February 28, 2005: Headlines: COS - Sierra Leone: Awards: Hollywood: Documentaries: Movies: Autism: Live Science: Benjamin Radford says RPCV Douglas Biklen's Academy Award-nominated Film Promotes False Hopes

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Sierra Leone: Special Report: Documentary Film Producer and Sierra Leone RPCV Douglas Biklen: February 28, 2005: Headlines: COS - Sierra Leone: Awards: Hollywood: Documentaries: Movies: Autism: Live Science: Benjamin Radford says RPCV Douglas Biklen's Academy Award-nominated Film Promotes False Hopes

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-123-27.balt.east.verizon.net - on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 9:59 pm: Edit Post

Benjamin Radford says RPCV Douglas Biklen's Academy Award-nominated Film Promotes False Hopes

 Benjamin Radford says RPCV Douglas Biklen's Academy Award-nominated Film Promotes False Hopes

Benjamin Radford says RPCV Douglas Biklen's Academy Award-nominated Film Promotes False Hopes

Academy Award-nominated Film Promotes False Hopes

By Benjamin Radford

from the Skeptical Inquirer

posted: 28 February 2005

10:24 am ET

The subject of autism is very much in the news. It was a recent cover story in Newsweek, in nightly news shows, and even at the Academy Awards. Autism is a severe developmental disability affecting about four to five out of every ten thousand children, and is characterized by delayed and often abnormal communication and behavior. The disease is heartbreaking, in part because many autistic children look otherwise normal, which can inspire hope that they may just snap out of it one day and start talking and laughing like a normal child.

There were five nominees for the 2004 Academy Award in the category of Documentary Short Subject. One of the films, Gerardine Wurzburg’s Autism Is a World, is about a woman named Sue Rubin who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four. Yet, according to the film’s press materials, Sue is now “a junior in college with a top IQ, a tireless disability-rights activist, and an articulate guide into a complex disorder.”

How did this happen? What turned a person with the mental capacity of a two-year-old into a college student with an IQ of 133? The film suggests that this miraculous transformation occurred through the use of a technique called facilitated communication (FC). Yet the film fails to tell its audience that the technique is not just controversial; it has, in fact, been discredited.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many parents of autistic children (including Rubin’s) turned to facilitated communication, which had been claimed to help autistic children (and others who have limited communication abilities) to communicate better. The idea behind FC is based on the premise that the lack of communication is not due to an underlying cognitive disorder, but instead to motor disorders such as those affecting the ability to coordinate speech. What is needed, FC advocates claim, are trained facilitators to help the autistic children by holding their hands, fingers, or elbows while the child types on a keyboard or points to lists of letters, words, or symbols to communicate. In this way, the child can break through the tragic blockage of her disorder and speak, perhaps for the first time, to her parents and loved ones.

This technique was developed in the 1970s by Rosemary Crossley and others at the Dignity Through Education and Language Communications Centre in Melbourne, Australia. It was introduced in the United States by Douglas Biklen, a special education director at Syracuse University (and a co-producer of the film). Anecdotal stories of children who had been silent all their lives but could now form sentences, express their dreams and fears, and even write poetry encouraged many parents to sign up for classes and hire facilitators. They saw the results as a miraculous breakthrough and signed up for FC workshops and sessions costing hundreds of dollars; specialized equipment cost around $800 more.

Yet the celebration was premature. As the technique and phenomenon were studied further, glaring problems became apparent. The premise that communication problems in autistic patients came from speech motor dysfunction was unsupported by medical science. The messages that the autistic children were sending much more closely matched those of the facilitator than the child. The words, diction, nuances, and grammatical structures used in the messages frequently far exceeded what an autistic child could have learned. (This, however, rarely deterred FC proponents, who stubbornly took this troublesome evidence instead as proof that doctors were underestimating the autistic childrens’ abilities.)

Frequently the child wasn’t even looking at the keyboard or letters, yet continued to type out her messages. Furthermore, when the child was asked questions only the child knew (but the facilitator didn’t), the child was unresponsive or gave incorrect answers; similarly, when the facilitator and child were shown two pictures independently, the child responded correctly only when the same pictures were also seen by the facilitator. In short, it was clear that the facilitators were fooling themselves and simply typing out what they thought the child would say.

Numerous studies over two decades have failed to validate the claims of Crossley, Biklen, and others. The American Psychological Association has found no scientific evidence that FC works, and Gina Green, director of research at the New England Center of Autism, likened the technique to “dowsing sticks and the ouija board.” No one claims that FC proponents or facilitators maliciously deceived parents of autistic children. Yet money was lost and hopes were raised—then shattered—when hope and emotion jumped ahead of science.

Autism is a World may in fact document a miracle. But science and medical evidence suggest otherwise, and by leaving out information that casts doubt on the technique, this Oscar-nominated film may cruelly foster false hopes in friends and families of autistic children.

Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer, and wrote about facilitated communication in his 2003 book Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us.

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

The Peace Corps Library Date: February 7 2005 No: 438 The Peace Corps Library
Peace Corps Online is proud to announce that the Peace Corps Library is now available online. With over 30,000 index entries in over 500 categories, this is the largest collection of Peace Corps related reference material in the world. From Acting to Zucchini, you can use the Main Index to find hundreds of stories about RPCVs who have your same interests, who served in your Country of Service, or who serve in your state.

Top Stories and Breaking News PCOL Magazine Peace Corps Library RPCV Directory Sign Up

March 1: National Day of Action Date: February 28 2005 No: 471 March 1: National Day of Action
Tuesday, March 1, is the NPCA's National Day of Action. Please call your Senators and ask them to support the President's proposed $27 Million budget increase for the Peace Corps for FY2006 and ask them to oppose the elimination of Perkins loans that benefit Peace Corps volunteers from low-income backgrounds. Follow this link for step-by-step information on how to make your calls. Then take our poll and leave feedback on how the calls went.
Coates Redmon, Peace Corps Chronicler  Date: February 26 2005 No: 457 Coates Redmon, Peace Corps Chronicler
Coates Redmon, a staffer in Sargent Shriver's Peace Corps, died February 22 in Washington, DC. Her book "Come as You Are" is considered to be one of the finest (and most entertaining) recountings of the birth of the Peace Corps and how it was literally thrown together in a matter of weeks. If you want to know what it felt like to be young and idealistic in the 1960's, get an out-of-print copy. We honor her memory.

February 26, 2005: This Week's Top Stories Date: February 26 2005 No: 454 February 26, 2005: This Week's Top Stories
Folk-Singer Steve Schuch releases "Trees of Life" 26 Feb
Christopher Bartlett maintains Marine Protected Area 25 Feb
Joseph Frey uses amputation experience to help others 25 Feb
James McCann concerned by maize in Ethiopia 25 Feb
Sen. Obama says PC can help improve diplomacy 24 Feb
PCVs help remove batteries in Belize 24 Feb
Jimmy Carter praises mother's PC service 24 Feb
Craig D. Wandke's lunar passion began in Honduras 23 Feb
Char Andrews discusses her experience with cancer 23 Feb
Beverly Seckinger tells stories through film 23 Feb
J. Tyler Dickovick: As Togo goes, so may go Africa 23 Feb
Andres Hernandez searches for PCV for 40 years 23 Feb
Bulgaria is now like second home to Aaron Wills 22 Feb
Bernadette Roberts to serve as diplomat in Albania 22 Feb
USA Freedom Corps downgraded at White House 22 Feb
Tom Skeldon seeks to control pit bull trade 21 Feb
Gabriela Lena Frank writes music on Dad's PCV service 21 Feb

Make a call for the Peace Corps Date: February 19 2005 No: 453 Make a call for the Peace Corps
PCOL is a strong supporter of the NPCA's National Day of Action and encourages every RPCV to spend ten minutes on Tuesday, March 1 making a call to your Representatives and ask them to support President Bush's budget proposal of $345 Million to expand the Peace Corps. Take our Poll: Click here to take our poll. We'll send out a reminder and have more details early next week.
Peace Corps Calendar: Tempest in a Teapot? Date: February 17 2005 No: 445 Peace Corps Calendar: Tempest in a Teapot?
Bulgarian writer Ognyan Georgiev has written a story which has made the front page of the newspaper "Telegraf" criticizing the photo selection for his country in the 2005 "Peace Corps Calendar" published by RPCVs of Madison, Wisconsin. RPCV Betsy Sergeant Snow, who submitted the photograph for the calendar, has published her reply. Read the stories and leave your comments.
WWII participants became RPCVs Date: February 13 2005 No: 442 WWII participants became RPCVs
Read about two RPCVs who participated in World War II in very different ways long before there was a Peace Corps. Retired Rear Adm. Francis J. Thomas (RPCV Fiji), a decorated hero of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Friday, Jan. 21, 2005 at 100. Mary Smeltzer (RPCV Botswana), 89, followed her Japanese students into WWII internment camps. We honor both RPCVs for their service.
Bush's FY06 Budget for the Peace Corps Date: February 7 2005 No: 436 Bush's FY06 Budget for the Peace Corps
The White House is proposing $345 Million for the Peace Corps for FY06 - a $27.7 Million (8.7%) increase that would allow at least two new posts and maintain the existing number of volunteers at approximately 7,700. Bush's 2002 proposal to double the Peace Corps to 14,000 volunteers appears to have been forgotten. The proposed budget still needs to be approved by Congress.
RPCVs mobilize support for Countries of Service Date: January 30 2005 No: 405 RPCVs mobilize support for Countries of Service
RPCV Groups mobilize to support their Countries of Service. Over 200 RPCVS have already applied to the Crisis Corps to provide Tsunami Recovery aid, RPCVs have written a letter urging President Bush and Congress to aid Democracy in Ukraine, and RPCVs are writing NBC about a recent episode of the "West Wing" and asking them to get their facts right about Turkey.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Live Science

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Sierra Leone; Awards; Hollywood; Documentaries; Movies; Autism



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.