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Authorship and Controversy

Challenging Validity

Virtually from the beginning, facilitated communication has been controversial, for it was shown that a facilitator’s physical touch or support of the typist’s hand or arm could negatively influence the person’s pointing, even to the point of controlling the output (see for example: Bebko, Perry, and Bryson 1996; Bomba et al. 1996, Cabay 1994; Crews et al. 1995; Eberlin et al. 1993; Klewe 1993; Montee, Miltenberger, and Wittrock 1995; Moore et al. 1993; Regal, Rooney, and Wandas 1994; Shane and Kearnes 1994; Smith and Belcher 1993; Szempruch and Jacobson 1993; and Wheeler et al. 1993). All of these studies used a method that might be termed “message passing,” asking the facilitated communication user to convey information through typing that the facilitator had not seen; in some instances the facilitator was shown different information and the person typed what the facilitator was shown.

Supporting Authorship

But the story of facilitation and research on facilitation was just beginning. A number of studies, using multiple methodologies, have now successfully demonstrated authorship; these studies have demonstrated that is the communication aid user who is conveying the message, not the person providing the support.

The methods include:  

  • Video eye-tracking of the facilitated communication users’ eye gaze to verify that individual letters, or series’ of letters, were targeted by the individual before ever making the first move of the hand toward a target (Grayson, Emerson, Howard-Jones & O'Neil 2011)
  • Linguistic analysis of individuals’ typing, demonstrating that the individuals with disabilities employ significantly different patterns of word use and sentence construction than their facilitators, and that they were different from each other even when they shared the same facilitator (Zanobini and Scopese 2001; Niemi & Karna-Lin 2002; Tuzzi 2009)
  • Evidence of speech before and during typing (Broderick & Kasa-Hendrickson, 2001;  Kasa-Hendrickson & Broderick, 2009)
  • Message passing (Cardinal, Hanson, & Wakeham 1996; Sheehan & Matuozzi 1996; Weiss, Wagner & Bauman 1996). Each of these message passing studies where individuals demonstrated authorship involved multiple sessions, with the possible effect of allowing participants to be desensitized to anxiety over the course of the study. 

Why the Controversy?

There are numerous published studies that consider the question of authorship and validity. Click on the links for a detailed listing of  studies that support and studies that do not support  authorship for individuals who type to communicate.

Click here for a detailed statement on research and authorship.

Click here for a presentation on the controversy over authorship and validity by Bob Rubin, Ph.D.,  Resident Scholar in the Mathematics Department of Whittier College, Whittier CA.

According to an Expert

“Because of the way we move and our lack of speech we were assumed to be retarded. I was thought to be retarded (but) all this changed … once I could type without support… My very existence challenged beliefs about mental retardation. Able to type independently… my presentations (at conferences) were acts of advocacy. Once someone had seen me, they were no longer able to assume mental retardation was present in people who looked like me. When people see me they are forced to admit that their assumptions about mental retardation are wrong.”
(Rubin, Biklen, Kasa-Hendrickson, Kluth, Cardinal & Broderick, 2001, p. 519)