A few weeks ago, we first reported about the latest round of attacks on the efficacy of facilitated communication (FC) in the post “Join the Fight Against Attack on Nonverbal Autistics’ Right to Communicate.” after author David Auerbach published his controversial article “Facilitated Communication Is a Cult That Won’t Die,” on Slate.com. In our post, we pointed out that Auerbach’s arguments were riddled with inaccuracies and one-sided opinions, and that Mr. Auerbach is a software engineer with no medical or clinical background that we could find. We also mentioned the grassroots campaign that has grown in an effort to combat this fallacious so-called “news article,” the goal of which is to have Slate retract the article and promote accurate and positive examples of people who express themselves and communicate through typing.
In our next article on the subject, “Debate About FC Heats Up Following Controversial Article’s Publication,” we expanded on the point that, for the most-part, his article was based on old, outdated information and attacks without taking more current research into account, much of it based on the 1993 Frontline documentary, “Prisoners of Silence,” and the fact that when it comes to scientific research and technological breakthroughs, 20+ years is a lifetime. For example, twenty years ago, a computer with eight megabytes of memory was the standard, and that a one-two gigabyte hard drives were about the largest hard drives available to the average consumer, and could cost up to $3,000 or more. Today, 2-8 gigabytes of memory (2-4 thousand times the size of a 1996 hard drive) and multiple-terabyte (1 tb=1,000 gb) hard drives, which can be purchased for less than $150.00, are not uncommon.
Now another 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, Lisa Brady, M.Ed., distributed an email with the Subject line of “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.
In her email, Hanson starts off with headline declaring the unsubstantiated accusation “UNH Institute on Disability and Dan Habib have not held accountable for the fraud committed; falsely portraying a non-verbal autistic student in his film.” She then writes:
“Dear Friends of Autism and Media,
Under ‘touchy, feely,’ ‘holier-than-thou’ rhetoric, pathological and misguided individuals around the United States are still engaging in the long ago debunked method of communication called facilitated communication.”
She then accuses “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.” She cites Auerbach’s article as her background source.
We then get to the meat of her argument, her claim that filmmakers Dan Habib & Michael McSheehan (UNH IOD,) and Jeni Mosca & Pam MacDonald (SAU56,) fraudulently used grant funds to make a film about autistic student Axel claiming he was more advanced educationally than he really was. She accused them of not only criminal fraud, but also endangering the welfare of a child and of violating his rights to privacy. (Funny she never mentioned that she is a legal scholar as well as an autism expert.) Note that this was strictly her “expert” opinion with no actual evidence to back her up. In fact, these unsubstantiated accusations were the basis for her termination as a teacher in New Hampshire, although she claims that she “was fired for doing the right thing by advocating on Axel’s behalf.”
Brady wrote about the “2 million dollar award the Wendrow family was awarded as a result of using FC,” an extremely misleading statement. The award had nothing to do with the fact that they were using FC, it was about an individual who claimed to be a qualified FC trainer and, for whatever unknown reasons, used her client typer to accuse the parents of sexual abuse. As with many other things in life, there will always be bad people ready to take advantage of those unable to protect themselves. Nowhere in any of the case’s testimony and evidence was the efficacy of FC either proven or disproved.
But the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for SBT’s Program Manager Jim Smyth was when Brady tried to use our own material against us. She writes: “An example of the current trend in FC can be viewed at the following link (they call it supported typing). Please remember, it is never OK to hijack the life of a non-verbal cognitively impaired individual.” She links to a short video we posted on Youtube showing a group of our typers getting together for one of our first Celebrations of Communication, that while perhaps short on form, clearly shows the typers connecting with each other and having a good time. We’re not sure what nefarious subplots she sees in this video, but we need to reply to her statement by saying it is never OK to hijack the life of a non-verbal individual by denying their right to be considered competent without evidence to the contrary.
In a response to her unprovoked attack, Jim wrote a heartfelt email which he sent to Brady and everyone who originally received her email. He starts off by writing:
“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.” He goes on to dispute her claims point by point, providing numerous examples to support his position.
Since Jim’s response is a long message, we have posted it in its entirety here: “One Parent’s Response to Lisa Brady’s Attack on Facilitated Communication”
In conclusion, we just want to point out that while Brady posted our Youtube video as evidence to support her position (no matter how misleading and misinformed it may be,) she totally ignore a number of other videos that clearly demonstrate (in our opinion) the efficacy and validity of facilitated communication for some nonverbal autistics, including:
- “Facilitated Communication – ‘I would not get to this stage if I did not get full support initially’” and “Facilitated Communication – Update on progress – ‘I am no way being cued’,” two videos about Tim Chan, a young man from Melbourne, Australia who has autism and very little speech. Over the last ten years or so, Tim has successfully used facilitated communication training as a strategy to achieve virtual independence of communication. Tim stated that if this communication method had not been given to him he would not be typing independently now: “I would not get to this stage if I did not get full support initially.”
- “David’s Facilitated Communication Eval,” about which David’s mom had this to say:
“An amazing day! Our son David was evaluated for FC and chose to type his first message ever to mom!
To the untrained eye it appears the facilitator is guiding David’s arm, but I was sitting on David’s left side and can assure anyone, this was all David’s doing.”
- “Kayla’s Voice…empowering people with autism.” In this video you will watch as Kayla Takeuchi, a non-speaking adolescent with autism, presents her keynote address at Syracuse University’s Facilitated Communication Institute in July 2009. You will also learn about other non-speaking individuals who type to talk and their challenges along the way in finding their voices and hear from professionals in the field.
- “Autistic Girl Expresses Unimaginable Intelligence,” the amazing story of Carly Fleischmann, author of “Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism,” one of the first books to explore firsthand the challenges of living with autism. Carly learned how to use a keyboard to communicate all on her own, she never had any FC training. But her story clearly demonstrates the innate intelligence that can be hidden within nonverbal children with autism, many of whom are often considered mentally deficient by their parents, doctors, trainers and educators. Her story is an inspiration to many in the ASD community.
While we agree that all of these videos only provide anecdotal evidence, we have to ask: Just how much evidence do people like Brady and Auerbach need before they can at least admit that for some people, FC works?