Facilitated Communication: a regrettable
This technique claimed to discover hidden potential in the most
mentally handicapped of children. Naturally it was supported by
many parents, as usual looking for the magic cure, or in this case
a magic key to 'unlock the real and intelligent child within'. Less
creditably it was, for a time also supported by staff in various
departments, including speech therapy, in various
institutions, at two of which the author worked for a time. They did
not possess a sensible and coherent view of the world and were willing
to countenance this silly idea.
A couple of cases involving the use of this bogus
technique made me determined to do all I could to remove
such nonsense from the groups of schools in which I was
working at the time
In the first, a girl of m.l.d. capacity at worst, but
probably closer to dull normal ability had been
admitted to a school catering for s.l.d., ('autistic'),
children, against my recommendations and advice.
She had been placed in a class which included a girl of
truly s.l.d. level, IQ about 40 (Julia K.)
On a visit to this class I was horrified to be told that
the teachers and speech therapists in the class were using
FC and had 'determined' that Julia actually had a higher
RA than the girl with dull normal IQ!!!
In the second case, on a visit to a different class, I
was told by the teacher that a genuinely s.l.d. boy was
being taught French, I think by a speech therapist, again
with the aid of FC.
(Perhaps they were aiming too low, and could have been
teaching him Quantum Theory, Nuclear Physics, and the
General and Special Theory of Relativity.)
After this I decided to test the idea, with staff as
witnesses, in an effort to get this stupid idea and
silly practice outlawed in the schools
On 27.7.1993 I made a simple test of the idea in
another school in the same group, which also catered
for s.l.d. children and which was also practicing 'f.c.'.
One teacher claimed to be able to produce levels of performance well
beyond those predicted on the basis of my testing of the child's
intellectual level and mental age.
In the first part of the test she and the child were presented with
various tasks, in which the pair were asked a question, which required
a point by the child to the correct pictured alternative. e.g. "Show
me the courgette". The technique involves the 'facilitator', here the
teacher, physically supporting the child's hand, (formed into a
pointing shape) but claiming not to guide the movements of the child's
In these circumstances all the questions were answered correctly.
In the second part the verbally posed questions could only be heard by
the child, as the facilitator was got to wear headphones through which
white noise was played continuously. (It is significant that initially
the teacher raised strong objections to the noise).
set of questions used in the first part were used in the second, but
the order of these was altered. In addition, in both halves of the
experiment, the asker of the questions stood behind teacher and child
in order to obviate any possibility that the teacher might lip read the
In these circumstances the success rate dropped to about two in ten.
After recording this experiment and its result I am pleased to note
that the then director of the schools banned the use of F.C. in all the
schools of the group.
Rather disappointingly, for the state of psychological science, a few
years after this I saw a TV programme on persistent vegetative state,
in which something remarkably like F.C. was being used on these brain
damaged patients by a psychologist. In a similar way abilities beyond
those thought possible were being 'demonstrated', to a audience similarly
highly predisposed to uncritically accept the results on face value,
i.e. friends or relatives of the patients. I did write to the person
concerned pointing out the fatal flaws in her procedure, and although
she was good enough to reply, she did not seem to grasp the seriousness
of the error, and besides, claimed to be already looking for more
objective communication methods. No doubt she failed to find them, or
if she did find any I have no doubt that the supposed abilities claimed
for the patients turned out to be non-existent. Even
worse this occurred in what would seem to be a fairly prestigous
Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it; similar
episodes to these occured about a hundred years ago, and if pychology
is primitive and infantile now what was it then?
If anyone is interested he should go back and study the case of one of the
'Elberfeld Horses', one known as "Clever Hans". This animal was claimed to
be able to do simple maths, and apparently gave the answers by tapping his
hoof on the ground. A psychologist was able to show that the horse was not
in fact an equine mathematician but was simply responding to tiny movement
cues from his trainer which told him when to stop tapping. At least in this
case the trainer was not in physical contact with the horse as is the case
with the two human cases above!
Another comparison is with the sort of evidence which
convinced no less a person than Arthur Conan Doyle
of the reality of Spiritualism, and of fairies, unlike
the sceptic and stage magician Ehrich Weiss, (Houdini). As in our FC
cases, the parents are made gullible by their emotional state,
of actual loss of the physical child in the case of
Doyle, (who lost a son to World War 1), of loss of the child's normality in the case of
the parents of the handicapped child.
© 2000 John and Ian locking
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