We the undersigned register our dismay about Time magazine’s support of Facilitated Communication in the 10 May 2006 article entitled “‘Helping’ Autistic People to Speak” and 15 May issue entitled “Inside the Autistic Mind” by Claudia Wallis. Time might as well have endorsed cold fusion or phlogiston as give Facilitated Communication a favorable review.
Facilitated Communication has been repeatedly debunked with well-controlled experiments. In these studies individuals with autism and their non-disabled facilitators are each shown a different picture. When people with autism are asked to write the name of the pictures they see, they more frequently name the one shown to the facilitator than the one they see—that is, it is the facilitator who is communicating, not the individuals with autism. This and related studies have been repeated many times, with consistent results (see reviews listed at the end of this note).
In contrast, almost all of the studies claiming positive effects of Facilitated Communincation have relied on anecdotal evidence and have been conducted by promoters of the technique. Despite the devastating evidence against it, desperate parents and some well-intentioned professionals continue to endorse the practice. This is tragic because there are scientifically validated ways to teach individuals with autism to communicate independently. Employing unvalidated procedures in hopes of miraculous results simply delays the employment of methods that are known to produce beneficial, if not miraculous outcomes.
We are glad that Time provided coverage to the substantial problems of individuals with autism and their families. Autism is a topic worthy of greater public understanding. We believe, however, that Time did the public a disservice by giving sympathetic coverage to Facilitated Communication.
We understand the power of anecdotes and their utility in journalism, but in our view journalists have a duty to use anecdotes carefully. Ms. Wallis and Time acted irresponsibly by simply remarking that Facilitated Communication is “controversial” and disregarding the research about it. We urge Time to revisit the topic of Facilitated Communication, employing a scientifically grounded reporter who will investigate the facts thoroughly and compare Facilitated Communication to its scientifically validated alternatives. Then Time will be able to publish a report that serves the public.
Admin note: To indicate your support for this statement or to see a list of co-signers, please click comments at the top of the entry (prior registration required; once registered, click the link labeled “comment” and scroll to the bottom of the statement). In addition to your comment, please give your full name and affiliation.
|George H. S. Singer, Ph.D.
University of California,
|Lewis Polsgrove, Ph.D.
|John Wills Lloyd, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Cummins, R. A., & Prior, M. P. (1992). Autism and assisted communication: A response to Biklen. Harvard Educational Review, 62, 228-241.
Green, G. (1992, October). Facilitated communication: Scientific and ethical issues. Paper presented at the E. K. Shriver Center University affiliated Program Service-Related Research Colloquium Series, Waltham, MA.
Green, G. (1994). The quality of the evidence. In H. C. Shane, (Ed.) Facilitated communication: The clinical and social phenomenon (pp. 15-226). San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing.
Hudson, A. (1995). Disability and facilitated communication: A critique. In T. H. Ollendick & R. J. Prinz (Eds.), Advances in clinical psychology, (Vol. 17; pp. 59-83). New York: Plenum Press.
Jacobson, J. W., Mulick, J. A., & Schwartz, A. A. (1995). A history of facilitated communication: Science, pseudoscienscience, and and antiscience. American Psychologist, 50, 750-765.
Mostert, M. (2001). Faciliitated communication since 1995: A review of published studies. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 31, 287-313.
Simpson, R. L., & Myles, B. S. (1995). Facilitated communication and children with disabilities: An enigma in search of a perspectivetive. Focus on Exceptional Children, 27, 1-16.