“I was reborn into this world upon using facilitated communication for the very first time.”
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.
History of Facilitated Communication
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.
Who is Involved?
Typers and Facilitators
The person who provides support for communication is called a facilitator or communication support person. A facilitator can be a teacher or other professional, a family member, or a friend. The person who receives the support is often referred to as the typer, communication aid user, or FC user. At the ICI, we use the terms typer and facilitator.
Candidates for typing to communicate include individuals who lack reliable pointing skills and who cannot speak or whose speech is extremely limited or disordered (e.g., limited to repetitive phrases, and speech that echoes what others around them have said or are saying); one current theory is that people with developmental disabilities often experience dyspraxia or difficulty with intentional action, including speech, initiation, and motor planning. Recent research, mostly coming from the field of neuroscience, on the connection between dyspraxia and difficulties with speech (Donnellan, Hill & Leary, 2013; Dziuk, et al., 2007; Mostofsky, Burgess, & Larsen, 2007) underscores the importance of considering a motoric base for challenges with speech. Further, it is becoming clear that development of improved motor planning and more organized intentional movement is possible with training and appropriate support (Torres, et al., 2013).
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.
Three Levels 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who does typing to communicate work for?
Does typing to communicate work for every person with disability that can’t communicate?
Is typing to communicate recommended if my child or student has some verbal speech (i.e. asks for bathroom, or says people’s names)?
If my child communicates through typing, should that be the only AAC or communication means to be used?
How long does it take to learn to type to communicate? How long to will it take before they can type with no physical support?
Can an individual with a disability who does not talk really interact and communicate?
In what contexts can supported typing be used?
How do I know that it is the communicator typing the message and not the person providing the support?
Are there resources to support the training process?
How is Typing to Communicate similar to and different from Rapid Prompting Method?
What kinds of AAC devices do people use when typing to communicate?
“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.”