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Facilitated or assisted communication is acontroversial non-speech method of communicating usedwith severely impaired individuals. It relies on physical contact between thefacilitator andcommunicator and is augmented by some device such asa keyboard. The facilitator provides support that may range from merely restinga finger on the shoulder of the communicator to holding his or her hand, withindex finger extended over the keys of the device. Although it is intended thatthe facilitator only provide emotional support during the process, often yearspass and the communicator never becomes independent in communication.
Facilitated communication in the United States is centered at SyracuseUniversity in the FacilitatedCommunication Institute under the direction of Professor Douglas Biklen. His initial experience with the technique was at the Dignity through Educationand Language (DEAL)Communication Centre in Melbourne, Australia, in 1988. It was at this thengovernment-supported institution that he watched Rosemary Crossley work withnon-verbal autistic young people and a CanonCommunicator. His experiences with the system and with the young people andtheir families has led him to a different outlook on severe disabilities and thecapabilities of those who manifest them. In his book, CommunicationUnbound, he describes his early scepticism and his change of perspectiveas he worked withautistic students using the technique. In addition,in his book, thebasic elements of the system are outlined for parentsand other educators to pursue the technique on their own.
Research into facilitated communication by institutes that are proponents,for the most part, is qualitative, anecdotal, and subjective.Transcriptions andvideo tapes are available. But, among other factors, there is no proof thatthe students tested are truly autistic. Further, attempts to prove or disprovethe validity of facilitated communication for people with autism have centeredon ways to prove whether the facilitator influencesthe communication or not.
The future of facilitated communication is still in question. Although itsuse with autistic children has spread across the country like wildfire, it isunder constant scrutiny. Its efficacy in someinstances is not challenged, but in cases of autism, only time will tell if itis valid.