I wrote the following statement as a fill-in-the-blank question in order to guide Michael to think of his answer. “The word that comes to my mind when I think of Facilitated Communication is _____.” And Michael typed: “freedom”. I’ve met other Facilitated Communication (FC) users who learned FC as adolescents or adults, and they told me that before FC, they felt they were in a prison – a prison of silence.
Michael wants to take his iPad to school and have his teacher’s assistant facilitate for him while he types to talk. Michael has typed that he wants to be treated like he’s smart… not like he’s useless. Unfortunately, the school system does not support FC as a resource to help a non-speaking individual communicate even if there’s evidence that it’s working for a particular student.
I’ll admit, before Michael was given the opportunity to type using FC, I assumed Michael had minimal intellect. He was in his late teens, and like all people with autism, surely he had to be trained to accomplish things his brain couldn’t comprehend on its own. Obviously, he would forever need people around him to perform behavioral strategies to make him act “more appropriately.” After all, he could become extremely aggressive and destroyed property in his home and at school. I have been educated and trained in the same behavioral theories as school personnel have been taught across the country. Michael looked like what I was trained to see.
Now Michael behaves differently than I would have ever expected. When Michael is ready to type to talk, he sits at his iPad and puts out his arm to indicate he’d like a facilitator to support him. The facilitator holds up Michael’s elbow and forearm and “moves with” Michael towards the letters Michael has chosen to type with his index finger.
I explained to Michael that he and I would need to practice together more, and that he would also need to continue to let his Grandmother, mother, and our home care staff support him to type. Michael will have to go to his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting and show the people in charge of how his day is spent at school, that he can communicate his own thoughts and needs by typing.
We haven’t gone to his school meeting yet, but I told him there was a chance the staff wouldn’t believe he was typing his own words. That day, he was quick to respond. He typed, “Of course they will believe me.”
I hope so. Michael has been silent for 20 years. He wants his freedom.