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Thoughts on Facilitated Communication Training (FCT)
What If...?

Since I first learned about facilitated communication and started using it in 1991, I have spent more time thinking about this method and about communication in general than about any other topic. I have come to realize that service providers — including myself — have previously paid too little attention to enabling people with severe disabilities to communicate in more and more complex ways in order not only to express themselves but also to control their own lives to a greater degree. Granted, we did not have the understanding and tools which we needed, but even so, we did not continue to try to develop new techniques because we had mistakenly thought that gains in communication were not likely for many people with significant disabilities who did not point effectively. We believed that people lacked understanding, and we did not realize that problems with finely coordinated movement control could prevent some people from demonstrating their intelligence and understanding. We have had to rethink our previous conclusions and to retrace our footsteps and to renew our efforts since learning about facilitated communication and movement differences and new ways to understand disabilities which affect speech and movement. People who have learned to communicate via FCT have been teaching us about their disabilities and letting us know that we have much to learn.

Strategies for empowerment and self determination fall sadly short when families and service providers must do much of the guesswork concerning what an individual really wants to do or learn. Granted, when a person does not point consistently, it is extremely difficult for him or her to use augmentative communication methods, but it is also vitally important to keep trying. With facilitated communication training, many of the individuals whom I previously knew as "nonverbal", or as having very limited speech, are now able to communicate in much more complex ways. This has been an extreme surprise in many cases, but a very welcome one indeed.

Since facilitated communication depends on another person providing specific individualized support and movement accommodations to help the individual with a communication impairment to overcome hand function problems, that individual's basic right to free speech literally depends on others making access to free speech possible. This reminds me that none of us can be truly free unless all of us are free. Therefore, our freedom rests on our assuring that others have it, too.

With that in mind, I have tried to imagine what it might be like to be a person with a severe communication impairment and motor disturbance who is presented with the method of facilitated communication training. I have tried to be a good listener and to take to heart the statements that some of these individuals have made regarding their situations and their concerns, adding to my growing list of insights and questions. The following is a compilation of some of the thoughts, insights, and questions that have been my frequent companions since my first experiences with people using facilitated communication.

WHAT IF ...?

WHAT IF you were born with the mind you were born with, understanding what goes on around you, but unable to let others know that you understand?

And then someone tries facilitated communication training with you to give you access to letters, words, phrases, sentences, pictures, symbols-a chance to develop effective communication.

What if you have very little opportunity to talk by typing and you have something important to say and someone asks you a silly question like "Who is the President?" Do you answer them, or do you struggle to say what you really want to say ("I NEED TO CONTEST THE READING OF MY MOTHER'S WILL," for instance), and hope that they pay attention rather than saying "George Bush is the President. Now, what state do you live in?"

What if people continue to pay attention to your body which is not under control instead of checking to see if you want them to pay attention to your typing instead?

What if you continue to do silly, embarrassing, childish things even after you learn how to type what you mean? Will people think that you are not really smart, or will they realize that it takes time to change habits — especially old habits – especially old habits that are hard to control – especially habits that have served a purpose for a long time, if only to let people know that you are unhappy with something.

What if you struggle to feel and act normal, but people tell you that if you want to be treated as intelligent, then you must act intelligent first, and you try to make them understand that in order to act intelligent, you must first be treated as intelligent?

What if you can spell in your mind but not with your hand? Will people still think that you don't understand or will they realize that maybe they haven't provided the supports right to enable you to communicate? — and will they keep on trying? ... and trying? ... and trying?

What if you get frustrated and give up on yourself? Will they keep encouraging you and helping you to feel confident and successful and worth the effort?

What if you go through the extremely hard effort of concentrating, controlling your hand, planning what to say, answering questions, waiting for the next time a facilitator's support is available and then no one acts on what you type, no changes happen in your life, no one helps you really to change yourself? Will anyone understand when you become more easily frustrated and upset than before you tried facilitated communication?

Will they understand that being nervous and frustrated makes it even harder to talk by typing and that you really need them to hang in there with you? Or will they mistakenly decide (without asking you) that you don't really want to communicate?

Will they understand that


Will they try as hard to reach out to you as they ask you to try to reach out to them?

Only time and trying will tell.
Nothing is certain.
The only real failure is not to try.

Communication enables us to direct our lives and to share our needs, our thoughts, our questions, our fears, our hopes, and our dreams. In fact, in many ways communication is the very essence of life. It is clear, then, that trying is imperative.

Learning together will happen — Whether with facilitated communication training or not — As long as we meet each other on common ground as equals, All of us open to changing and growing and learning from each other.