Autism Treatment in the Special School District of St. Louis County
A book review in today’s Wall Street Journal discusses a few of the hoaxes and scams aimed at the parents of autistic children. One is “facilitated communication,” whereby an assistant supports the arms, wrists, or even hands of a nonverbal autistic student and helps him or her point to letters on a keyboard. This method was discredited after studies found the messages to be controlled by the facilitators, not the students. (A summary of relevant research can be found on the American Academy of Pediatrics website here.)
Back to the review:
The method was easily debunked with a simple experiment: Don’t allow the facilitator to see what the child is seeing and suddenly the child’s communication skills evaporate. But facilitated communication flourished for years.
In fact, it still flourishes — in the Special School District of St. Louis County. Facilitated communication is listed on the SSD website as a term “used in special education and at SSD.” I wondered whether that meant that the district actually practices facilitated communication, so I called the district. I pointed out the term on the website, gave the same description of it as in the paragraph above, and asked whether SSD uses this method. The answer? Yes, they do, in cases where a child’s Individualized Instruction Plan prescribes it.
Facilitated communication is not just another multiplication algorithm or literacy curriculum. The Association for Science in Autism Treatment calls facilitated communication “an inappropriate intervention.”
And the following statement comes from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that FC is not a scientifically valid technique for individuals with autism or mental retardation.
This is from the Association of Behavioral Analysis:
Thus the use of FC directly threatens the human and civil rights of the person whose communication is purportedly “facilitated,” and may also jeopardize the rights of others. […] its use is unwarranted and unethical.
Opponents of tuition tax credits for autistic students have claimed that these students can receive a satisfactory education based on the latest scientific findings in the public schools. Sadly, I don’t think that’s the case.