Friday, October 22, 2010

A confrontation at Michael’s school

Michael, Tony and I were in a small conference room near the main office.  It was my first training session to help Tony understand how to give Michael the physical support he needs in order to type effectively.  After about 45 minutes, our time was almost up, and I had asked Michael if he had anything else he wanted to tell us.  I began supporting him to type, and I heard a voice from behind me.  “What is he doing?”

I looked over my shoulder and saw one of the school professionals.  I told the person that Michael’s using typing to talk.  “Michael, do you have anything you want to say?”  Michael started typing: I am very ha. Then he got stuck on the double p’s and began alternately typing the backspace and the p to correct himself. 

She said, “He has no idea what he’s doing.”

I was shocked – not necessarily that she didn’t believe he was typing his own words but that she would make such a statement and use such a derogatory tone right in front of Michael.  She’s known him for some years now.  It seems she was sure he wasn’t capable of thinking.

Stunned, I said, “You really think he doesn’t know what he’s doing?

She replied, “Yes.”

I repeated myself again.  “You really think he doesn’t know what he’s doing?

“Yes.  You’re doing Facilitated Communication aren’t you?”

“I’m supporting Michael to type his thoughts.”

She quickly came back, “Don’t you know about the research that says Facilitated Communication doesn’t work?”

“Don’t you know about the research that says it works for some people?  And I’ve met some of them.  I recently met a nonverbal 36 year old man with autism who started typing at 15 and now he travels to tell people it worked for him.  I’ve met others who’ve gone on to get their Masters Degree.” 

“Well, they had the cognitive ability for that.”

 “Michael has cognitive ability, too.”

I turned to Michael and his iPad. 

“Michael, type yes.”  He typed yes without my physical support.  “Michael type no.”  He typed no without physical support from me.  And then he typed mom and Tony without my support when I asked. 

Michael’s demonstration seemed to pique the woman’s interest. 

I continued.  “Michael learned how to type those words on his own after having 35 sessions together with me giving him physical support.  Our goal is that he will type all of his words on his own.  He needs our physical support to type now so his brain can have a chance to practice coordinating his thoughts with the movements his body needs to hit the correct keys on the keyboard.”

She sounded curious.  “Oh, he’s learning how to type.  That’s how all of us learn to type.”

“Yes.  I found out Michael had this skill when he was 8 years old, but someone from Rutgers’s University said Michael’s aides were moving his arm so the school stopped allowing Michael to practice.”

I don’t remember her exact words, but she said something like “Well that shouldn’t have happened.”

She got called away from someone in the hall.  “I gotta go.  I’ll have to check up on that latest research about Facilitated Communication.”

When she left, I asked Michael if he wanted to say anything about what just happened.

And Michael typed, “I want to say she is very wrong and I am not happy with her because she did not believe not believe that I can type she is the one who can not type.”


  1. First--this is actually Heather E. Sedlock (Jerry's wife). I'm on his computer and it won't let me change accounts to leave the comment in my own name.

    Awesome. Absolutely awesome. You go Michael! Prove 'em wrong kiddo!!

    Just using common sense would tell me that it will work for some and not for others. I can talk but much prefer typing instead. I wish I could communicate this way every day with every person I have to communicate with because it is so much easier--physically, mentally, emotionally.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. This post is from FC user Kayla Takeuchi. She asked me to post this comment for her while she creates a profile of her own.

    I want to say that Facilitated Communication transformed my life. I was silent for fifteen years until I found my voice through typing. The school professional's attitude toward Michael's cognitive ability is typical of most school districts. I want to ask all school districts to open their minds to FC and to help give silent people everywhere hope for the future. I want to ask everyone to assume competence, even when a person is silent.

  3. I recently attended the Closing the Gap conference in Minneapolis. While I got some great ideas there, the conference overall saddened me. In the vendor hall, the majority of the vendors sold symbol systems for communication. The workshops seemed to gear their content to the k-2 intellectual level, no matter the age of the students. It seemed that so many of the people who attended were in this rut of selling people short. I did not see any vendor other than Intellikeys who focused on a keyboard. The most sophisticated communication system there was Minspeak/Unity.(My daughter is using motor planning support to learn her way around that keyboard, as well as to improve her typing. The Minspeak system allows a person to say a lot of things we say in the normal course of the day without having to type them out. She really likes that feature.)
    I'm going to try the Pittsburgh Employment Conference next summer; I've heard there are a lot of adults with disabilities there, so I'm hoping for better things.