Saturday, July 2, 2016

Facilitated Communication: (A dangerous prescription for miscarriages of justice? HL); (Part One); Canadian Press reporter Michael MacDonald reveals a Prince Edward Island family's nightmarish story of battling 'false' sex-assault allegations allegedly revealed through "faciltated communication." ..."First introduced to North America in the early 1990s, facilitated communication was initially hailed as a breakthrough for those unable to speak or write on their own. The technique involves an aide holding the user’s wrist, finger or arm as they point to letters or type on a keyboard. The theory behind FC is that the support calms and steadies the user, unlocking a previously hidden ability to communicate. However, more than 40 scientific studies have shown that, in all but a handful of cases, facilitators unconsciously guided the hand of the FC user, says Eastern Michigan University Prof. James Todd, a longtime critic of the technique." (A disturbing, cautionary story by reporter Michael MacDonald, published by the National Post.)

STORY: " knew it was false," by reporter Michael MacDonald, published by the National Post on July 2, 2016.

SUB-HEADING: "It's about facilitation. You are believing what you hear from a third party. - Police transcript from the interrogation of man whose non-verbal, severely autistic daughter allegedly accused him of sexual assault.

SUB-HEADING: "Facilitated communication in spotlight in family's  battle over sexual assault allegation."

GIST:  "When the P.E.I. businessman arrived at the group home in Charlottetown to pick up his daughter, two solemn RCMP officers were waiting for him. He immediately assumed his daughter was dead. “In those few seconds, I visualized a pile of bloody rags on the road, which was her body run over by a truck,” he says, his voice shaking. The officers assured him the young woman was fine.

But his sense of relief fell away when the Mounties handcuffed him, saying she had accused him of sexually assaulting her. “I said, ‘Obviously, there’s a mistake here, there’s a communication problem,“’ he said in a recent interview. “I knew it was false.”.........The Canadian Press is not identifying the family because of the nature of the allegations and the young woman’s vulnerable state. She has severe autism, is virtually non-verbal and has the intellectual capacity of a two-year-old. Independent psychological testing, later arranged by her family despite resistance from the province and group home, found she was incapable of making the allegations attributed to her. The clinical psychologist who did the testing said it demonstrated that questions put to the woman were actually being answered by group home workers using a disputed method known as facilitated communication. The father was never charged. However, a judge later concluded the province’s Health Department and the group home acted in a “deplorable” manner by repeatedly ignoring the parents’ attempts to have their daughter’s communication skills independently assessed. The P.E.I. Supreme Court, in a decision released in March, found the actions of then-health minister Doug Currie were unreasonable, and that his office failed in its legislated duty to conduct an investigation.........The case in P.E.I. is an echo of a disturbing trend that first appeared in the early 1990s, when there was a string of cases of non-verbal people apparently using facilitated communication (FC) to accuse family members of sexual abuse. A subsequent study of these cases, by London-based psychiatrist Elizabeth Starr, found that not one resulted in a conviction because it could not be shown that independent communication was taking place. “In the meantime, families have faced stigma and humiliation, and have incurred enormous legal bills,” Starr wrote in 1994. “What began as a potential tool of empowerment and independence ... has become a tool of devastating destruction when uncritically adopted.” The woman’s parents, who are speaking out for the first time, say those responsible for their agonizing ordeal should be held accountable for their actions. More importantly, they say they want to make sure no other family suffers a similar fate.
Their daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was about three years old. By the time she entered junior high school, facilitated communication was among a long list of therapies they had tried. “Nothing we had used up to that point was working, and we always tried whatever we could,” her mother says. “Looking back on it, we wanted to believe.” First introduced to North America in the early 1990s, facilitated communication was initially hailed as a breakthrough for those unable to speak or write on their own. The technique involves an aide holding the user’s wrist, finger or arm as they point to letters or type on a keyboard. The theory behind FC is that the support calms and steadies the user, unlocking a previously hidden ability to communicate. However, more than 40 scientific studies have shown that, in all but a handful of cases, facilitators unconsciously guided the hand of the FC user, says Eastern Michigan University Prof. James Todd, a longtime critic of the technique. Despite widespread skepticism within the scientific community, supporters of FC say the method works. The Institute on Communication and Inclusion at Syracuse University in Upstate New York – a leading force in the FC movement – says problems with FC are typically caused by failure to adhere to best practices. The institute, in a statement released last fall, said facilitators must be taught how to confirm authorship. As well, the institute stressed that FC is a training method used as a stepping stone to independent communication. “The goal is always a fading of that (physical) support toward independent access of a device,” the statement says. However, the woman in the P.E.I. case never graduated to that level. In 2001, she was using FC when she moved to a group home at the age of 21. At the time, the technique was used mainly for basic communication about meals and other simple choices, her father says..........In the fall of 2014, they say they were stunned when they were told their daughter had apparently used FC to say she wanted to have sex with a group home worker.
“I cautioned them about facilitation,” the mother said in an interview. “I said, ‘Is there a problem? Could there be something going on?“’ They were told not to worry because the male staff member was married, she says..........A police transcript of the interview says the facilitators offered graphic details, saying the woman was forced to perform various sex acts. But the parents say police failed to notice signs suggesting the interview was flawed. In the video, the alleged victim rarely looks at her letter board as she moves around the room, her parents say. And some of the facilitated answers to basic, personal questions were wrong, including an answer to a question about the name of the family’s pet dog. “She would do five taps and they would come out with a long sentence as to what she said,” her mother says. “We were horrified.” The father was arrested after returning from a family vacation. During a police interrogation that day, he denied abusing his daughter and insisted the allegations did not come from her, according to a police transcript. “It’s about facilitation,” he told McQuaid, the RCMP’s lead investigator. “You are believing what you are hearing from a third party.”
The father was released on a promise to appear later in court to face a sexual assault charge and a charge of sexual exploitation of a disabled person. He signed an undertaking saying he would refrain from contacting his daughter or anyone under the age of 18. As the RCMP investigation progressed, there were signs the Mounties may have had doubts about what they had heard through FC. An internal report dated Feb. 12, 2015 – five days after the arrest – says investigators wanted to conduct a second interview with the woman, this time with an impartial facilitator. But that never happened. When a speech pathologist arrived at the RCMP detachment on March 13, 2015, the alleged victim was “unwilling to communicate,” McQuaid’s report says, offering no details. An RCMP spokeswoman said investigators sought advice from an expert, but Sgt. Leanne Butler declined to offer details about the Mounties’ investigation, citing privacy concerns..........In a terse email to his lawyers, the father said: “We are devastated at this recent news. (My wife) is incapable of functioning now! They have done a great job of destroying this family.”Their lawyers moved into high gear, reaching out to experts to determine the woman’s ability to communicate through FC. But they, too, ran into a brick wall. The province repeatedly failed to respond to requests to have her skills put to the test, court records show. Finally, on June 10, 2015, clinical psychologist Dr. Adrienne Perry – an expert on autism and developmental disabilities at York University in Toronto – conducted a series of tests to determine the woman’s abilities. Images from a videotaped, 90-minute session clearly show how the woman rarely looked at her alphabet board when pointing to the letters. Perry estimated her eyes were focused elsewhere 90 per cent of the time. More importantly, the psychologist found facilitator Jennifer Hendricken couldn’t help the woman answer the simplest of questions, unless Hendricken already knew the answers. At one point, the woman was shown a small figurine – a pink pony – while Hendricken was out of the room. When Hendricken returned, the woman was asked to use FC to describe what she had seen. The first facilitated answer was: “I seen a picture of a ball.” Asked again, the answer was: “A picture of a kid.” After Hendricken was told it was actually a pony, the woman was asked to describe its colour. The facilitated answer? “Black.Other tests produced similar results.  “Thus, (the woman) was not able to convey any information about what she had seen when the facilitator was unaware of the information and, further, all the information that was produced through FC was false,” Perry concluded. “(She) is incapable of generating the communications that are being attributed to her. Furthermore, validity testing of FC used with (her) demonstrates that it is not (her) doing the communicating but that answers are being generated by the facilitator.”......... Despite those assertions, a Crown attorney filed a stay of proceedings in the father’s case on June 26, 2015. But it would be another month before Currie withdrew his protection order. The parents were appointed guardians July 30, 2015, and reunited with their daughter two days later in the group home’s parking lot. “They never showed any remorse for their disgusting behaviour and ... (there’s) still no apology from anyone at (the group home) or government,” the father says. The parents later sued the Health Department to recover some of their legal costs. In a written submission, the parents’ lawyers argued that the health minister could not realistically claim he didn’t know that facilitated communication is, in their words, a “hoax.” “Anyone with access to an Internet connection can determine in a matter of seconds that there is no more evidence to support the validity of FC than there is to show the Earth is flat,” their court brief says. On March 9, 2016, Judge Nancy Key of P.E.I. Supreme Court awarded the parents more than $61,000. “The minister of health refused to carry out his statutorily mandated obligations to the detriment and great expense, both emotional and financial, of the ... family,” Key’s decision says. “Even a cursory review of the studies of facilitated communication would have alerted the minister of health to the very real possibility the communications of (the woman) were not her communications.” The court did not take a position on the validity of FC, but the decision clearly states that the technique did not work in this case. Had the woman’s caregivers or the health minister followed the legislation requiring an investigation, “it would have become clear very early on ... (the) communications were not the communications of (the woman) but were the communications of the facilitators,” the decision says. The parents say their legal bills have exceeded $200,000. “Most families would crumble, fall apart and be in a mental institution long before this,” the father says. “The sleeplessness, the anxiety and there’s a feeling that someone needs to be punished here ... There were people who didn’t do their jobs, who were grossly negligent.” His wife added: “Our objective is that we hope no other family ever has to go through this. There’s a danger that still lurks there.”"

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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

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