Communication: The Big Picture

In the year 2000, Standards on Facilitated Communication Training were developed by the Facilitated Communication Institute (currently known as the Institute on Communication and Inclusion) at Syracuse University. One of the guiding principles of the Standards is the concept of Total Communication.

"The approach of facilitated communication training is not meant to replace established, effective strategies currently being used by a person; rather, it is meant to provide a means whereby that person can expand current strategies and develop a more comprehensive means of expression. As a person learns to use facilitated communication, his or her current strategies should not be ignored but utilized both to build intent and to expand his or her interactions."

Facilitated communication should always be offered as part of a full system of strategies which might include sign language, simple gestures and facial expressions, single words and phrases, and independent pointing. This would allow a person the greatest opportunity to communicate in various situations and to decide which strategy can be used most effectively in a given circumstance.

New communication strategies may develop from the use of facilitated communication. For example, many individuals who use facilitated communication have experienced an increase in their ability to use speech effectively. It is expected that, over time, individual facilitated communication users will grow in their use of facilitated communication, and that the ways they use facilitated communication will change. This might include both changes in the way they use it to interact with others and in the way they combine facilitated communication with other communication strategies. Facilitators need to be ready to:

  • provide appropriate support,
  • use an effective combination of strategies,
  • and promote the user's ability to change the combination of strategies to improve effectiveness (e.g., using word prediction software, reading aloud what is typed).

The complete discussion of Principles, detailed in Section II of the Standards on Facilitated Communication Training, can be accessed at the bottom of this text.

All of us communicate in a variety of ways. Those of us who can speak enjoy also the ability to communicate through gestures, facial expressions, body language as well as the printed word, pictures and movies. Especially in this current technological environment, the printed word rivals speech. Nonetheless, speech reigns supreme. Many communicators who type to communicate have a strong desire to be able to talk.

Facilitated Communication Training is not the 'end game.' It is the beginning. With the goal of opening up authentic, intentional communication, other communication strategies automatically become a part of process. Why? What good is typing a joke if you can't smirk or give a twinkle of the eye?

How often do we enhance the meaning of our words by posturing our body in a certain way or use a gesture to 'seal the deal?' This richness has to be available to communicators who use FCT. One of the best ways one can judge whether or not FCT is being implemented properly is to observe an increase in intentionality through these other means of expression. As a communicator becomes organized and has a more reliable connection between thinking and acting on the world, other communication strategies may emerge. These should be encouraged and developed.