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".