It’s always nice to see a success story with autism. A video linked below shows a young man with autism communicating with his class via keyboard during his high school graduation ceremony. The warm reception from classmates is also heartening.
This does not involve “facilitated communication,” in which another person assists in making the keyboard strokes. That effort is controversial because while some insist it is useful, studies have not supported it, indicating that it is often the facilitator who is doing the communication, consciously or unconsciously.
As a school psychologist, I recall meeting with an excited mother who said her 6-year-old-son with severe autism was interested in music and art classics, from Van Gogh to Mozart. She requested the school to focus on these interests. She also found he could complete math problems at a high level. She explained that because the child could not verbalize or use a keyboard independently, facilitated communication had been used to learn of these skills and interests; the facilitator held the child’s hands to press the keys while he supposedly typed the responses.
When we had the student’s facilitator come to the school and sit with the student, we used a process whereby the child could see the keyboard to answer our verbal questions, and he could see the math questions on a chart, but the keyboard and chart were not visible to the facilitator. She placed her hands on his, and typing began. Yet not one correct or sensible answer ensued. In fact, the child did not even have the ability to focus on the chart to see a math problem, nor did he look at the keyboard. It was clear that the facilitator, who seemed quite sincere, was “helping” the boy respond, but only if she could see the problem and the keyboard herself. Yet she didn’t realize she had been intervening in this way.
At the time (1980s), facilitated communication was all the rage. It was heartbreaking to have to tell the mother of our findings. We also wished it had worked! This is not to say that there were not some cases where the process worked wonderfully with specific children, for reasons not fully understood. But in general, facilitated communication is not encouraged as a learning tool for autism. In this clip, the graduates keyboard strokes are converted to voice.
Here’s the video clip!
It’s ironic that right when the narrator mentions how quickly Dylan can type, he is typing very slowly, but clearly he has the skills to respond rapidly. See here.