Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Autism and The Dangers of Facilitated Communication

In Part two: Sex abuse case against Oakland couple was legal horror show Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press reports on the dropping of sex abuse charges against a Michigan couple accused of sexually abusing their teenage autistic daughter. The case was based on allegations allegedly typed by the daughter with the assistance of an aide. Ultimately professionals who became involved with the case testified that there were signs that the girl was being subtly directed or influenced by the aide in typing her allegations. Charges were dropped. Before that point arrived however the mother had been placed on an electronic tether, the father had been jailed and the girl and her brother were sent to live in foster homes for over 100 days.

During the trial the girl was unable to type responsive answers to 17 question asked of her during the trial as shown in these questions and answers:

Q: What color is your sweater?


Q: What are you holding in your hand right now?

A: I AM 14

As the Free Press article reports Facilitated Communication had been rejected by researchers and in court proceedings:

Spurred by a flurry of cases in which autistic children using FC accused seemingly trustworthy adults of sexually molesting them, researchers began conducting double-blind experiments. In trial after trial, experimenters demonstrated that typed messages were actually being directed -- albeit unconsciously -- by the facilitators themselves.

Alan Zwiebel is a New York civil rights lawyer whose legal crusade against FC culminated in a celebrated 1997 case in which a federal jury awarded $750,000 to a New York couple who'd lost custody of their retarded daughter. Jurors concluded officials knew or should have known the girl's facilitated allegations of abuse were bogus.

Zwiebel professed astonishment when I told him that Oakland County prosecutors had relied on FC evidence to bring criminal charges against the West Bloomfield girl's parents.

"Facilitated communication? My God -- I though we stuck a stake through its heart in 1997," he said.

Since his 11-year-old federal case, Zwiebel said, "there's been a bright-line rule that facilitated communication is unreliable, period."

Mr. Zweibel's assessment of Facilitated Communication was consistent with the MADSEC Autism Task Force Report 1999-2000 which concluded that:

Accumulated peer-reviewed, empirically-based research studies have not supported the
effectiveness of facilitated communication. Equally important, the research has substantiated
the potential for great harm (Foxx, 1995; Margolin, 1994, Myers, 1994). Researchers may
consider further investigation using research protocols, with particular care to protect subjects and their families against harm. It is not recommended that professionals consider the use of facilitated communication.

In Oakland County Michigan a family has suffered from the ignorance of local officials about the unreliability and dangers of facilitated communication. The Detroit Free Press, in reporting this story, is doing a service to all persons with autism, their families and carers who might be harmed by this unreliable and dangerous autism intervention.

No comments: