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.”