One Parent’s Response to Lisa Brady’s Attack on Facilitated Communication

John and Jim Smyth enjoying a Father-Son outing at Conner Prairie History Park.

John and Jim Smyth enjoying a Father-Son outing at Conner Prairie History Park.

As we mentioned in our article “The New FC Debate, Round 3: Another “Expert” Enters the Fight,” Lisa Brady, M.Ed., a so-called “autism expert,” has entered the fray in an effort to throw the worst light possible on the use of FC to help nonverbal autistics communicate. In January, Brady distributed an email with the Subject line “So Called Experts Preying on the weakest members of society!” to a number of educators, trainers, and other professionals, including staff and administration of Syracuse University and the University of New Hampshire, newspaper and media outlets, and FC trainers, including Harvey Lavoy, Marilyn Chadwick, Darlene Hanson, and Laura Poorman.

One person that did not take Brady’s attack lightly was SBT’s Program Manager Jim Smyth, the father of typer, author, and SBT co-founder John Smyth. John recently graduated from Brownsburg High School and is currently attending Marian University in Indianapolis. In a response to her unprovoked attack, Jim wrote this heartfelt email which he sent to Brady and everyone who originally received her email.

Kind Ladies and Gentlemen:

Ms. Lisa Brady, M.Ed., who calls herself an “Autism Specialist,” has twice forwarded the email attached below to you. I write not only because of the questionable allegations in her email letter, but also because she did not contact or question anyone at Saved By Typing before posting a link to an old video of this parents’ advocacy group in Indiana. I know this because I am Program Manager for Saved By Typing and all inquiries about typing come through me.

While the 5 Indiana typers in the video do not show the best form that our community strives to achieve (but that’s similar to insisting that a verbal person pronounce words in a language you understand before you will believe they are intelligent), you might be interested to know that two of the typers in the video are authors of published books (Matthew Hobson, I’m So Glad You Found Me In Here and John Smyth, From Autism’s Tomb: 10 Secrets That Change Everything). Matthew Hobson is a graduate of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) with honors. Seth Harrison, also seen in the video, attended but did not graduate from the same university after successfully matriculating high school, and John Smyth, whose voice was only “discovered” December 9, 2010, is now a freshman at Marian University after carrying a very high average when he could find a high school that would educate him. A few of John’s videos produced for school are linked below and I encourage you to peruse them.

The 4th young man in the video is Jake Willmann. Jake was successfully attending Hamilton Southeastern High School in Indianapolis when he tragically passed in his sleep from a seizure just a year ago. Lindsay Dotlich is a successful student doing grade-level work at Brownsburg High School. She struggles with physical strength and seizure issues. She has proven herself to be extremely bright and persistent, however.

As bad as our video is about form, all of these typers invite persons to come and see them type and interact with them at our Saved By Typing Celebrations on the 3rdSaturday of every month. Ms. Brady has never attended one of our events. This group has shown many who work with the population and were skeptical that, in fact, typing is real for some. Many professionals mourn the years of waste, presuming their clients’ intelligence did not exist, when they come to discover that, for many such clients, it was just hidden by the challenges of bodies that do not work very well and their own failure to presume competence. Many “voices” have been discovered because of the typers’ work in Indiana, including one person who “lost his voice” when national TV condemned his only communication system 20 years ago. He still suffers from that.

We in Central Indiana have heard only good things about Dan Habib, and we do know Mr. Michael McSheehan, UNH IOD to be very expert in his work. It is unfortunate to us that Ms. Brady is so certain of her position. We do not know Axel or Jessica and we hate their form worse than our own typers’ form in Ms. Brady’s links. We have no idea if Axel can communicate or not. But as Ms. Brady would see if she visited us, bad form does not mean a human being isn’t fully communicating and completely present and competent. Nor does it mean he or she is being manipulated, cannot show good form, or cannot think circles around Ms. Brady and the other “normals” in a room. They just may not be jumping through the hoops Ms. Brady and those who think like her demand. And should they have to?

Ms. Brady opines that typing with support “amounts to desperate parents and predators, masked as experts in the communication field, hijacking the lives of the most vulnerable population in our society and using them as props to fulfill some sort of power and control or delusional need” and “(w)hen you claim a significantly impaired person is competent, they are considered capable of consent and the door to sexual deviance is opened. Our country needs to take a position against individuals that falsely claim a cognitively impaired person is competent when they are not. It is a crime and should be reported and punished.” She seems to ignore research by Botash et al. (1994) that allegations of abuse produced through nonverbal typers are consistent with the indication rate within the general population. And the same would be true of liars within each population. We don’t cut normal kids’ tongues out when they lie, or tape their mouths closed so they won’t hurt themselves by lying. Anyone who did this would rightly be accused of child abuse. Yet Ms. Brady suggests it is appropriate to deny the nonverbals their right to communicate and to allow them to communicate is child abuse. This makes little sense to me. I suggest the reverse is true and Ms. Brady is encouraging abuse of civil and human rights.

John Smyth compares Autism Specialists today to tooth fairies when he writes:

“When autism is witnessed to by people who quietly, confidently appreciate what causes it, witness with confidence about how to heal it, and recognize the autistic are engaged in a different experience but are no less mentally competent than they and are usually smarter, then we will have experts. Teasing autism’s quietly wailing parents that autism experts are truly capable wishfully substitutes Santa Claus and the tooth fairy with the autism expert. When we sincerely understand the expensive fraud that quite quietly queers so many lives at such enormous suffering and expense, we will say waste by another was at fault. No one will own real tragedy here anymore than the Germans owned Auschwitz.” From Autism’s Tomb©

John says that until the verbal persons who strive to solve these problems start engaging the nonverbal who can now communicate about how to help those who can’t communicate, little or no progress will be made, unnecessary suffering and isolation will continue, and many millions of dollars will continue to be wasted in education, medical care, social services and other areas. Ms. Brady might begin by engaging with Mr. Burke, Mr. Bissonette, Mr. Thresher, and Ms. Sue Rubin.

Patricia Mirenda, PhD, in her published article, A Back Door Approach to Autism and AAC, writes to fellow practitioners:

“I don’t think it is families we are protecting when we talk about false hope – I think it is us. Hope threatens our own feelings of self-efficacy and professional competence; our own comfort with what we ‘‘know’’ and what we teach others to do; our own ability to stave off the cognitive dissonance that inevitably arises if we hold the experiences of Sue Rubin and other independent typists in one hand and the existing research on ASD and AAC in the other. I think that hope endangers all of that, and so we dismiss it by calling it ‘‘false.’’”

She goes on to challenge Ms. Brady and others in their cabal of impossibility:

“I think it is time to activate this hope again, this time for people with ASD who are unable to speak, and ask ourselves, ‘‘What if we challenge ourselves to invent and investigate new ways to support people with ASD to communicate, ways that we have perhaps not considered until now?’’ What if?”

Ms. Brady suggests that, “it is never OK to hijack the life of a non-verbal cognitively impaired individual.” We agree. John Smyth and others say that it is never OK for experts such as Ms. Brady to hijack the lives of competent persons by presuming incompetence. John insists it is his and all nonverbals’ constitutional right to be presumed competent and people like Ms. Brady are denying this right. The Ember is a poem by John that communicates the suffering that persons like Ms. Brady inflicted on him and are inflicting on others in his population. This video is used by many therapists now to reach those nonverbal who have completely given up hope. It communicates to the hopeless that others like John have had the same experience. Those who use it say it opens up a willingness to try to be known even in the face of overwhelming despair. John argues his case for presumption of intelligence and legal rights in the following videos and links:

Ms. Brady is likely unaware of Jane Elliott’s important work in Iowa. Numerous YouTube videos highlight the importance of this work. The 1 minute video snip attached to this email is from an old PBS broadcast and truly worth playing.

Download Jane Elliott’s video. (Right-click on link, then select “Save link as” to save on your computer.)

Elliott’s work with 3rd graders and then with government and in prisons shows that we humans perform as we are expected to perform. This is part of the challenge of being autistic and never being believed competent, even by parents. Ms. Brady is among those who convince parents not to believe in their children. News stories can build the result they want. Elliott’s work shows that. John says this is part of the Matrix of Agreement. Watch the attached short Elliott video and his Prezi presentation for presumption of competence . In that short presentation. I am John’s narrator (click the arrow below each slide to continue), but he is the author. It is worth watching.

For those who do not take time to watch, John writes in part, “Kind reality will quietly record the awful incompetence of (those) sacrificing the lives of others simply because they refused the constitutionally granted presumption of inclusion.” John compares Ms. Brady to those who insisted African Americans were incompetent.

Ms. Brady describes those who experience that nonverbal autistics can intelligently express themselves in typing as her forbears might have described those in favor of integration for African Americans, “’touchy, feely,’ ‘holier-than-thou’ rhetoric, pathological and misguided individuals around the United States.” She insists this “amounts to desperate parents and predators, masked as experts in the communication field, hijacking the lives of the most vulnerable population in our society and using them as props to fulfill some sort of power and control or delusional need” and that all nonverbal must be “non-verbal cognitively impaired individual(s)”. She also states that, “Professionals that work in school districts are mandated reporters and if any one person on the team believes the student is not capable of the claims being made at the IEP meeting, they are mandated to report the abuse. Let’s call it what it is…criminal and/or abusive.” If all students had IEPs, this would be like saying it is criminal to presume any student can do college-level work whenever one person in the room believes that individual is unable.

Ms. Brady condemns an entire class of persons and the best way some may be able to communicate because some others may not be able to use this way. We at Saved By Typing don’t claim typing is for everyone, but we do think it’s a good idea to presume competence. We agree with John that presumption of competence is a constitutionally required right each individual is born with; it is woven in our human social contract, regardless of race, gender, creed, or physical ability. And we parents with typers who are competent agree with John that those who would deny this right should lose their licenses to work with these children. Ms. Brady may have qualified herself in this class.

John Smyth compares Ms. Brady’s approach to that of the master of the orphanage in Oliver Twist. In one short essay he typed,
“Losing a child is a grave offense. It offends God, your profession, and your personal knowledge of inspired commitment, and writes “little person” on your tombstone. Yes. Awful in life to know you could have done more but didn’t. Death when living is a terribly awful experience, whether a jailer of souls assigned by awesome God or lasting, awful, pitiful squandering of self. When one’s words lose awareness of consciousness, you have already assumed quiet death’s awful, easy posture.”

Long before he was aware of Jane Elliott’s work, John typed in a short piece called Great Teachers and Teaching. He shares the importance of a teacher’s position, and the terrible impact nonbelievers in competence have, when he writes:
“Really, what leads the student is the teacher’s belief in the student. The teacher provides the powerful listening that makes great thinking possible. Teachers who have no confidence to do this or in themselves steal the educational potential of the student, whether they are parents, educators in a school system, or seminar leaders. The majesty of greatness in a teacher is silently hidden in their awesome commitment and belief in the great potential of their students. I don’t know a lot about communicating and writing to believe in another, and there will seemingly be few who are able with confidence to ensure the sound understanding of another. I do know that my experience with knowledge acquisition is that belief in the learner always allows a massively better resilience in the learner’s relationship with the information. And when it comes to waking up great and lasting learning capacity, only the belief and confidence of the educator surpasses all.”
Great Teachers and Teaching
copyright 2012 John Smyth

John predicts the day of the nonverbal autistic is coming because they are here, they are intelligent, and as their voices grow and technology continues to improve, they will be better and better known. Ms. Brady and those who oppose the nonverbal should prepare for what John calls an epic Civil Rights battle. Review John’s links to see what is coming. The law is already on their side. And the power of experts with no clothes will diminish with the internet.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am available for comment or thoughts. Far more importantly, many nonverbal autistics in this area are anxious to add their comments. I am sending this rather late at night, and will resend the same email tomorrow in case this gets lost.

With sincere appreciation,

Jim Smyth

Program Manager, Saved by Typing


P.S. I am interested that many friends of typing are included in this email list by Ms. Brady. Yet no typers who have email addresses and are now also verbal, including Jamie Burke, Larry Bissonette, Tracy Thresher, and others are included. If I were one of them, I might feel offended. Is Ms. Brady assuming these persons remain incompetent, or that they are simply outlier exceptions and would have no thoughts on this topic? She clearly has no idea of the large and growing population of typers following the path of those now more fully independent, who were always mentally competent and yearned for the education and inclusion she denies.