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What is Facilitated Communication?

Ken Black
Ken Black

Facilitated communication is a process of alternative communication whereby a facilitator is used to support the afflicted individual's hands or arms so that they can type or point to objects to communicate messages. The process is mainly as a way to facilitate autism communication or other types of disability communication. It is generally not used as a form of deaf communication, unless there are other disabilities experienced by the individual.

The practice of facilitated communication is a special communication process that is used with nonverbal individuals. However, not being able to verbalize messages is only one qualification which may make facilitated communication appropriate. The individual with whom the technique is being used should also have some form of motor skill disability, but yet still have some ability to use at least one hand and arm. Thus, facilitated communication is actually a very specialized form of therapy communication that is only appropriate in a very select few situations.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

Benefits to facilitated communication for the disabled individual include being able to convey thoughts and ideas in an easier way, which will likely help them become less frustrated with the process. Those who are able to do this may find they can graduate to other, less-intensive forms of aided communication. Another benefit of this form of communication is the ability of anyone to easily learn the technique.

The drawbacks to facilitated communication is that any communication attempt must include direct contact with the individual. This can be impractical in some situations, awkward in others. While it can work in most cases, there may be some times when it cannot work. Of course, this is true of any form of communication, including sign language and normal auditory communication, but it may be the case more frequently with facilitated communication

The process of facilitated communication has received some criticism, especially from groups who feel the facilitator may cause a level of inappropriate influence over an individual's choices. One of those groups not recommending the use of this technique is the American Psychological Association, which in a 1994 position statement said, "controversial and unproved communicative procedure with no scientifically demonstrated support for its efficacy." Still, other groups, such as the Autism National Committee, suggest if done correctly, it can be a good tool.

Proven scientifically or not, parents or other family members who find it impossible to communicate with their children or others any other way may deem the technique worth a try. In those cases, while there is nothing inherently unethical in the technique, those attempting to use it should understand the concerns surrounding it. In some cases, it may work well, but in others it may not do much for an individual.

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