What Is Facilitated Communication, And Will It Help My Child With Autism?

Question: What is facilitated communication, and will it help my child with autism?

Answer: Facilitated communication, or FC, is one of the most controversial alternative treatments for autism. FC involves the use of a keyboard to help a non-vocal person communicate. The facilitator stands behind the person supporting their arm and hand as they communicate with the keyboard. The belief is that the person is cognitively competent, but that due to their physical limitations they're unable to speak or to type independently.

But with the use of the facilitator, many complex messages were then produced -- messages that were thought to be trapped inside this wordless person.

It's certainly understandable that FC became so popular as it raised families hopes to unlock hidden abilities in their children and to finally communicate with their non-vocal children. The problem is that when FC was looked at carefully in controlled studies, it was found that there was no evidence for its reliability or its validity. The communicators were actually the facilitators, not the children. And so it's a very sad story because FC really caused a lot of harm because families were pursuing FC interventions when they could have been pursuing effective treatment.

This is not to say that the use of keyboards could not be used to help facilitate communication with autism, provided that the support and prompting and physical help is faded over time so that the individual is actually typing independently.

At this stage, many national task forces have issued statements stating that FC is not supported as a treatment for autism, and that it's use is prohibited except in the use of research protocols.