Assessment Q & A

Family members and professionals typically have a number of questions around the assessment process. This Q & A is for those who are considering exploring the method with a prospective communicator. As a learner of the method, you are considering learning to be a facilitator. Some of the questions below focus on your prospective communicator. Other questions address your process of learning as a facilitator.

For the prospective communicator

Who is considered a candidate?

People who need support are those who cannot speak or who speech is limited, difficult to understand or inconsistent in daily use. Additionally, the use of their hands is compromised, making independent selection to an augmentative device challenging. Some people choose to use FCT to augment their established way of communicating. Most people use the method as an alternative to other communication strategies.

Will using this method affect the person's efforts to speak?

Opening the path to communication through AAC and FCT works to help, not hinder, the development of other means of communication. There are times when it is necessary to quiet a person’s speaking when it is clear that what they are speaking is not an authentic message, but is interfering with their ability to express a true thought. In the long term, all forms of communication need to work together toward authentic expression.

What if the communicator doesn't like to be touched?

If a person is truly touch sensitive, we need to honor that and work around it in using the method. Much of the time, however, the touch sensitivity is based in an emotional need for control. In this case, it is important for the person to know that the touch is not controlling or combative but instead is supportive and comfortable. Allowing the person to designate the details of how the touch happens helps to allay the fear of being controlled.

Does the candidate need to be a certain age?

Very young children (ages 2-4) use this method differently than a school-age child, a teenager or an adult. In the assessment, we look at where a person is in developing communication and what the next step would be. Supporting a preschooler to point to pictures to make a choice is as important as supporting a school-age child to spell out a full sentence. Perhaps the difference would be, however, that the preschooler be immersed in a print-rich environment so that the potential for spelling can develop through exposure to words along with the pictures.

Does a person have to know how to read?

No. The focus of this method is on finding solutions to motor planning challenges. With the proper support, a person can point to objects, photographs, line drawings and other symbols that are used in building communication. The advantage of the printed word is that it guarantees entrance and viability in many environments. Using the printed word enriches a person’s life.

What equipment is used?

A variety of equipment can be used for people who use supported pointing. This includes low-tech items, such as letter boards and dry-erase boards for choice making. It also includes mid-range technology such as a Go-Talk device. High-tech devices include the Dynavox, the LAMP system and tablets like the iPad. Over the course of learning to use the method, a communicator usually uses a number of devices.

For those learning to be a facilitator

What does it take to learn this method?

Learning the method takes time and practice with a person who requires support. It includes attending an introductory course like Foundations of Facilitated Communication Training and working with others who know the method, to get started, build proper skills and work toward independence. The first step, however, is to complete an assessment by a qualified trainer.

What is involved in the training?

There is a lot to learn in the training process! There are foundational concepts that help you understand the 'why' and the 'how' of support. There is also the getting-started process, or developing the initial sense that you know what you are doing when you support an individual for communication through this method. Skill building is a time when you are reaching toward fluent, complex level of communication. This can take a while.

As you move through these stages, strategies of fading support (independence) are given. Once at fluid and open communication, the focus is on developing the highest level of independence possible for that individual. Moving through these stages means attending workshops, conferences, reading material, practicing with the communicator, and networking with others who use the method. It is important not to do this alone.

Who should be trained?

A communicator needs a strong circle of support. This means that there should be opportunity throughout the day and across environments to communicate at the highest and most proficient level. For most individuals, this means that both family members and professionals who provide service should be included in training for the method.

How long does it take to be trained?

The time it takes to learn the method varies and is dependent on peoples' availability, access to training and time spent in practicing and getting support to move along in the continuum of learning. As with any other 'hands-on' set of skills, the speed with which one achieves the ability to support an individual varies from person to person.

How do I know if the method is working?

The initial indicator that the method is working is the feel of the individual taking you to the target for selection. Since the touch is resistive in nature, the push forward to the target should feel clear and intentional. Other indicators develop over time. This includes having the communicator use an unusual word or phrase, spell something unknown to the facilitator, or use other forms of communication to verify the spelled message.

For instance, the person spells "I want to go" and then gets up and walks over to the door. As a person responds to the power that authentic communication provides, there is often a change in behavior. When a communicator has several people who are providing support, you often see similar indicators across the support team. This allows you to identify the communicator’s unique 'voice.'

Finally, if you are considering using the method, the first step is the assessment

Who is qualified to do an assessment?

Trainers and master trainers are qualified to provide assessments for Facilitated Communication Training. They have the knowledge and experience of motor planning challenges and can provide solutions through proper application of the method.

Coaches often assist in assessments, but they do not have the experience that trainers and master trainers do. At times, experienced facilitators step in and 'trial' the method. This is not an assessment, but such a 'trial' may give a family a sense of what might occur in an assessment.