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Autistic Debate

March 28, 1993

Farai Chideya's article ("The Language of Suspicion," Feb. 28) describes at length the recent O. D. Heck study, which failed to validate facilitated communication. Why doesn't the article provide details on our explanations as to why the study failed? Or write about another study, by University of New Hampshire researchers, which did validate facilitation? Or of the court case in Australia in which the Supreme Court of Victoria confirmed Anne McDonald's ability to communicate?

Chideya refers to my research reported in the Harvard Educational Review as providing only "anecdotal evidence." It was a qualitative study in which I systematically observed and reported findings on the method. The article describes the controversy over possible facilitator influence, the difficulties of validating individual communications and a host of questions about the method. Why does Chideya not share my own assessments of the complexities of the method?

I'm not concerned at how I am represented or misrepresented by Chideya, but I am concerned that the article's effect will persuade some educators and parents to not try facilitated communication as an avenue by which people who cannot speak could do so.




Syracuse, N.Y.

Chideya replies: The University of New Hampshire study, though it did show that four out of five boys registered gains, was limited in scope. The same professor, Stephen Calculator, later conducted additional tests, which he said did not erase signficant doubts about the validity of facilitated communication. "A disproportionate number are showing the influence of the facilitator," Calculator told me.

Biklen's studies are, by his admission, "qualitative" or descriptive--the very definition of anecdotal. They consist of observing the children and then relating their behavior, rather than specific quantitative test criteria. Where qualitative criteria are concerned, even experts admit that it is impossible for an observer to determine whose hand is moving whose.

Finally, Biklen does not mention that Anne McDonald, the subject of the Australian court case, had cerebral palsy and was not autistic.

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