Tuesday, March 23, 2010

facilitated communication, good intentions, and alternative realities

A month or so ago I heard a few stories on facilitated communication-
"a technique by which intermediaries aid weak or injured people by moving their hands on keyboards or screens" (Scott Hensley, NPR)

One of the stories discussed a man in a coma writing a book through facilitated communication. Another story dealt with children with autism who accused their parents of sexual abuse through facilitated communication. The family was torn apart and the autistic children were taken away from their parents until the case when to court. (I can't imagine anything more detrimental to children with autism)

In court, both incidents were ruled to be false by a simple test. The person was asked a simple question with their facilitator out of the room. The facilitator then came back into the room to help the patient answer. Although they had previously answered similar questions correctly (when the facilitator was allowed to remain in the room for the question), their responses when the facilitator did not hear the question were only gibberish.

What upsets me the most about these stories (beyond the autistic children being torn unnecessarily from their families) is that I am sure their facilitators were horrified to realize it had been them, not their patients, providing the answers. I am sure they meant well, and may not have even believed the outcome of the court tests. I am sure they did not intentionally move their patients hand to write answers. Most likely they had no idea they were doing it.

Which means it was all subconscious, and any of us could do it.

Well-meaning assistants, wanting to help who they were working with as much as possible, ended up creating their own reality.

When do we do that ourselves as teachers? When do we perceive a situation in a way that makes us only see what we want to see? Even when we are trying our hardest to be open and un-biased?

Part of my job is helping teachers bring up children to Child Study, where we look at the child's academic process, behavior, and response to intervention in order to determine whether or not we should proceed with special education testing (if the parent consents, of course). But how much of the time do we come with an objective in mind, that might not fit the reality of the child? Do we, subconsciously, place that child inside a label because we've only seen characteristics our subconsciousness is focusing on more than others?

What facilitated communication shows us, I think, is that human nature leads us to make assumptions subconsciously that prevent us from fully seeing reality. Knowing this, how do we make sure we're not falling into the trap of the well-meaning facilitator, subconsciously leading children to respond only how we think they should?

1 comment:

The Science Goddess said...

Kinda like a Ouija board, eh?

As you mention, projecting these sorts of things is part of being human. I think this is especially true for those of us who work with little humans---we have such hopes and dreams for them. We want them to grow and be happy.

I have a friend with a young son who has some interesting tendencies. She tends to think of them as slightly OCD...I think of it as very mild autism. She has never had him tested because she said "What would we do differently if he had a label?" They know how to work with him and as he is growing up, he is learning his own coping strategies and how to advocate for himself. He's quirky, but functional.

As adults, I don't think we can help but filter what we see in others through our own experiences. It's how we make sense of the world...and it is our responsibility to make the best choices we can on behalf of little ones. I think your Child Study groups are important because they represent multiple perspectives and voices. It is a "checks and balances" sort of system and likely the best that we humans can do.

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree