There is a new dangerous, propaganda movie about a cousin to the debunked and dangerous Facilitated Communication method going around. It’s called “Spellers” and is based on Spelling2Communicate which is essentially the same thing as Rapid Prompting Method.
Facilitated Communication is holding the hand, arm or another part of the body of a non-speaking person and “helping” them communicate by pointing to letters. In Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) and Spelling2Communicate (S2C) a helper holds the letter board instead of the body of the non-speaking person. Evidence shows, overwhelmingly, that neither of these methods is safe because inevitably the person doing the holding, accidentally or on purpose, becomes the communicator. This has been proven in study after study since the 1980s. It is set, peer reviewed and accepted science.
Knowing this, plus our knowledge about interrupting bodily and communication autonomy and it’s impact on increasing vulnerability to abuse means we should never, ever touch a non-speaking person or their communication system while they are communicating. Ever. (There are very rare exceptions for Deafblind people.) Repeat NEVER TOUCH AN AAC USER OR THEIR AAC SYSTEM WHILE THEY ARE COMMUNICATING. There is even a study showing passive observation leads to better results than physical prompts! So hands off!
These methods are associated with horrific stories of false abuse allegations ripping apart families and actual abuse when non-speaking people are believed to be consenting to sexual activity using these methods, such as published in a story in Slate Magazine. (To be clear non-speaking people can and do consent to and have fulfilling sexual lives. However, if consent is given using these methods it must be questioned, for safety sake.)
All of these methods have been condemned by major groups like ASHA, ISSAC and others.
The only “study” Spelling2Communicate proponents offer is an incredibly flawed study that used head mounted eye gaze tracking to supposedly prove spellers look at what they touch before touching it. This study had no control group. We do not know what someone typing without someone holding up their spelling board and moving it (be it by accident or on purpose) looks like on eye tracking. If we don’t know what confirmed literate individuals in a control group look at the study has no basis. How can we possibly tell if someone is looking first before touching without a control? Beyond that flaw, the study ignores the evolutionary imperative for the human eye to look at movement and relative movement. Such flaws make the study useless.
Let me be very clear. Non-speaking people have an absolute human right to communication. All non-speaking people should be assumed to be capable learning to understand and communicate AND given the interventions and tools they need. The presumption of potential to read, write and communicate is essential. As a field we must start there. But we cannot end there. We cannot assume that without instruction in reading, writing and spelling students will magically communicate through hands on assistance or manipulation of their communication board. These debunked programs and methods stem directly from our failure to properly understand and intervene with children and adults whom are non-speaking. Our mistakes and utter failures caused this mess. If we eliminated educational neglect of non-speaking students and insisted every single child who needs AAC gets AAC, along with intensive and consistent, science based interventions to learn to read, write and communicate we wouldn’t be here.
But here we are. I grieve for the people being subjected to these methods which are unlikely to work though proponents use the rare success story to convince desperate parents and caregivers to commit to bogus methodologies. I also grieve for all the kids who aren’t being given communication and literacy intervention and instruction because they are trapped in the tyranny of low expectations that create the educational neglect that is rampant.
I wish someone would make a movie about some of the many, many AAC users who became AAC users through scientific based interventions. The power of communication is undeniable. But, we have better ways than these questionable at best methods. We need to spread the word and the science to all so that every voice is a heard voice.
Stop FC and RPM
Facilitated Communication. Org
ASHA Statement on RPM and S2C
ISAAC Statement on FC, RPM, S2C