When we last left our review, I’d condensed Parts V and VI of In a Different Key into a single blog post, because there really wasn’t enough material between the two to justify two separate posts. Part VII is shorter than either Part V or Part VI, yet there is enough disparate material in here to make at least two separate blog posts. Go figure.
Part VII begins with a couple sections on facilitated communication, or FC. The version of FC the authors discuss is the most commonly-recognized one, which can be summed up as “one person types with someone else touching them, usually on the wrist, elbow, or shoulder.”
FC is, perhaps, one of the biggest controversies in the autism world. It continues to spark any number of bitter arguments. “Is the typist or facilitator the one doing the talking?” is a very specific question, one that has to be answered on a team by team basis. Donvan and Zucker, of course, tackle this controversial and complex topic with the nuanced discussion and attention to detail it deserves.
Just kidding! They butcher it.
Their apparent goal is to fall on the “FC is a hoax” side. But, in this case, their rhetorical approach – of finding an invested parent or other non-autistic professional and encouraging the audience to identify with that person against the “demon” that is autism – ends up shooting their own argument in its foot.
The authors give us the story of Janyce Boynton. Boynton, at one point, facilitated for a girl named Betsy, who produced a number of accusations of sexual abuse against her family while Boynton facilitated. The investigation (including a testing procedure developed by Howard Shane) led to the conclusion that Boynton, not Betsy, was doing the typing. Betsy’s claims – and FC as a whole – were dismissed.
Traditionally, the “Is the typist or facilitator the one doing the talking?” question leads to two possible conclusions. If the typist is producing the words, FC is considered to be legitimate, and a wonderful resource for people who might have no other access to words. If the facilitator is producing the words, FC is considered to be a sham, and a sick example of adults who should know better taking advantage of intellectually disabled people (often children).
The “false sexual abuse allegations” controversy surrounding FC falls into this latter category: adults manipulating children to “get back” at parents, or for other nefarious reasons. That is to say, the false sexual abuse allegations controversy typically falls into the latter category.
By choosing Boynton as their point of view character, however, Donvan and Zucker create a third category: FC as hoax that harms the facilitator. Boynton is painted as the real victim of the story – not Betsy, nor Betsy’s family.
According to Donvan and Zucker, the person hurt most by facilitated communication is the facilitator proven to be the one typing “Betsy’s” words for her – for the authors never question whether Betsy was proven not to be the one doing the typing. Nonetheless, the authors don’t blame Boynton for having taken advantage of Betsy. Rather, they emphasize how very bad Boynton felt about the whole thing, and how facilitated communication – the very thing they claim allowed Boynton to take advantage of an intellectually disabled child! – had ruined both Boynton’s career and her emotional state.
No matter where you stand on the legitimacy of facilitated communication, Donvan and Zucker’s take on it beggars belief. If the facilitator is doing the typing, the facilitator is taking advantage of the “typist,” full stop. The facilitator is performing an specific, chosen action (typing) and lying about where it is coming from (not me!). If the facilitator is typing, the facilitator is not the victim. Yet this is precisely what Donvan and Zucker want us to believe – that Boynton was doing Betsy’s typing, and that Boynton was the victim.
When I brought this up in an autistic working group of which I am a part, one of the group members suggested that perhaps Donvan and Zucker believe that Boynton, so desperately overcome by her wish to see FC work, was typing without being aware of it, in a sort of autohypnotic state. This suggestion was made somewhat tongue in cheek, and In A Different Key never does explain. Yet, sadly, it’s the explanation for this section that makes the most sense.
Even more sadly, it’s the explanation that fits best with later attempts to debunk FC that claimed that any physical contact with the typist, no matter how slight, could be used to manipulate the typist’s message. A fingertip on the shoulder, for instance, could be (and has been!) said to produce reams of sexual abuse allegations or orders of coffee that the typist never intended. This stance has been taken as reasonable by any number of people in the autism field, so perhaps it is not so far-fetched that the power of FC’s proponents extends to making facilitators as well as typists say things they do not think.