One of the main questions I had when I began considering facilitated communication for my daughter was whether it was applicable. After all she has some language, she has no problem pointing and is even able to type with her two index fingers. If given sentences to copy she can type them pretty quickly on her own without anyone physically touching her. So why would we even consider supporting her? Wouldn’t that be a step backward? These were my thoughts as I began investigating FC. *Please remember as you read this, I claim no expertise in facilitation, I am very much a beginner and am learning and questioning as I go.
Let me tackle these questions as best I can ~ Why did we consider supporting her typing when she already can type independently and has some language?
Em’s language is unreliable to us. I do not mean this as criticism, but as fact. We (and I am not only including my husband, but all non Autistics who come into contact with her) cannot know that if asked something her verbal answer is what she actually means. She relies a great deal on scripts and we do our best to interpret them, while knowing that we may be entirely wrong in our interpretation. Obviously if Em yells “No!” and then bites herself, we aren’t completely clueless. We understand that she means to say no and is unhappy with whatever it is that she is protesting. But the less obvious communications are not so clear. We do our best, but our best often falls short. I am not one who believes my neurology is superior to my daughter’s. I believe my neurology is greatly enhanced by the hundreds of accommodations I get in life and because our society is set up to help those like me operate in this world with fewer limitations than are available to my daughter. But that is probably a topic better served in a separate post.
When I went to the Autcom Conference this last fall, it was the first time I had witnessed so many of all ages communicating with a facilitator. It was a mind blowing experience. Seriously I felt as though I was on a mind altering drug for two days. Seeing so many communicate in this way was a transformative experience. It opened my eyes to what was possible. It was impossible for me to witness children, young adults, people my age with everything from severe physical challenges to few physical issues, all communicating their thoughts by typing and not ask, could this help my daughter. Some had some language, many had none, others read what they wrote, and still others did not. Some required help isolating their index finger, some had support at the wrist, many had support at their elbow, others were supported with a light touch on their shoulder and still others required no physical support at all. As I watched all these people, as I listened to their words, I kept thinking about my daughter.
Despite my daughter’s language she was not communicating at the level I was witnessing. At a certain point I had to ask myself this question ~ If we gave her the right support, would she not be able to communicate at a more complex level than she currently is? And the answer to that question was, yes. Yes because from a very young age she has demonstrated a level of thinking that is far beyond what she has ever been able to verbalize. I’m going to quickly backtrack to say, our goal for our daughter was always that she be able to express her thoughts verbally. Our thinking was, if we could just get her to speak everything else would fall into place. But I am beginning to realize this goal was limiting her and us in how we helped her. I now feel strongly and believe that speech is not the end goal, though communication is. Giving her the tools to communicate effectively in whatever form that may take has become our new goal. If that enhances her ability to speak, wonderful, it will be one more thing she can use to navigate life.
FC is all about resistance. This idea of resistance was the single biggest misconception I held about FC. I couldn’t understand why I would offer resistance when what I wanted was for her to type her thoughts. It seemed counterintuitive. But just as my daughter prefers verbal scripts, she also tries to type those same verbal scripts if given the opportunity. Resistance provides her with several things, it does not allow her to impulsively type just any key, it doesn’t allow her to type out favorite default scripts and it gives her time to think and then type the thought that is in her head. When done well she is able to communicate complex and sophisticated thoughts. I am not suggesting that she is suddenly writing sonnets or quoting Shakespeare, but she is capable of typing extremely self-reflective and introspective ideas which go way beyond anything she has ever been able to verbalize. When she is “in the zone” and by that I mean has a facilitator who knows what they’re doing and is giving her the proper amount of resistance her entire demeanor changes. She becomes intensely focused and there is a kind of calm that overtakes her. It is as though she is tuning everything else out. It is just her, the screen and the words she is typing.
I hope I’ve done her experience of this process justice, but until she decides to describe it herself, my interpretations will have to do.
*Judy Endow made a very insightful comment below and so I am amending the above sentence as it is an assumption that I cannot know to be true. That sentence should be:
I hope I’ve done her experience of this process justice, but until we are better able to facilitate our daughter so that she can describe the process in her own words, my interpretations will have to do.
For those of you who rely on FC to communicate I’d love to hear if my description of what I’m witnessing resonates and is at all accurate or reflective of your experience when typing.