Monday, February 18, 2013

Ibby Grace: I Was A Self-Loathing FC Skeptic

Elizabeth J. Grace

You can read in Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking about the shall-remain-nameless professor who said in front of me and many others in graduate school that autistics did not know what it was like to be themselves because they had no theory of mind, so one had to read research about them done by others in order to understand them at all, (which presumably if you were one of them, you never would anyway -- this part is logically editorialized by me).

There was another professor who said in a large class of aspiring special education and psychology researchers, "Except for Grace, the idiot savant, who doesn't count," because I recalled more than seven allegedly random numbers which were not actually random, but had a clear pattern, and he hadn't told me ahead of time that the object of the exercise was to demonstrate that nobody can recall more than seven random things in short term memory.

Those two professors I mostly steered clear of. A third one, I trusted, because he is lovely.  He told me that facilitated communication (FC) was a dangerous non-scientific fad which co-opted people's voice and autonomy, and we, as scientist-practitioners, had to reject such nonsense, even though we should still go to TASH, where some people believed in silly things. He meant this nobly, and I believed him. But I still didn't feel safe enough to tell him who I was, that his colleague had hit the nail on the head with the completely inappropriate joke of "idiot savant."

My graduate university is famous for its brilliant education program, which runs several of its own conferences, and from which one can get a job even in an economic downturn. I was well-trained in several kinds of sciencey goodness by some seriously important people. I kept my hands in my pockets all the time and made sure nobody ever came to my apartment while making a big giant show of becoming elected President of the student association to demonstrate my ever-loving sociable respectability.

I spent almost all my spoons, and became quite ill in the process, but at least I learned really important scientific academic things, like how to be patriarchally condescending toward my fellow Autistics, "protecting" them from themselves while I secretly cowered in the migraine-inducing limelight, doing whatever I could to avoid exposing my need for shade and quiet and peace. (I also learned really amazing actually useful things, such as see link below.)

So when you hear me now, as you will hear me now, defending people whose voices are made manifest by typing, you should know that I am not a scientific naif. Here is what happened: I met many people who communicate by typing (as I often do myself, when doing online chat, etc.) and found out from them what their life experiences were. In epistemological terms, this is sometimes called phenomenological knowledge, or to put it more idiomatically, getting it from the horse's mouth. I consider its warrant stronger than that of many of the quasi- and experimental studies that have been used to devoice those who are non-verbal, because of the question of goodness-of-fit. In other words, I am a person who has been carefully trained to understand what various kinds of research studies are able to show and not show, and here is an excellent book I was lucky enough to help edit for the top ed research organization about just that topic, if you are interested in delving more deeply into it for yourself.

And it is because of this that I have changed my mind and attitudes about the breadth of communication choices of people whose way of communicating is through typing, even if they are not yet entirely independent with it. In other words, you can tell me all about FC being 'unscientific,' but know this is something I've thought about long and deeply, and I will likely answer you in graphic detail about ethnography, phenomenology, epistemology, knowledge warrant, and patriarchalist colonialism. I can do this for a very long time, because I was once like you are, if you are like I once was.

Thanks for listening.


Previously published at