Typing to communicate or Facilitated Communication (FC) is a form of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) in which people with disabilities and communication impairments express themselves by pointing (e.g., at pictures, letters, or objects) and, more commonly, by typing (e.g., with a keyboard). The method involves a communication partner who may provide emotional encouragement, communication supports (e.g., monitoring to make sure the person looks at the keyboard and checks for typographical errors), and a variety of physical supports, for example to provide backward resistance, to slow and stabilize the person’s movement, to inhibit impulsive pointing, or support rhythm; the facilitator should never move or lead the person.
It often is referred to as Facilitated Communication Training because the goal is independent typing, nearly independent typing (e.g., a hand on the shoulder or intermittent touch), or a combination of speaking with typing – some individuals have developed the ability to read text aloud and/or to speak before and as they are typing. Typing to communicate promotes access to social interaction, academics, and participation in inclusive schools and communities.
What came to be known as Facilitated Communication was discovered independently in several countries. Rosemary Crossley began using physical support to help non-speaking individuals communicate in Australia during the 1970s, and continued to develop the method throughout the following decade. Doug Biklen’s visit to the DEAL Center (Dignity, Education, and Language) in 1989 and subsequent research and publication (“Communication Unbound,” Harvard Educational Review, 1990) led to the rise of FC in the United States during the early 1990s, as well as the establishment of the Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse University in 1992. Since then, use of the method has grown and many individuals who once needed significant support have demonstrated the ability to type with no physical touch and/or to read aloud what they are typing. Training from skilled facilitators and coaches can now be found through organizations around the United States and the world. In 2010, after nearly two decades of existence, the Institute changed its name to the Institute on Communication and Inclusion (ICI). The ICI name represents a broadened focus, reflecting lines of research, training, public education, and information dissemination that focus on school and community inclusion, narratives of disability and ability, and disability rights. Its initiatives stress the important relationship of communication to inclusion.
“Autism has been a creative lesson in life for me. My sensory systems seemed to be not matched between my brain’s requests and my body’s agreement to perform the task. I learned this is the motor planning ability that did not exist for me. Many people seem to not understand that not being able to initiate movement, certainly, does not mean that I do not desire that movement.
You call it ‘sensory overload.’ I call it my ‘man overboard’ feeling. Some of the therapies I do have helped me to speak, to be able to sit in class to absorb information, to hear and comprehend more clearly, to gain internal rhythm that helps in crossing mid-line, and to lose some of the enormous anxiety that my neurological system holds in place.”
“As a child, I struggled with no reliable way to communicate. I now live out my dream of traveling to other states to educate others on movement and communication differences. Primarily, I advocate to promote the Presumption of Competence.”
The typed communication with the multiple forms of support provided by the facilitator allows the typer to communicate messages that differ in their complexity and usefulness than the use of speech or unaided AAC alone. This support is highly individualized and based on specific needs, thus it does not look the same from person to person. For example, Luke receives support at the hand with strong backward pressure after each keystroke. Megan types with a light touch on the shoulder. Rebecca types with one hand. Shaffer works on developing a rhythm with two-handed typing. People who type to communicate successfully often use it as part of a total communication approach. It is used in combination with other methods of communication including speech, sign, gesture systems, etc. This enables the person access to the fullest range of communication options. (Breaking the Barriers, date)
Typing to communicate involves a facilitator, who can be a teacher, parent, speech pathologist, or friend, providing multiple methods of support to a communication aid user we refer to as a Typer. While facilitator support is dynamic and fluid, there are three main elements of support.
Physical support may include the facilitator isolating the index finger, stabilizing the arm to overcome tremor; providing backward resistance on the arm to slow the pace of pointing or to overcome impulsiveness; touching the forearm, elbow, or shoulder to help the person initiate typing; or pulling back on the arm or wrist to help the person not strike a target repetitively.
Emotional support involves providing encouragement and motivation as the person types or points to communicate. This is especially important as many Typers experience high levels of anxiety and challenges navigating their sensory environment. Emotional support also includes communicating respect and a presumption of competence.
Communicative support can include various forms of prompts and cues that can assist the FC user to stay focused on the communication interaction, to provide feedback to the FC user on the content of their message, and to assist the FC user in clarifying unclear messages.
“Very pleasing people understand. I say it best typing…..I want a chance. Typing is hard to do. To type with me people need to decide I am smart and capable.”