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Autism Essay, Research Paper

False Words and False Hope

Autism is a childhood disease where the child is in a private world of their own. A description of an autistic child by her mother is: We start with an image—a tiny, golden child on hands and knees, circling round and round a spot on the floor in mysterious self-

absorbed delight. She does not look up, though she is smiling and laughing; she does not call our attention to the mysterious object of her pleasure. She does not see us at all. She and the spot are all there is, and though she is eighteen months old, an age for touching, tasting, pointing, pushing, exploring, she is doing none of these. (Groden 2) This is the most important trait in an autistic child: They don’t interact or socialize with other people. Other characteristics in autistic children are language retardation and ritualistic or compulsive behaviors. It used to be thought that children became autistic because of “poor parenting” and that the only solution was that the parents should be removed from the child (Baron-Cohen 26). Now it is known that autism is caused by biological factors due to: neurological symptoms, mental handicap, genetic causes, infections, and even

difficulties in pregnancy.

Even though autism is thought of as a disease or disorder, autistic children can demonstrate special skills. These skills are referred to as “isolated islets of intelligence” (Baron-Cohen 53). Some examples of these are found in an autistic child’s ability to draw, play music, or recall a certain date. Nadia, an autistic child, has the ability to draw in an “almost photographic way” (Baron-Cohen 54). Autistic children can also play instruments, accurately sing songs, recognize structures of music, etc. A problem that arises when autistic children are going through therapy is that they start to lose their remarkable skills. For parents to find out that their child is autistic can be very

shocking. They go from having a bouncy, livey baby to a having a total stranger

as their child. Many therapies have been devised to help autistic children.

Some of these therapies are: behavior therapy, speech and language therapy,

holding therapy, music therapy, and the newest one, facilitation therapy.

Since most autistic children are different and their behaviors are different, one

therapy may be more effective than another one. Facilitation therapy is catching

on, but is already becoming a controversy. Although facilitation therapy is one

of the most popular used methods in communicating with autistic children, it is

being downgraded because of the controversies where the children are being

manipulated by the facilitators.

A child with autism can be detected by the age of three. “If treament is

started right away, the child may gain their normal functioning. This is a critical

factor in reversing the disorder” (McEachin 105). Other elements in autistic

therapy that are important factors in helping with the child are “observations,

establishing relationships, and changing behaviors” (Simons 27). Once autistic

children have made a relationship, they are brought closer to the outside world.

That is why facilitation therapy is so popular. This kind of therapy helps the

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outside world to communicate with the lost child. The autistic child is supported

by a facilitator who holds the arm, the wrist, or the hand. This support helps the

child to control his/her movements in order for the child to point to words,

pictures, etc. In this way autistic children can express feelings or thoughts that

no one thought they had.

So why is there controversy over facilitation therapy ? The autistic child

is being observed, a relationship is formed between the child and the facilitator,

and the gap is being closed. The problem with facilitation therapy is expressed

by Dr. Green from the New York Times, “Facilitated communication seems

tantamount to a miracle, but it’s more like a self-fulfulling prophecy – you see

what you want to see” (C11). There is always the chance that the child is not the

one expressing the thoughts. Scientists in the New York Times “are likening it

to a Ouija board” (C1), because as people subconsciously move the message

indicator to get an answer to their question, facilitators can move the autistic

child’s hand to what they want. Another argument against facilitation therapy

was in an article, the “Harvard Educational Review,” where three concerns were

mentioned: 1) facilitated communication manipulated the handicapped, 2)

facilitation has never been proven valid, and 3) facilitation contradicts “50 years

of research in autism and developmental disabilities” (Biklen 110). It seems

impossible that an autistic child who can not speak can suddenly communicate

with words. The autistic child can answer questions when asked by a facilitator,

but normally would just ignore a person that asked a question. Even though

facilitation therapy is a gateway into the autistic child’s mind, it causes much


Hajducko 4

“One of the greatest barriers to success with facilitation is the tendency to

underestimate people’s abilities based on prevailing paradigms or definitions of

disability” (Biklen 193). When assumptions are made about people with a

handicap, others don’t put too much faith in their ability to spell, write, or

communicate. People that are retarded are assumed that they have no

intelligence, so others do everything for them. Another example is that people

talk loud around the elderly because they are assumed to have lost their

hearing. Many assumptions related to autism are: “receptive problems,

processing problems, global cognitive failure, specific cognitive failure, levels of

deficit, and the inability to use pronouns, verb tenses, and other forms of

language” (Biklen 193). These assumptions would lead a facilitator to think that

an autistic child, who has always had to depend on others, would have no skill of

their own. Biklen suggests instead of facilitators making wrong assumptions

about the child’s ability, that they should encourage the child in a “natural

manner,” and “treat the person being facilitated as competent” (193). This would

be hard to do knowing the limitations of the person. It is also hard to think of

someone as being competent when that person starts to scream or starts hitting


Many parents doubt the effectiveness of facilitation therapy with their

child. How can their brain damaged child know anything? Dr. Schneiderman, a

pediatrician at the State University of New York Health Sciences Center in

Syracuse, uses facilitation therapy with his autistic son, David. In a New York

Times article he exclaims his concern over whether or not he is the one cuing

the responses, “I worry a lot about whether what I’m doing is real when I

facilitate. If I’m doing this unconsciously, I’m unconsciously producing an autistic

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personality” (C11). Another father expressed his doubts about facilitation

therapy over his daughter:

My child is severly handicapped. This breaks my heart; but I have

learned to live with that and make it part of my joy. I cannot in

good conscience allow that to be erased by the denial of other;

that [she] . . . is reading and comprehending . . . is incredibly

ludicrous, not to mention serious fabrication . . . . The onus of

responsibility to prove whether or not this so-called method is

effective should rest on the practitioner. (Biklen 119)

The father had also done facilitated communication with his daughter and

nothing happened. If encouragement, love, and support is given by the

facilitator to the autistic child, and these elements are supposed to help the child

communicate, then a parent should be able to get a response from their child.

Facilitation therapy is controversial in that manipulation is thought to be

involved. Biklen uses an argument by Cummins and Priors:

The success of assisted communications has very little to do with

emotional support, . . . and very much to do with physical control

by the assistant; either in the form of overt control of the client’s

movement’s or by supplying covert cues which are used by the

client to control his or her movements. (112).

Biklen noticed in his first studies of facilitation, an autistic child would only

communicate with one facilitator, and could not independently communicate

even though he wrote, “Let me show them what I can really do” (112). Physical

manipulation is also evident if the child being facilitated is not old enough to

spell, but is communicating on the keyboard. Other signs of physical

manipulation are: if the child types without any problems of pronoun reversals,

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incorrect verb tenses, not normal “autistic” language, and if the child says things

that others would not want to know or that aren’t true about family and friends

(Biklen 128).

The most recent controversial subject with facilitation therapy is the

reports of sexual abuse to the autistic child. Dr. Bernard Rimland, director of the

Autism Research Institute in San Diego, states, “I know of about 25 cases

through facilitated communication of sexually abusing their kids” (Goleman C11).

The result of the cases is that the facilitator was sexually abused and expresses

the event through the autistic child. When these cases go through the court it is

up to the judge to determine the reliability of the facilitator (Lambert B10). It’s

sad to think that facilitators would use the autistic child in revealing their sexual


Facilitation is not the only answer in helping with autism. Behavior

therapy is making progress with its effects in treating autism. In the New York

Times, it explains how a team of psychologists have reported that the progress

of “19 children with autism who at age 2 or 3 had recieved 40 hours a week of

behavioral treatment . . . By age 11 . . . nine of those autistic children were going

to regular schools” (C10) This kind of therapy is used to award good behavior

and discourage bad behavior. It is less controversial and seems to working

more than facilitated communication. Also with behavioral therapy, it not only

communicates with the child, but obviously can bring some children back into the

real world. Facilitation therapy only helps the child to “talk,” if it is even the child


Another treatment for autism is an effective medication called

clomipramine. It was reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry that it

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“reduced a range of symptoms in three-quarters of autistic children tested”

(Goleman C11). The improvements in the children were that they were able to

make eye contact and begin interactions. Also compulsive behaviors were

reduced. In facilitation therapy many of the compulsive behaviors are still

observed, plus when the child is given medication there is no doubt that it is the

autistic child doing the communicating.

For some autistic children facilitation therapy may be the key to reaching

out. For the majority of autistic people, to close the gap between the real world

and the world they live in, takes intensive therapy. It takes more then a hand

supporting a wrist or an arm to communicate. Facilitation therapy is proving to be

too controversial to really know if it’s the autistic person’s own thoughts. Yes,

there is a hidden person inside that mute creature. Hopefully with love and

support from family and other outside contacts, that unique individual will


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