ICI Autism Summer Institute Workshop: Research in Facilitated Communication: Shifting from “If” to “How”

Our previous post in the 2012 ICI Autism Summer Institute series, ICI Autism Summer Institute: Introduction to Facilitated Communication – Learning the Basics, featured the opening presentation of the conference, which was hosted by typers Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher, who were featured in the documentary film Wretches & Jabberers, and Master Trainers Pascal Cheng, and Harvey Lavoy.

Co-hosted by Syracuse University School of Education’s Institute on Communication and Inclusion (ICI) and the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disabilities, the Autism Summer Institute is an annual conference that brings together FC typers, parents, facilitators/trainers, and educators for an educational and engaging journey, with workshops, presentations, panels and more. The host site alternates between Syracuse, NY and Durham, NH; Syracuse University’s Institute on Communication and Inclusion will host the 2014 Autism Summer Institute.

Presentation: Research in Facilitated Communication: Shifting from “If” to “How” (Strand A2)

Presenters: Syracuse University School of Education graduate students Fernanda Orsati, Eun Young Jung, and Casey Reutemann

This presentation gave an overview of the research on facilitated communication from the 1990s through the present. It took a critical look at how FC research has started to move from a proof or “if ” paradigm to an explicating or “how it works” model of inquiry. The presenters discussed what has been done and the current projects being conducted and published around the United States and internationally.

Topics covered included current or recent research projects, such as:
  • Master Trainer Research Project
  • Lexical Analysis Research Project
  • Independence Research Project
  • Mothers’ Life Stories Project

Read the text of the presentation, below.
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Research in Facilitated Communication: Shifting from “If” to “How” – Presentation Text

Research in Facilitated Communication dates from the 1990’s until recent years. Qualitatively exploring relevant publications in the field reveals the continued development of methodological approaches for performing research around FC. The main issues that have emerged as important to consider in FC related studies are: design of tasks; familiarity with setting, facilitator and task; provision of wait time; number and length of sessions; and establishment of natural conditions that make FC user s more comfortable.

The recent movement towards a qualitative understanding of communication through FC has prompted researchers to ask questions like:
  • What are the lexical differences in the text production of FC users, other peers and facilitators?
  • What are the experiences of FC users in higher education?
  • What is the eye tracking pattern of an FC user while he/she types to communicate?
  • How do we practice massage passing skills with FC users?

All these questions demonstrate the direction towards which the research around FC has moved, while continuing to maintain focus on validity and relevance for the practice. Several research projects that center on research questions and methods that embrace and embody this shift have been developed at Syracuse University through collaborative efforts of professors and graduate students. Four of these projects are described below.

Master Trainer Research Project: Given that there are training standards for facilitators (Chadwick 1996), but not for trainers in facilitated communication, this study aims to fill the gap through an investigation into effective competencies and dispositions associated with being a trainer. The objective of the study is to identify qualities, skills, characteristics and competencies of highly effective trainers in the practice of supported typing. We are interested in how skilled facilitators/trainers describe their practice, how they approach and carry out their work, what are the central characteristics they develop as facilitators that could be taught and used for other facilitators in developing their skills and capacities as facilitators and trainers. It is anticipated that this study will help us to develop standards and training materials for future trainers and improvement of the practice in facilitated communication.

Lexical Analysis Research Project: The purpose of this research is to examine a corpus of texts produced by both FC users and their facilitators for lexical traits and patterns. For this purpose, we will collect written texts from participants who meet our research participant criteria and will analyze them in both quantitative and qualitative ways. For quantitative analysis, we will use lexical analysis software, as well as statistical methods. The results of this analysis will show whether or not the language patterns of Facilitated Communication users are different than those of their facilitators. In addition to the results of statistical analysis, qualitative analysis will help us to understand how the two groups use specific words in their written conversation, from their semantic and pragmatic aspects. In this process, their vocabulary (e.g. words frequently used in their written conversation) and its usage (e.g. the context and the way certain vocabulary are used) will be the main focus. This analysis will produce a conclusion about the authorship of individuals with disabilities who type to communicate.

Independence Research Project: Many individuals who once required intensive physical support are now demonstrating the ability type with no or limited physical touch and/or to read aloud their text during and after typing (Biklen & Burke, 2006; Broderick & Kasa-Hendrickson, 2001; Kasa-Hendrickson, Broderick & Biklen,2002; Kasa-Hendrickson, Broderick & Hanson,2009; Wurzburg, 2004). Recent research has identified several strategies that appear successful in supporting this move toward greater physical independence. This study seeks to build on that work and consider independence in multiple ways within the context of schools and societies. This study aims to understand how individuals who type to communicate work with their facilitators and trainers to develop greater physical independence and improve other typing skills during training sessions over a period of 4 months. We will utilize the Scale of Independent Typing to systematically observe changes in the individuals’ levels of needed support. We will also analyze the videotaped training sessions. Further, we hope to develop materials and strategies that can be used consistently with multiple users and trainers.

Mothers’ Life Stories Project: The perspectives of families and, particularly, mothers of individuals who type to communicate, have been largely absent from the literature. Research should resist practices that marginalize groups and individuals and should instead create opportunities for individuals’ participation and relationships and guarantee the right to be heard and respected as “full citizens, workers, classmates, consumers, artists, worshippers, family members, friends, and valued human beings”(Kliewer, and Biklen, 2000, p. 187). Understanding these mothers’ stories is essential to understanding the larger historical, social, familial, and even educational contexts that influence and effect people who type to communicate and their families. With a better grasp of these social contexts (schools, families, friends, professional, general public) we can hope to improve support and opportunities for the families of people who type to communicate. Based on this, the following research questions have been raised: What are the social positions of mothers of individuals that use supported communication? How do they perform their identity and juggle with the normative expectations from society? How do these mothers frame their lives and narrate their experiences? What is the contextual meaning of being a mother of a child or adult that types to communicate?

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Next: Strand A3, This Is Not a Test: Practicing Message-Passing Skills
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Save the Dates July 28-30 for 2014 Autism Summer Institute:
Envisioning the Future: A New Disability Narrative

The Syracuse University School of Education is pleased to announce that the ICI will be hosting this year’s Summer Institute on July 28-30, at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel & Conference Center. You can pre-register on the ICI website to be notified when conference registration opens.
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