for profit organization with the goal of promoting inclusive communities that live, learn, work and play together.
- Harvey F. Lavoy III, Director of Communication Training Resource, CDS: Harvey has worked for Community Developmental Services (CDS), a Division of Washington County Mental Health Services in Montpelier, Vermont since 1994. He is currently the Director of Communication Training and Resources at CDS and provides education, training and technical assistance to adults and children with complex communication needs, as well as their families, support staff, educational teams, schools and agencies. He is a member of a National network of Master Facilitated Communication Trainers, and received a Certificate of Recognition as an FC Master Trainer in 2006 from the ICI.
- Tracy Thresher, Master Trainer, Advocate / Blogger: Tracy began using FC in 1990 and was one of the first individuals with autism in Vermont to be introduced to it. He has presented at local, statewide and national workshops and conferences. He has consulted with local schools and also mentors high school students. He is a member of the Vermont Autism Advisory & Planning Committee, the Vermont Communication Task Force, the WCMHS Communication Alliance, and does freelance work for Green Mountain Self-Advocates.
We encourage all typers, their families and support persons, facilitators, coaches, and trainers to become a member of Wellspring Guild and support the important work they do. Their efforts will help improve the standards of training and support your nonverbal family members receive, and the quality of life in their everyday worlds.