A controlled evaluation of facilitated communication: Time and task sampling approach to validation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Human Services


Stephen T. Murphy


Special education, Educational software

Subject Categories

Communication Sciences and Disorders


The authenticity of facilitated communication (FC), a method whereby individuals with developmental disabilities are assisted by a facilitator as they point to letters, has not been demonstrated in a number of validation tests. This study was designed to determine whether FC users could, in a facilitator-blind condition, accurately respond to educational computer game items given optimal accommodations. Testing conditions included a naturalistic, collaborative approach, skilled and familiar facilitators, practice, feedback, interesting activities, individualized teaching strategies, and visual display of choices.

Over a nine month period, nine experienced FC users and their regular facilitators engaged in computer game play during 7-10 sessions. Sessions were videotaped, analyzed and scored. Scores were then subjected to chi square analysis to determine whether subjects' scores were higher than would be expected by chance alone.

Subjects who validated during the study were given a post-test--a 10-item multiple choice test from a familiar game, completed without facilitation. The purpose of the post-test was to investigate whether participants were able to perform the task at criterion levels in the absence of physical support.

Although none of the participants demonstrated validation during the first session, five of nine participants validated their communication by providing correct responses to game items at the level of significance during one or more sessions. No participants passed the post-test. Four further confirmed their abilities by spontaneously reading material presented on the computer screen aloud, independently pointing to the correct response on the screen or by verbalizing a synonym of the stimulus word.

All participants performed better in the open condition than in the blind condition. Each required emotional and logistical support to manage test anxiety, to shift attention from the computer screen to the keyboard, and to facilitate sequencing of actions. Five participants demonstrated some independent typing, albeit inconsistently. Strong preferences for specific people or facilitators and for specific computer games were documented.


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