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campus
reaction

 

another
statement

 

FC in 2010

 

Biklen retires
in 2014; his
Institute
continues

The Problem with Biklen
Written October 26, 2005

Tammy S. Schlafer
Executive Director, Annual Giving Programs
Syracuse University
820 Comstock Avenue
Syracuse, NY  13244-5040

 
Dear Ms. Schlafer:              

In response to your recent letter, I regret that although I have given several thousand dollars over the years to the Fund for Syracuse, there will be no contribution this year.

This is in response to the University's appointment of Dr. Douglas Biklen as the Dean of the School of Education.  Dr. Biklen's educational credentials may qualify him for the post, but unfortunately he continues to promote the practice of Facilitated Communication, ignoring the evidence that it doesn't work.

I first became aware of FC through a public television documentary [transcript, video] twelve years ago.  Afterwards, I described what I saw in a letter to a friend, a medical doctor whose younger brother had been autistic:

Facilitators earn their living by showing parents that if they hold their autistic child's hand, the child's finger can be made to point to letters that spell out meaningful words.

The parents are thrilled to tears.  They have always wanted to believe that their child, this miniature of themselves, does think and feel like any normal child but is unable to express those thoughts due to something like insufficient muscle control.  So when they hold their child's hand and the child's finger spells out "I love you, Mommy" or even writes a poem, nothing can shake their belief that these thoughts do come from the youngster.

But in reality, it's the "helper" whose eyes are on the letter-board, while the autistic child looks blankly in another direction.  If different objects are shown to helper and child, it's the name of the helper's object that the child's finger spells out.  As with a Ouija board, it appears that the helper is guiding the pointer without even being aware of doing so.

The documentary completely debunked FC, and I naïvely thought that this idea would not be heard from again.  But there are parents and others who desperately want to believe in it.  Dr. Biklen is willing to take their money.  He continues to promote FC, and now I find that he even runs a Facilitated Communication Institute under the auspices of Syracuse University.

When he was appointed Dean this summer, the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health reacted "with disappointment and dismay."  It called FC "a thoroughly discredited technique that purportedly allows mute and otherwise linguistically impaired children and adults with autism to communicate," listing eight other professional organizations that "have all issued policy statements advising against the use of FC for autism."

The CSMMH continued, in part, "By first raising and then dashing the hopes of thousands of parents of children with autism, Dr. Biklen and other proponents of FC may have done grave harm to mental health clients and to the reputation of clinical practitioners.  Along with academic freedom comes the responsibility for scientific rigor.  Syracuse University is sending a clear signal that it is not firmly committed to embracing evidence-based approaches to understanding and treating cognitive and emotional disorders.  Their appointment of Dr. Biklen as Dean is a major step backward."

You claim to be a "College with a Conscience."  But, according to a 2001 article by Martin Gardner, "Through high-priced seminars and sales of videotapes and literature, it is estimated that Biklen is bringing millions of dollars annually to his university" — under false pretenses.  As long as this continues, you don't need any money from me.

Thomas B. Thomas (M.S. 1970)

 

UPDATE:  “FACILITATED COMMUNICATION” WRECKS MICHIGAN FAMILY

Detroit Free Press article, January 12, 2001

More than three years after police in West Bloomfield arrested a man and accused him of raping his autistic daughter, the township's insurance carrier has agreed to pay his family and attorney $1.8 million to settle a wrongful-arrest suit.

Julian Wendrow served 80 days in jail and faced life in prison; his wife, Thal Wendrow, faced decades behind bars, accused of allowing assaults to happen.  Their 14-year-old daughter, who cannot speak, and their son, 13, were in foster care.

The evidence against them?  A statement the girl, who functions as a 2-year-old, reportedly typed with the help of a teacher's aide.  The statement claimed her father had raped her since age 7 as her mother stood by.  A physical exam showed no evidence of abuse.

An earlier story explains how the Wendrows thought they could interact with their daughter via Facilitated Communication, until the words the daughter supposedly was typing led to the father's felony arrest.

 

 

TBT

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