, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 597-610

Failure to confirm the word-retrieval problem hypothesis in facilitated communication

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Abstract

Two hypotheses were raised and empirically tested to account for the failure of previous controlled validation studies to find evidence of literacy in nonspeaking persons with autism using facilitated communication: (a) The naming tasks used in other studies have triggered specific “word retrieval” problems, or anomia, and (b) a perceptual problem, visual agnosia, prevents subjects from recognizing objects without touching them. Three nonspeaking autistic children who had used facilitation for at least 2 years were evaluated with four experimentally controlled tasks, over a period of 5 months. In descriptive and object handling tasks, and in a traditional picture identification task, subjects failed to type correct answers when facilitators were blind; one subject, however, occasionally engaged in signing and vocalizations that were context-appropriate. Results reflected a generalized language deficit, rather than isolated word-finding or perceptual difficulties, and were consistent with many previous studies revealing facilitator cuing. Questions are raised about inconsistencies in pseudo-correct scores, a measure of facilitator influence, reported here and in previous research.

I am grateful to the students and the staff for their cooperation in the study, and I sincerely appreciate the support and patience of administrators at the Anderson School. I am especially indebted to my research assistant, Colette González.