Skeptic News: Facilitated communication removes Autistic woman from family

From: Wales Online

An autistic woman was wrongly removed from her parents for six months on the basis of an unproven allegation of sex abuse backed by a doctor relying on an “entirely inappropriate” communication system.

Psychiatrist Dr Rowan Wilson admitted using “facilitated communication” (FC) when he interviewed the woman, who cannot talk, over the abuse allegations for Carmarthenshire County Council. At a hearing of the General Medical Council (GMC) yesterday the psychiatrist also admitted he had no knowledge or experience of the system, which sees a second person help someone use a key board or word board to spell out words. The parents of the woman, identified only as “CB”, say she was left so traumatised by the separation her body went into “total shutdown” and she has only now stopped having nightmares and wetting the bed.

After being taken away from her parents in October, 2010, her father was arrested on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and prostitution, with his wife accused of aiding and abetting the offences. In a witness statement read to the GMC hearing in Manchester, CB’s mother said: “She (CB) doesn’t want to go out. She feels she can’t trust anyone. It’s finished me off.”

After interviewing the woman, now aged 21, using FC Dr Wilson claimed she had repeated sex abuse allegations first made by a carer.

Facilitated communication is controversial, since most peer reviewed scientific studies conclude that the typed language output attributed to the clients is actually directed or systematically determined by the facilitator. In the majority of controlled studies, practitioners were found to be unintentionally cueing the facilitated person as to which letter to hit, so the resulting letter strings did not represent the thoughts of the students but the expectations of the facilitators.

Similar responses to possibly unconscious cues were seen in the “Clever Hans” case, where a horse gave correct answers to math problems by watching the reactions of its owner.

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3 Responses to Skeptic News: Facilitated communication removes Autistic woman from family

  1. Neuroskeptic says:

    That’s outrageous. The problem I think is that FC is little-known at the moment, people don’t realize that it’s pretty much equivalent to astrology in cases like this. We need more public awareness.

  2. How anyone can imagine that a person who has not mastered speech will be able to spell out words … And this is a qualified psychiatrist!

    See the devastating critique of the clinical perspective in Tavris and Aronson, “Mistakes were made”

  3. Arthur Golden says:

    Since this blog is based on “Wales Online” I will quote from there: “After interviewing the woman, now aged 21, using FC Dr Wilson claimed she had repeated sex abuse allegations first made by a carer.”
    As a retired lawyer who is very familiar with Facilitated Communication (“FC”), I question whether psychiatrist Dr. Rowan Wilson actually was involved in using Facilitated Communication (“FC”). As the GMC found “Dr Wilson had no prior experience and/or informed knowledge of FC.” Dr. Wilson seems to have negligently relied on the claims of the carer staff, who claimed to be using FC, even though they were completely untrained and unsupervised and secretly attempted to do the FC actually being done by the mother but without the mother’s knowledge. This case seems to me to one of negligence by Dr. Wilson and should not be stated to have anything to do with actual Facilitated Communication. I do not see where any professional who had knowledge in the proper use of FC was involved, including in the GMC hearing.

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