I’m not through talking about facilitated communication (FC) yet. I need to address parents of other autists who are without speech and who are accused of mental or cognitive impairment. You have no idea that your children are inside themselves listening to you and thinking. They need you to learn to use letter boards and to type with them.
When I was four years old, Dr. Douglas Biklen taught my mom how to use FC at a workshop. I use FC with my mom and dad. Next, we will teach my big brother, but since I’m blogging now, I want to teach you.
I have been typing like this for over a quarter of a century. I’m now happily blogging away here, so without delay here is how you need to do this, pure and simple. First, suspend your disbelief. Then hold lightly the typer’s hand and if the typer won’t point, isolate the index finger into a point and tell the typer you believe that they can type and spell but you want to practice with them to help.
It was easier for my mom because she could sort of wrap herself around me from behind and in front of the computer. I was a squirmy four-year-old and didn’t sit for long so at first, she had to keep me there. Anyway, the first thing is to hold the person’s pointed finger over the keyboard and ask them a simple question you both know the answer to, like, "Can you spell out your name for me, just so I can see?"
Then, your helping hand becomes a weightless platform for theirs. As they start to choose a letter, let your supporting hand go in the direction the typer goes. When the letter is typed, tell them, “Good!” Repeat the letter and ask what’s next. But after each letter is chosen, the facilitator pulls the typer’s hand back a few inches between letter selections, and the next letter is selected, and so on.
Praise the typer and express faith in their abilities to do this. You have no idea how important this is. I was so hyper, my mom had to let me run around between letters, but I spelled my name for her, then she asked me how I learned to read and I typed my first sentence. I typed, "I watch TV."
Her second question was, why do you scratch me? Because I used to do that. I responded in a typically weird way and said "IscratchbecauseImkillingyou." So, my mom knew right away she wasn’t typing that to herself. I got instant credibility and kept on typing. I’m so happy I can do this. I suppose that someday I’ll need to get this down independently, but for now I can type really fast with one finger. It’s great – almost as fast as NT’s talk.
I want to urge others who haven’t tried this to give it a serious try. It won’t prevent speech if that’s your fear; it will only help to clarify, and if you have no speech, how tragic if your parents knew about this and didn’t even try. My dad says that there are no small liberations. Any attempt toward self-expression is the answer for the silent ones. In the vast silence of the dark universe, you will hear the music of your child’s words. Go for it!
Illustration by Genevieve Freeman