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FOCUSING ON THE KEYBOARD
DURING FACILITATED COMMUNICATION

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There is one condition in which it is obvious to even an untrained observer that the person with autism is not doing the communicating during a FC session. This is when they are staring at the ceiling or directly away from the keyboard.

If you attempt to type with a single finger, you will only find the correct key reliably if you can actually see the key that you are aiming at. It is common knowledge that if you stare at the ceiling when typing with one finger, you will normally miss most of the characters. On a typical PC keyboard; you will typically be offset by one or two keys on the keyboard. This is true even for people who are skilled typers.

In the following example, the author tried to type the words "facilitated communication:"

  1. The following used conventional touch typing:
    facilitated communication  25/25 correct characters
  2. The second try used one finger searching for the correct key with both eyes on the keyboard:
    facilitated communication  25/25 correct
  3. The third try was a repeat of the second, except that head was tilted upwards so that the keyboard disappeared totally from view. It was not visible even with peripheral vision. My finger occasionally bridged two keys; in these cases, I chose what I felt was the most likely key.
    vxvl/ptsyec vpm<umkvsyo[,  4/25 correct
  4. The fourth try was a repeat of the third.
    gwfo'06w54rnbinbunkfztopm  4/25 correct
  5. The fifth try was a repeat of the third, except that my head was titled upwards slightly so that I could still see the keyboard at the extremes of my peripheral vision
    gsvppyszrfd comnyjovstipm  7/25 correct
  6. The sixth try was a repeat of the fifth.
    fscukiraredbs8jj6g8sq479h  6/25 correct

For this test, 100% accuracy was possible only if the typer aimed their finger directly at the keyboard. If the keyboard is totally invisible, the results were poor (16% correct). If the keyboard is visible in the typer's peripheral vision, the results were better (26% correct). This is a simple test that anyone can verify in a few minutes on their own keyboard. As mentioned above, this is common knowledge; we are not breaking new ground here. These results would not necessarily be valid for persons with autism. There is a belief that they might have superior peripheral vision when compared to persons with normal communication skills.

If a FC session involves the facilitator looking directly at the keyboard and the client staring at the ceiling, then it can reasonably be concluded that the actual character selection is being done by the facilitator. The facilitator is communicating, not the person being facilitated. Thus, if any important communication is to be attempted, it seems obvious that an independent observer (or a TV camera) should record the session to record when the client is looking at the keyboard.

R.T. Carroll sums this up neatly:

"FC clients routinely use a flat board or keyboard, over which their pointing finger is held by the facilitator. Even the most expert typist could not routinely hit correct letters without some reference as a starting point. (Try looking away from your keyboard and typing a sentence using just one finger held in the air above the keyboard.) Facilitators routinely look at the keyboard; clients do not. The messages' basic coherence indicate they must be produced by someone who is looking at the keyboard. The conclusion seems inevitable." (1) 

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References:

  1. R.T. Carroll, "Facilitated Communication (FC)," at:  http://dcn.davis.ca.us/~btcarrol/skeptic/facilcom.html

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