How educators and students understand inclusion, facilitated communication and other related topics: An observational study

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Douglas P. Biklen


mainstreaming, autism, Special education, Elementary education, Curricula

Subject Categories

Special Education and Teaching


This study explores students' experiences with facilitated communication (FC) as one way of understanding the meaning and experience of inclusion in four elementary classrooms. The study started as an exploration of the meaning of facilitated communication from the perspectives of students and educators. However, it gradually evolved into a study of the practices around inclusive education, as the research participants interpreted, implemented and used facilitated communication as an integral part of their efforts to create inclusive classrooms.

The findings indicate that individual classroom teachers exercised tremendous power over the structure and functioning of their classrooms. The findings also indicate that while disability was not central to the ways most classroom teachers perceived their students who used facilitated communication, academic performance was. This study revealed student participation did not increase in direct proportion to an increase in the number of adults assigned to a classroom; student participation was facilitated largely by creative accommodations by classroom teachers and teaching assistants, and by the way supports were assigned and used.

The data revealed that nondisabled students reflected their teachers' perceptions, attitudes and behaviors, with regard to their classmates with disabilities. They tended to be very accepting of facilitated communication as a communication method used by some of their classmates. Students who used FC believed that while this communication method enabled them to participate in class and appear smart, it also made them appear different. Most of the FC users indicated that they would still like to be able to talk, so that they could be more like their classmates.

This study raised some important questions, chief among them being whether the acceptance and valued image accorded to those who used FC, was also extended to students who did not use FC and may therefore have been unable to participate in the core curriculum. Was the acceptance and inclusion of students tied too closely to "being smart?" Was this level of acceptance only for those who used FC and could therefore participate in classrooms events, or did it extend to all students with disabilities? These are important questions that remain to be explored.


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