Thursday, April 10, 2008

More on the facilitated communication abuse case...

This is a comment from a well-informed reader about a Michigan abuse case against the father of an autisitic teenager where the judge was prepared to allow testimony from the girl through facilitated communication. This is referring to a post on January 30, 2008, Judge allows autistic girl's testimony using facilitated communication:
When the judge said he found "nothing scientific" about facilitated communication, he was not saying that FC was not valid. He was making a legal judgment that facilitated communication was not a technique that might be subject to a general scientific test. For instance, a method for measuring the concentration of salt in water would be "scientific."

When the judge denied the defense a Daubert hearing, he explicitly ruled that FC was a form of "interpretation" like translating Spanish into English, and was thus legally immune from a general scientific evaluation. In other words, the judge was accepting the validity of FC as a technique even though FC objectively differs from interpretation in several significant aspects. (A court in Kansas had taken the same position around 1993). The defense would have to attempt to undermine the veracity of the accusations themselves as though they were genuine statements made by the girl. In doing this, judge was adopting a position advanced by Phipps and Ells in an article in the Nebraska Law Review--a position that legal analyst Brian Gorman described as "bad science and bad law."

It is significant that the judge adopted as "guidance" the only two cases in which FC was allowed into court rather than the many in which it was not. Doing so might have been the only way for him to rescue the prosecutor's case, which was not going well. Ironically, one of the cases the judge selected as "guidance" eventually resulted in the dismissal of the charges against the falsely accused parents and a $750,000 settlement in their favor.
Of course, now we know that all the charges were dismissed. However, it is important to note that the prosecution never admitted any mistakes. In fact, its excuse for granting the dismissal, that the girl typed out that she was too afraid to testify, was really just a despicable parting shot against the parents. It also did not ring true. If the authorities were willing to coerce the younger brother as they did, what was to prevent them from pressuring the girl to testify. The reality is that they had nothing but bogus accusations to go on, and would have had to face a very well-prepared defense that had actual facts on its side.

Ann Arbor recreation programs for Spring 2008

The Ann Arbor Rec & Ed catalog for Spring 2008 is available on-line. You can find Adapted Recreation classes for special needs adults and children on page 34 of the catalog. Look at the catalog here and the AA Rec & Ed website here.

The classes currently offered are:

Cooking Cooperatively: Every Wednesday from 4/16 to 6/4, 5:15 - 7:30 pm, at the High Point Young Adult kitchen. The emphasis is on kitchen safety and measuring techniques while creating simple foods.

Dinner & a Movie: Every Thursday from 4/24 to 5/29, 5:30 - 8:30 pm, at the High Point School Young Adult kitchen. Make a simple meal, watch a new movie every week, and become a film critic in the discussion afterwards.

Adapted Swim Sessions: Friday evenings, starting at either 5:30 or 6:00 pm, at the High Point pool, from 4/18 - 5/30. Private instruction or therapeutic swim lessons. Grade K - adult.

Strike Force: Bowl up to two games per week and get an official Strike Force t-shirt. Monday afternoons starting at 4 pm, from 4/14 - 6/9 at Colonial Lanes.

Check the catalog for fees and scholarship opportunities. On-line registration is available here.

Monday, April 7, 2008

U of M Research Opportunity for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Children with severe physical and speech impairments are difficult to test. Conventional testing may not provide accurate information about a child’s abilities because the child must be able to speak or point to answer questions. The Adapted Cognitive Assessment Lab (ACAL) at the University of Michigan in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation has developed alternative testing methods to provide a more accurate and well-rounded profile of a child’s abilities.

The ACAL research focuses on communication through the development of choice-making skills in children with CP. They hope to foster appropriate supports in school and community settings through the results of ACAL testing. For more information, email:

or call: 734-936-6023 or 734-936-6604.

Visit the ACAL website for more information and opportunities to participate in various research projects.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Autistic girl's brother becomes collateral damage in abuse case

The Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson devoted two columns (here and here) to the recently dismissed abuse case against the father of an autistic girl. The 14-year old girl, who is unable to speak, accused her father of rape. She did this using facilitated communication in which a school aide assisted her in typing out messages on a keyboard. Testimony obtained through Facilitated Communication has repeatedly been shown to be unreliable as evidence in court. Messages obtained through this method have been shown to originate with the facilitator rather than the autistic person.

The girl's younger brother, who has a milder form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, was also drawn into the case when he was questioned by an investigator without his lawyer present and under circumstances which were considered by experts to be inappropriate and damaging to the boy.

Videotapes were made of the interrogation and excerpts are available on-line.

The 13-year-old brother was questioned by a police detective in early December 2007 after his father was arrested for allegedly raping his sister; his mother was charged with allowing the abuse to happen. The boy and his sister had been placed in foster homes. The interrogator, a police detective, appears to have ignored Michigan child abuse laws which prescribe rules for questioning juveniles in sexual abuse cases. The rules warn investigators to avoid threats, promises, and leading questions, but the investigator used all of those things during his interrogation. As Brian Dickerson reports:

For nearly an hour, Detective Joseph Brousseau had grilled the boy about accusations that he and his autistic sister had been sexually molested by their father.

No, the boy insisted, he'd seen nothing to support the detective's lurid suspicions. Three times, he offered to take a lie detector test.

But Brousseau hammered away, challenging the boy's honesty, his manliness, his loyalty to his disabled sister.

Again and again, the detective told the boy his body language betrayed the burden of a terrible secret.

"What if I told you that one of those videotapes confiscated from your parents' house had you in it?" the detective asked suddenly.

The 13-year-old straightened. "Was it me doing something sexually?"

"I don't think I'd be bringing it up if it wasn't," Brousseau answered. "That's what I'm trying to tell you -- it's going to come out."

If it were merely what it purported to be -- the disclosure of a deviant father's treachery -- the videotaped exchange would be excruciating enough to watch.

But the truth is a good deal uglier than that.

Charges have been dropped. In fact, prosecutors now concede, much of what Brousseau told the boy during his Dec. 4 interrogation was a fabrication.

The damage to the family and especially to the disabled 13-year old brother in this terribly flawed case is incalculable, but a lawsuit by the family is a possibility.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Michigan abuse case against father of autistic teenager dismissed

The Detroit Free Press, on March 11 and March 12, 2008, reported that a judge has dismissed all charges against a West Bloomfield, Michigan man who was accused of raping his 15-year-old autistic daughter. The accusations were supposedly made by the girl through a highly controversial method called facilitated communication. The girl, who is unable to talk, was assisted by a teacher's aide in typing out messages on a keyboard. At a hearing in February, the girl was unable to answer any questions in court when the teacher's aide was prevented from hearing the questions being asked. Experts testified that in cases like this, the messages are consciously or unconsciously those of the facilitator and not the autistic person.

The case against the girl's mother for not stopping the rapes has also been dismissed.

While defense attorneys said there was never any basis for believing the abuse had occurred, the prosecutors said they decided to ask for a dismissal in the case because the girl refused to testify. Assistant prosecutors said they met with the girl four times. In one interview, the girl said, through her teacher's aide and by pointing at yes-no cards, that she was afraid of her father and did not want to testify. The interview was not taped, however, and there was no written record.

According to the attorney for the girl's mother, when the girl was reunited with her father, she ran into his arms and could not stop hugging him. The girl had spent four months in foster care and her father 80 days in jail.

In a separate civil case that sought to remove both the girl and her brother from their parents, a judge ordered the children returned to their parents.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Recent autism studies

An article published in Science News, January 12, 2008, p. 19, reports on recent studies attempting to unravel the possible genetic causes of autism.

Geneticist Mark J. Daly of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has found a small stretch of chromosome 16 that promotes autism when it is in an altered form. It is found in about 1% of children with the disorder. The study looked at 751 families with two or more children with autism or a related disorder, for a total of 1,441 affected children. The researchers found additional evidence of both DNA deletion and extra copies of genes within the chromosome 16 area in children diagnosed with autism. In most of the cases, the altered genes arose spontaneously, but some were inherited from parents.

Another study, led by geneticist Aravinda Chakravati of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, identified
a small area of chromosome 7 that showed a link to autism. A specific gene on chromosome 7 makes a protein essential for neural communications.

In another study reported in Science News, September 29, 2007, p. 197, researchers found no association between Mercury in
vaccines and climbing autism rates. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and enrolled 1,047 children from 7 - 10 years old. The researchers compared the amount of Themerosol, a Mercury based preservative used in vaccines, that children received through the first 7 months of life and the results of a battery of tests for language, memory, motor coordination, attention, and intelligence. They found no correlation between the amount of Mercury the children received and performance on the tests.

In another study by the California Department of Public Health, researcher Robert Schechter found that the prevalence of
autism in children aged 3 - 12 years old has increased gradually from 1995 to 2007, even though Themerosol was removed from vaccines from 1999 - 2001.

Science News
is available on-line only by subscription.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Take the high road...

“…take the high road. There’s less traffic.” Leonard Pitts, Jr., columnist for the Miami Herald

Thursday, February 7, 2008

More on abuse case based on allegations made through facilitated communication

The Detroit Free Press reports more developments in the case of a 14-year-old autistic girl who accused her father of rape through facilitated communication, a widely discredited communication technique where a facilitator holds the arm or wrist of the girl over a keyboard while she spells out messages.

Family Court Judge Joan Young ruled that the girl could continue to use facilitated communication at school, but that she could not use it to communicate about the pending case against her parents. The judge was alarmed that West Bloomfield police had questioned the autistic girl's mentally-impaired brother on December 4, 2007, without notifying his guardian and without a parent or attorney present. She said this is not to happen again.

A column by Brian Dickerson, "Crying rape through a Ouija board", also appeared in the Free Press on 2/6/08. He concludes that "...the gravity of the state's allegations can't camouflage the weakness of its case. Barron [the District Court judge] should call an end to this travesty now, before a higher court does it for him."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Respite evenings in Chelsea, MI

The Chelsea Free Methodist Church is offering families of special needs children one respite evening per month for free. The program, called Rest and Refresh, is open to families of children with physical, emotional, or mental disabilities. Siblings may also attend.

One Saturday night per month, the church, which is located at 7665 Werkner Road in Chelsea, MI, will offer respite from 5-9 p.m. Volunteer care givers will be selected based on the child's needs. All volunteers are required to submit to a background check and will go through an orientation for the program.

A family orientation night will be held on Saturday, February 23, 2008 from 5-9 p.m. at the church. The first respite care evening will be on Saturday, March 8, 2008.

For questions about the program, call Liz Graves, Rest and Refresh Coordinator, at (734) 475-8801. For an application, call (734) 475-1391 or email

Monday, February 4, 2008

In abuse case, prosecution's witness sheds doubt on reliability of facilitated communication

It is hard to tell what is motivating the prosecution to continue with this case [see posts from 1/24/08 and 1/30/08] involving a 14-year-old autistic girl who has accused her father of rape. The girl cannot talk, but she uses a highly controversial communication technique called facilitated communication where a facilitator guides the hand of the girl over a keyboard and assists her in spelling out messages. Defense experts who testified at a hearing last week said that the communications are from the facilitator, not the girl, and that the technique has no scientific validity. The judge agreed that the technique is not scientific, but will hold another hearing on February 22, 2008, to determine the girl's competence. He did not disallow the use of facilitated communication.

An article in today's Detroit Free Press says that the girl's mother is asking a Family Court judge to remove her daughter from the school she is attending, because she is afraid the school and prosecutors are trying to influence the girl by coaching her. The article also reveals more about a hearing last week where even the prosecution's witness doubted the reliability of the communications from the girl:

[The Assistant Prosecutor Andrea] Dean sat red-faced during one hearing last week while an expert witness she had called, Dr. Sandra McClennen of Eastern Michigan University, voiced concerns about the prosecution's case, saying investigators ignored pleas to verify the claims with a second facilitator

Under questioning, McClennen said protocols call for abuse claims to be verified using a second facilitator who is unaware of the allegation. But after she explained the protocol to a social worker on the case, a West Bloomfield Police officer returned her call.

"The gist of it was, 'We don't want your services,' " McClennen testified.

The girl's father has been in jail since December 1st and the mother is free on bond with charges of neglect and witness tampering. This story is being reported by Free Press staff writers John Wisely and L.L. Brasier.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Epsom Salts cut risk of cerebral palsy in preemies

An AP article from 1/31/08 describes a study presented to the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Dallas which shows that Epsom Salts, or magnesium sulphate, given to women who go into premature labor, can reduce the risk of cerebral palsy in their infants.

In the government-funded study, researchers gave an infusion of magnesium sulfate to women about to give birth to a premature baby to see if it would reduce the risk of cerebral palsy. Enrolled in the study were 2,241 women who were 24 to 31 weeks pregnant... They were given either the compound or a fake solution. The infants were examined for signs of cerebral palsy at birth and over the next two years.

Of the babies who survived, moderate or severe cerebral palsy occurred in about 2 percent of those in the treatment group compared to about 4 percent of those whose mothers didn't get the compound.

The number of infants who died was about the same in both groups.

Two of the researchers mentioned in the article were Dr. John Thorp of the University of North Carolina and Dr. Dwight Rouse from the University of Alabama.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Judge allows autistic girl's testimony using facilitated communication

In Oakland County, Michigan, the father of a 14-year-old autistic girl was arrested for allegedly raping his daughter and the girl's mother has been accused of doing nothing to stop it. This was communicated by the girl, who does not talk, through the use of facilitated communication, a controversial technique where the person types out answers to questions on a keyboard while a facilitator holds the person's arm or wrist. (See the previous post from January 24, 2008).

On January28, 2008 a hearing was held to determine whether the girl's testimony would be permitted. The hearing was closed to the public and reporters, but reporters were able to view the testimony without sound from outside the courtroom. A demonstration was conducted to show the unreliability of facilitated communication. The facilitator, an aide from school, was briefly asked to leave the room while the girl was asked a question. Then the aide came back into the room to assist the girl in answering the questions. The girl was unable to answer any of the questions she was asked (such as what is the color of your sweater? and what is your brother's name?) when the facilitator did not hear the question.

Experts, including Howard Shane from the Center for Communication Disorders at Children's Hospital in Boston, testified that facilitated communication is unreliable and that scientific studies show that it is the facilitator who is doing the communicating, not the person with the disability.

Although the judge found "nothing scientific about facilitated communication at all", he will allow the girl to testify using it and will rule on her competency next month.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Organization to end waiting lists

NOEWAIT is the National Organization to End the Waitlist through Advocacy, Information and Transformation. To join, contact _DnvrFox@aol.com_ (

Here is the main part of an email I received about this new organization:

Dedicated to ending national waitlists for services for adults with Developmental Disabilities through ADVOCACY within the political system, the sharing of INFORMATION from all sources, and the TRANSFORMATION of the laws, leading
to all individuals with Developmental Disabilities receiving appropriate services of their choice within the community.

Waitlists for services for adults with developmental disabilities are a national disgrace. Some states have over 100,000 adults with extreme needs waiting for services. A few states have passed legislation to end the waitlists. Yet, individuals in most states are fighting for services on a person-by-person, state-by-state basis. There seems to be no national awareness nor coordination, yet this is truly a national issue.

The moderator, Denver C. Fox, Ed.D., is a parent of two adult children with profound disabilities. He is the moderator of the Colorado listserv, Parents of Adults with Disabilities.

Dr. Fox and PAD-CO participants have been very active in the Colorado attempt to reduce the waitlists for about 7,000 adults with developmental disabilities in the Colorado system.

This listserv is open to all parents, friends, professionals, politicians and others, and is designed to gather information about the extent of the waitlist in each state, to find out what attempts are being made to solve that problem within each state (and their success), and to develop a national agenda regarding ending the disgraceful waitlists.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

False confession by man with limited mental ability

We hear a lot about people with severe mental illness ending up in prison because they lack the treatment they need; we hear less often about people with limited mental ability, who also have problems with our courts and prison system. An Associated Press article by David Eggert from November 25, 2007, describes the unfortunate imprisonment of a man with limited mental capacity for a crime he did not commit.

Claude McCollum, a 30-year old homeless man with a low IQ, was arrested and convicted of the murder of a Lansing Community College professor in 2005. He was released after 18 months in prison, when another man confessed to the murder. It was discovered that a video surveillance camera showed that McCollum was somewhere else at the time of the crime and that this was in a detective's report from March 2005, but the defense attorney says he never saw the report and the jury never heard of the report.

McCollum, who sometimes slept in a campus building and was taking classes there, was an easy target. During questioning, he was asked hypothetical questions and in the answer to one question "he agreed he possibly could have killed Kronenberg while sleepwalking if she threatened his life." This was taken as a confession. In his willingness to please his interrogators, McCollum concocted an elaborate story of how he might have killed the victim and everything that might have led up to the killing and what happened afterwords, had he actually been the murderer.

There was only one piece of physical evidence that might have connected McCollum to the crime, but the prosecution was warned by a forensics expert that McCollum likely had nothing to do with it.

The prosecution of this case is being investigated by the state Attorney General and McCollum is suing the prosecutors, the state police, and the community college for damages.

Here is a good summary of the case by Kevin Grasha and Christine Rook of the Lansing State Journal.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Allegations of sexual abuse made against parents based on Facilitated Communication

The Detroit Free Press reported on December 18, 2007 that a Bloomfield Hills couple has been charged with sexual abuse against their 14-year-old autistic daughter based on statements the girl made through Facilitated Communication. This controversial technique, which is intended to allow people with a variety of disabilities to communicate by typing out messages or pointing to pictures, involves a facilitator who holds the person's hand or wrist allowing the person to use an extended finger to type or point.

The girl in this case cannot speak, but was alleged to have said through a facilitator, an aide at the girl's school, that she was repeatedly raped by her father. The girl's 13-year-old brother has Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. The brother, who is able to talk, reportedly said that he saw his father nude in the house and showering nude with his sister. There is no DNA evidence to back up the charges of rape. The only physical evidence comes from a nurse's report that the girl's hymen showed three "nonacute tears", indicating that there might have been sexual assault.

The controversy over Facilitated Communication involves the degree to which the communication is that of the facilitator rather than that of the disabled person. According to the the Detroit Free Press article, even advocates of the technique from the Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse University in New York have said that "...the use of facilitator boards has not met scientific standards of reliability for courtroom use."

From information known about this case, there appear to be inconsistencies in the record involving the autistic girl's communications through the facilitator: She claimed to have been repeatedly raped by her father since she was 6-years-old although her hymen shows only nonacute tears; she said that her parents visited her at the house of the family's rabbi where the girl is now living, and said they would be taking her to South Africa - the family's rabbi states that this did not happen and that she was never alone.

A second article about the case in the Detroit Free Press from December 19, 2007 says that the Family Court Judge has allowed the mother to have supervised visits with her son over the objections of the Oakland County prosecutors who want to terminate the parents' custody of their children. A hearing on custody is scheduled for February 5, 2008.

For more information on this topic, try a Google search for "Facilitated Communication abuse allegations".