Last week, the IEP team agreed that Michael could try using his iPad or Neo (keyboard) at school to communicate. Yesterday, because Michael mom requested that his teacher allow me to visit Michael’s classroom, I helped Michael type on his iPad to communicate.
His teacher was apparently aware that my purpose for being there was to teach Tony how to use less pressure when he supports Michael’s wrist as Michael types one letter at a time. I never used the term Facilitated Communication during the IEP meeting, but everyone including his teacher witnessed Tony hold Michael’s wrist as Michael typed. My conversation with the IEP team was all about how we can fade the amount of support we give him depending on what he can do on his own. For example, when he copy types, he only needs someone to lightly touch his elbow, but he needs someone to hold his wrist when he’s typing his original thoughts. The goal is always that he will type on his own, independent of physical support from others.
When I reached Michael’s classroom, his teacher continued to be supportive of my helping Michael to communicate. She suggested that Tony, Michael, and I find one of the available empty rooms in the school so we could concentrate. Plus, Michael’s classmates needed the classroom for other activities.
As I walked though the school halls, I remembered how much I admire educators and paraprofessionals who work with special needs students. Michael’s school provides educational services to students in need of all sorts of supportive accommodations – from those stemming from orthopedic to neurological to genetic conditions – that affect mental, emotional, and physical ability. The first time I visited this kind of school, I thought the people must be angels. Their job is an incredible responsibility and it requires endless patience. It also requires open-mindedness because you have to be creative in finding ways to teach someone who can’t easily understand you.
Truthfully, some of these students may never understand or perform past the level of what’s called “lower functioning”. But how can we be certain which students have the capacity to perform to a higher functioning level and greater? Sue Rubin (http://www.sue-rubin.org/) was thought to have an IQ of 24 before she was introduced to Facilitated Communication. She is currently a senior in college.
We often judge students by the way they appear… as they drool and or hobble down the hall. I wondered how many other students there might be as aware and capable as Michael and yet have never been given the chance to reveal their intellect. Out of a school of let’s say 300 students, maybe none, but maybe one or five or fifteen or fifty. Of course, that’s the reason we rely on research-based evidence that substantiates the statistical validity of educational and behavioral interventions. If the research says the intervention “works”, than it’s ok to use it to teach students. Some professionals stand by the following reasoning: If the student doesn’t learn, it must be the student’s lack of ability. I’ve come to wonder if we haven’t done enough to question the validity of research.
So Tony found us a small conference room in the main office. After typing a few sentences with me, Michael typed, “I want to type with Tony now.” Tony hit the ground running. He had already attended a few trainings with Marilyn Chadwick from Syracuse, New York, and he knew the principles of FC. He already understood that he needed to pull Michael’s wrist away from the keyboard between each letter. Now Tony needed to understand how to ease up on the pressure so that Michael could initiate the movement to the next letter. All Tony had to do is to feel Michael taking the lead.
I saw an aha moment in Tony when Michael’s work sheet said “3 types of colors are _______” and Michael typed the letters y and then e, which are on the left side of the keyboard. Because Tony had less pressure on his wrist, Michael was able to direct his own arm – with tony supporting it – to the right side of the keyboard to type the letter l.