Facilitated Communication Study Observations
1. The purpose of the study was to validate the facilitated communications. The study started out with every expectation that it would find evidence that the communications were in fact valid. FC was defined as the provision of physical assistance to individuals to allow them to more readily spell out words on a keyboard template, a keyboard device, a computer, typewriter, or specially designed spelling device; the intent of assistance is to help them more effectively control or initiate movements of their hands to type out a message and was proposed for use primarily with people with autism.
2. Describe the methods used in this study :
A. Describe the participants: The participants were chosen from a group of 48 people in the Autism Program (a 24/7 self-contained residential and day service program for adolescents and adults with autism). The 12 participants were chosen on the basis of individual achievement with FC. Nine of the twelve were reported to regularly type out full sentences and have entire conversations using FC. They ranged in age from 16-30 and 9 were males. Their ABC or Autism Behavior Checklist scores ranged from 43 to 93, and a score of 67 or above is considered to indicate a high probability of an autism diagnosis. This means the level of retardation was both profound and severe; this study included only 4 with a severe level of retardation.
B. Describe the pictorial material and the T device. The pictorial stimuli were color photographs of common objects in the participants’ day-to-day experience. It is important to note that the participants had frequently been exposed to these same stimuli. The selection of the stimuli was based on unambiguous content and familiarity to the participants. Two identical sets of 30 stimuli were used. Some of the stimuli were as follows: broom, bowling, shoes, keys, socks, pan, brush, pencil, car, bread, coat, toothbrush, van, comb and pants. The T device was placed at the far end of the table and served as a divider. The T device ensured that the participant cold not see any stimulus card at position B and the facilitator could not see any card at position A. The T device is one of the most important aspects of this study, ensuring that the participant and the facilitator could not see the same card position.
C. Describe the 3 conditions.
1- In the facilitated condition, the participant was presented with a stimulus card at position A, and the facilitator was not presented with a stimulus card. The participant was asked to identify the picture through facilitated communication in the manner that he or she normally used.
2- In the not facilitated condition the participant was presented with a stimulus and the facilitator was not. However, in this condition the facilitator and participant were not permitted to engage in physical contact. The facilitator could use verbal prompts.
3- In the distractor condition the participant and the facilitator were shown stimulus cards on each trial but fifty percent of the time the cards were the same and fifty percent of the time the cards were different. The communication was then used in the normal manner for that pair of facilitator and participant.
D. What made this experiment a good controlled test of FC? The facilitator and participant were familiar with FC and had worked together. They had also shown positive results with FC. This was a good controlled test because the cards were also familiar to both the facilitator and the participant. Also the facilitator did not know that they were being shown any card different than the card being shown to the participant. Making the results hard to deny.
3. Describe the results of the study. The study proved that the participants failed to identify objects. There were NO clear correct responses to the stimulus card when they were not given the same card as their facilitator. The participants confirmed incorrect responses. The facilitators INFLUENCED the participants’ responses. These findings were unanticipated and very clear. Proof of absolute facilitator control. Support for the hypotheses – all three of them proved facilitator influence. These were absolutely not the results they were looking for.
4. What were the authors’ conclusions? They propose that even though confidence and skepticism factors may have accounted for the poor performance of participants in the facilitated condition that it is highly improbable because their facilitators were systematically and unknowingly influencing all of these 12 people. They were not actually communicating in most cases and were therefore being controlled by their facilitator. The facilitators were not aware that they were influencing the participants. The authors stress that their findings must be addressed even though there were only 12 included in the study the results , they say, can be generalized . The authors state that it is vital to inform other facilitators of their study immediately. I find it interesting that the authors recommend that sensitive communications produced through facilitation not be accepted as valid unless they can be independently confirmed. They also stress that each instance will require independent verification and external corroboration.
5. Were you convinced? I was certainly convinced by this study. Since it includes such a broad range of participants and specific parameters in the facilitated condition I would find it hard deny this study my full attention and belief. I have worked with children with autism and reading this and watching the film in class makes it hard to believe that this is still happening. Reading this also makes me question the people who work with those with autism and other mental handicaps. Who can be trusted? Extensive testing must be done before procedures like FC are used and innocent families are subjected to them. I admire those who support studies such as this one.
Wheeler, D. L., Jacobson, J.W., Paglieri,R.A., & Schwartz, A. A. (1993). An
experimental assessment of facilitated communication. Mental Retardation,51(1), 49-50.