Updated: Mar 6, 2020
A few years ago I began creating and implementing a quantitative research study into Facilitated Communication (FC). My study population was adults aged 18-40, with either no speech or unreliable speech. Among my first study subjects was a beautiful, exotic woman who was born in Italy of American and Pakistani parents. Her family, including her two siblings, is very close-knit. Yasmin's speech is constant and repetitive, yielding little of what is in her mind. She also has repetitive behaviors that she has used to her advantage: she creates beautiful art at Gateway Arts, a creative venture in Brookline, MA for people with disabilities.
When Yasmin was shown how to stop the flow of speech and channel her verbal energies into looking and pointing to letters, it was like watching a tulip emerge from the ground and blossom. Over the course of 25 weeks (the duration of the study), this woman transformed from a closed book to an encyclopedia. She demonstrated a passion for history, current events, and especially science: one day she came in holding a piece of paper and babbling something unintelligible; when given a keyboard, she typed, "I have solved the equation of string theory." I asked her what string theory was and she typed something about the mass of the universe expanding. I know nearly nothing about physics, so I knew this was all Yasmin.
Her mother has emerged as her strongest communication partner, and has spent the past nearly-four years supporting Yasmin as she explores the universe (both known and unknown) around her. Yasmin has presented to classrooms at several universities (BU, Lesley, and Regis) and conferences; she writes poetry. She attends symphonies. She travels the world with her two closest friends (twin sisters she has known since infancy, both neurotypical) who have always accepted her as she is, no questions asked. Her parents have had to rethink everything they assumed was correct about their daughter. One day, when her mother was again apologizing to Yasmin over her past assumptions about Yasmin's behavior and intelligence, Yasmin typed, "Mom, get over it." Yasmin has moved on, forgiving those she loves and simply asking them to accept her.
I think that is good advice for all parents, teachers, therapists and caregivers of autistics who learn how to communicate effectively. Recognize that the dogma of behavior + speech/no speech = no intelligence was wrong, and move on--quickly. Once someone shows you what they're capable of, don't turn the clock hands back and drill them in basics, or focus on the outward appearance. The autistic person will ALWAYS be autistic. That may be uncomfortable for others, but for them it is as much a part of who they are as the color of their skin or eyes. And yes, the medical, school and therapeutic communities have made some horrendously poor assumptions of and decisions for people like Yasmin during the past eighty or so years, but if we listen to the experts (those who experience autism 24/7) we can help them change their future. Let's acknowledge that we were wrong and move forward. Let's just get over it.