Facilitated Communication and Autism Ranking: Mildly Hazardous Limited negative evidence

Key Features

Facilitated communication (also known as supported typing) is a form of augmentative and alternative communication in which someone physically supports another person and helps them to point at pictures or words.

The communication partner (usually called the facilitator) physically supports the other person (usually called the aid user) so that they can point to pictures, symbols, letters and/or words using a computer keyboard or letter/picturebooks. By doing this, the aid user can demonstrate what they want to communicate.

According to Biklen (1999), the facilitator provides support in a number of ways including:

Physical Support

Physical support may include the following:

  • assistance in isolating the index finger
  • stabilising the arm to overcome tremor
  • backward resistance on the arm to slow the pace of pointing or to overcome impulsiveness
  • a touch of the forearm, elbow, or shoulder to help the person initiate typing
  • pulling back on the arm or wrist to help the person not strike a target repetitively.

Emotional Support

Emotional support involves providing encouragement, but not direction, as the person points to communicate.

Communicative Support

Communicative support may include various forms of prompts and cues to:

  • assist the individual to stay focused in the communication interaction
  • provide feedback to the individual on the content of the message
  • assist the individual in clarifying unclear messages.

The amount of help needed varies from person to person. Some people may just need an encouraging hand on their shoulder to boost their confidence. Other people may need someone else to support and shape their hand, which allows their index finger to be isolated and extended for pointing.

According to the Ann McDonald Centre website, accessed on 15 March 2017, facilitation is a last resort.

“Facilitated communication training is difficult, limiting, time-consuming, and controversial. If you can find another satisfactory way for a person to communicate (that is, a means of communication that allows the person to generate utterances of age-appropriate length) then jump at it. If you can't, try FCT - and try to work your way out of it as soon as is feasible. And while you're using FCT, don't forget to develop independent strategies for answering yes/no questions and making choices. These may involve wide-spaced options for fist pointing or eye-pointing, cards velcroed on a carpet board for grasping, head turns - whatever suits the individual”.

31 Oct 2017
Last Review
01 May 2017
Next Review
01 May 2020