Both facilitated communication (FC) and Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) while different in practice, are based in a presumption of competence and both are often a bridge to the ideal goal of independent communication. There are those who may not be able to achieve full independence because of physical challenges. It bears repeating, however that the eventual goal for all who are physically able to, is independence. And yet both methods are criticized. In fact, no matter what the initial method used to learn to type by non-speaking, Autistic people who have gone on to type independently, people like Carly Fleischmann, Tito Mukhopadhyay, Sue Rubin, Jamie Burke, Ido Kedar and so many others, there are those who continue to question the authorship of their words. Even though no one touches them as they type. Even though there is no physical contact of any kind as they write. Even though they all talk about the issues they must contend with on a daily basis, things that are specific to them and the challenges they face with a mind and body that are often not in sync.
In the case of FC there are a number of people, now independent, who began typing to communicate, but for physical reasons need the help of another person to provide resistance or to help with physical challenges. As with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) where a child is given hand over hand prompts that are hoped to be eventually faded, so it is with FC. However FC is continually attacked for using, often less, physical prompts than ABA practitioners use. Some people like Barb Rentenbach, Peyton Goddard, Jennifer Seybert and Tracy Thresher are now typing with a finger placed on their shoulder or the middle of their back. If one goes back to how they began to type, this shows enormous progress. All of them are intent on becoming fully independent and work extremely hard in trying to reach this goal. Yet, it is interesting to note that few people object or question ABA’s use of hand over hand prompts. What is good for one, seems to not be good for all. Why is that?
Carly Fleischmann who types independently wrote, “I don’t have a hand up my butt like a puppet…” Despite her words, if you google “Carly Fleischmann” the second search term that comes up after “Carly Fleischmann blog” is “Carly Fleischmann fake”. Oddly, when entering “Stephen Hawking” into google, the search terms are “Stephen Hawking quotes” and “Stephen Hawking black holes”. Why is it that Carly Fleischmann, who types independently, is viewed with suspicion, while Stephen Hawking is not?
RPM, the method created by Soma Mukhopadhyay, does not use physical prompts at all. No one touches the person writing, but instead a stencil board is held in front of the person writing. The stencil letter board, it is hoped, will be eventually faded and replaced with a laminated letter board with the goal, in my daughter’s case, being able to move to a qwerty keyboard, which is how Emma now communicates with me as well as with the person she has weekly RPM sessions with. Still, there are those who insist that no matter how steady the letter board is held, the person holding it is manipulating it ever so slightly and enough to influence the person writing. Or, as is the case with Carly and others who type independently, it doesn’t matter, the fact that they are not able to speak seems to be all people need to discount their words, no matter how they communicate. All of this would be laughable if it were not for the tragic fact that people’s voices are being discredited and silenced.
My friend Kerima Cevik, of the blog The Autism Wars, recently wrote “My Standing Position of Facilitated Communication” and posted it on Facebook. It immediately went viral and brings up a number of excellent points consistently ignored by those who seek to discredit FC. Please read it. I find it incredible that people, almost all of them psychologists, just as Bruno Bettelheim claimed to be (and not neuroscientists) continue to come up with all kinds of theories regarding any number of things involving autism and Autistic people, things like Theory of Mind and Cognitive Empathy. All of these are “theories” and not scientifically proven as fact, yet they are treated as fact, while things like RPM and FC are ridiculed for not being scientifically proven and dismissed, while other methods like ABA are applauded, funded and given a golden seal of approval. One more question to consider, why is it that people who are aphasic are not immediately given ABA? No one recommends ABA as a therapy for someone who has had a stroke and as a result cannot speak.
I urge all of you to consider, regardless of what other people decide they believe, if a child cannot communicate through spoken language what are their options? Whatever the approach is, whether it uses pictures, hand gestures, eye movement, pointing, or some other form of communication I have a series of questions I ask.
Does this approach presume competence?
Would I use this system for a non-autistic person who cannot speak?
Does it infantilize?
Is this way of communicating limiting or is it a bridge to more complex communication?
Emma types on a qwerty keyboard