Debunkery- Facilitated Communication

Riley Sproul Debunkery, Ideas, Pseudoscience Leave a Comment

Hello, before we dive into the second Debunkery post for this month I want to add a clarification:

This post deals with Facilitated Communication (FC); a very broad, and ill defined area, and a sensitive topic to many. There are, using the broadest of strokes, two kinds of FC: actual and fictional. FC, when used to help a person with the known mental capability for communication (or in cases such as this one, where communication can even be first established using an FC machine), in a way that allows for the influences of the facilitator to be completely removed, is absolutely legitimate as shown by countless science based, double-blind, easily repeatable studies.

What I’m talking about above are cases that are something like what audiences saw in this scene of The Theory Of Everything. Or with equipment and techniques like this. These people and machines are part of the Facilitated Communications field, and are doing great work helping others communicate with the world outside their minds. The limitation on their ability to communicate may be from physical trauma, stroke, autism, ALS, MS, or a number of other causes.

However, there is another side to the FC coin, and it is as twisted as the above altruism is heartwarming. It is this portion of FC that I am criticising and attempting to bring to your attention. Thank you for your understanding, and enjoy.


The idea of being unable to communicate with the world outside of your own mind, is a terrifying one. From Locked-In Syndrome (briefly discussed in our Brain Death podcast), to diseases like autism, cerebral palsy, ALS, stroke, ect. So what options are there for those without the ability to speak, write, or even move of their own accord? Well, some say Facilitated Communication (FC) is the answer.

Let’s take a closer look then. Skepdic.com defines FC with the following statement:

…the technique involves a facilitator who places her hand over that of the patient’s hand, arm or wrist, and guides a finger to letters, words, or pictures on a board or keyboard. …


Something like this

What the facilitators claim, is that regardless if the patient is legally brain dead, or in an autistic panic, they (and they alone) can deduce what letter, word, or picture the patient intends to convey. With this method, they elledge the ability to facilitate communication between the outside world, and the patient.

There are a number of problems with these claims. Firstly, the loosely defined methods and terms that FC practitioners use allows for just about anything to pass as FC. That finger twitch, sure it counts… when they say it counts.

Secondly, what about the exclusively of the facilitators? Only they can read the patient? This makes no sense at all; if the queues are so simple as to be read upon a first meeting, and can convey meanings more intricate than “I am alive.” Why can absolutely no one else notice?

A humorous evidence against this pseudoscience, is one that was also shown to be true for Ouija boards. It is that the spelling errors ‘made by the patients’ (or in the case of the Ouija boards, the ‘spirits’) were the same made by the facilitators (or those using the planchette).

BUT WAIT! The FC Community may not be completely corrupt and vile (please also see note before article). At least some of those who utilise FC are under the genuine impression that it is a valid scientific process (In Rom Houben’s case it took doctors days to question then test the methods of FC).

And still others who know that it’s bunk, feel that it does the families of those affected more good than bad. And that may be true, but it is not without its trade offs. While some might receive comfort from whatever random FC practitioner they happen to stumble upon, others may happen into a rather dark scenario. Many people were, and still are, being accused of sexual abuse via FC. These accusations are not coming from the child patients, as was later discovered, but were in fact coming from a facilitator with an axe to grind.

In conclusion; Facilitated Communication, as discussed above, is complete crap. It opens the door for swindlers and snake oil salesmen/women who are always looking for an in. But what can you or I do about it? What I like to call the Wayne’s World Solution; tell two friends …you know how these things go. See you next time!



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Riley Sproul has a Bachelors in Biology, with a concentration in PreMed, and a Chemistry Minor, from the University of Toledo. His goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in Neurobiology with in the next 4-5 years. His interests include sci-fi, PC-gaming, playing guitar, and a variety of other hobbies.
Debunkery- Facilitated Communication was last modified: May 11th, 2015 by Riley Sproul