Re: Our review of A New Kind of Listening

November 04, 2009

Dalsheimer responds

Marc Maximov's review of A New Kind of Listening ("Hello in there," Oct. 21) got a couple things right—the film's "passionate argument for inclusion and respect makes it a powerful piece of advocacy." And he rightly quotes me when I said, "We don't want this film to be just about FC [Facilitated Communication]."

Unfortunately, Maximov made one factual error, was lazy in his reporting and missed a core message of the film.

First, Maximov wrote, "After seeing a rough cut of the film, officials at the [FC] institute had sufficient qualms to request a disclaimer at the end." No such request was made by the institute. Margaret Heath, Polly Medlicott and I included the language in deference to the institute's amazing work and the promise FC holds for thousands of people who can benefit from its use.

Secondly, in his critique of FC, Maximov wrongly asserts that Margaret Heath, a highly skilled and sensitive facilitator, actively influenced the typing shown in the film. Maximov's failure to contact Ms. Heath and explore his own skepticism before printing erroneous assumptions does a disservice to the many people working earnestly to give voice to people who might otherwise be voiceless.

Finally, as the review title indicates, Maximov's eyes were focused squarely on Chris Mueller-Medlicott and the disabled members of the theater group. Yes, Chris is a main character, and Maximov's discussion of his life and how it is treated in the film is right on. But one of the key messages of the film—that inclusive arts benefits and transforms everybody—was missed.

The film is challenging and will stir controversy and debate. We need the courage to suspend disbelief and trust the heartfelt, inclusive work shared in A New Kind of Listening.

Kenny Dalsheimer
Durham

Editor's Note: The writer is director/ co-producer of the film.


A facilitator responds

Although I'm pleased Mark Maximov praised inclusion in his article "Hello in there" (Oct. 21), there were several errors regarding Facilitated Communication (FC). In Maximov's defense, A New Kind of Listening didn't cover the many nuances of FC. It wasn't a film about FC; therefore, director Kenny Dalsheimer's intent was not in proving FC's validity. Even so, a third of Maximov's article was devoted to the FC controversy. Maximov introduced his personal opinion as fact while clearly doing no current research on FC and its worldwide success.

Maximov wrote: "a facilitator guides the hand of the disabled subject." Facilitators give backward pressure, motivational support and help with finger pointing. Syracuse University's FC Institute teaches never to guide a person's hand. The person communicating always provides the push. Gradually, facilitators fade support. Many people who began with FC now type independently.

Maximov predicts FC critics will be emboldened by Chris Mueller-Medlicott's lack of looking while typing. Facilitators encourage people to look while typing. Many people use peripheral vision to type. Furthermore, the film illustrates Chris's difficulty with movement paired with vision.

Margaret Heath and Kenny Dalsheimer, not Syracuse, suggested the film's disclaimer. While Syracuse has guidelines of best practices, they're often modified for an individual. Chris had complicated movement issues requiring significant modifications. Heath's intent was to encourage people interested in FC to seek Syracuse's model, instead of copying the technique she used with Chris.

Individuals in the movie were not solely facilitated by Heath. Hanf-Enos' poem was facilitated by her NH staff. Much of Laura Spray's haiku was facilitated by me.

This is a film about inclusion. FC happens to be the method that worked for Mueller-Medlicott, Hanf-Enos and Spray. In my 10 years of facilitating, I've only seen FC critics speak hypothetically about something they've never personally tried.

Alison Latimer
Chapel Hill

Editor's Note: The writer is listed in the film's credits.


Hello out there, Mr. Maximov!

Unfortunately, Marc Maximov's bias against Facilitated Communication (FC) undermines important points made in his review of A New Kind of Listening ("Hello in there," Oct. 21). He thereby illustrates, with serious inaccuracies, the prejudices he rightly notes the film seeks to address and overcome.

Ideally, one wants a person looking at the keys and typing independently. Sadly for many, neurological differences may never allow such progress. Would Maximov either deny these people the right to express themselves with support or hide their accomplishment away for fear of controversy?

The poorly veiled implication that I was doing the typing, rather than the people themselves, is a disservice to the other five facilitators across two states who assisted in the project and do not appear in the film.

Maximov might consider that in taking an hour to write a sentence, he too might develop "cryptic, oracular phrasing," a style not uncommon in this field, whether typed independently or with support. Conversely, the character of the voices is quite distinct, if listened to with attention.

Finally, there is only one thing more frightening than an inexperienced facilitator who might "guide" a hand. That is a reporter who, with a few strokes of his pen, "guides" the minds of many and thereby influences whether another human being be given the chance to express him/ herself or condemned to silence.

Polly Medlicott bravely admits her expectation overwhelmed her perception of what her son was actually achieving. May we all develop such humility in the new listening Chris Mueller-Medlicott asked for, so we do not miss each other along the way.

Margaret Heath
Chapel Hill

Editor's Note: The writer is featured in the film.


Marc Maximov, is it your job as a critic to find something as a "disqualifier"? In reviewing A New Kind of Listening ("Hello in there," Oct. 21), this seemed to be Facilitated Communication. But aren't you yelling at a blind man?!

When Byron Woods wrote his Indy article about the theater project upon which this film is based, his content was researched with personal observation ("Radical listening, radical touch," Nov. 16, 2005). I wonder whom you asked about FC and what your experience is?

One of the facts you need to know is Chris Mueller-Medlicott wrote his content with numerous people and a variety of notebooks and machines through the evolution of his process. My experience with Chris goes back to my assisting him in high school. Using FC, he demanded to attend Jordan High as a regular student without going through a Special Ed class from which to be "mainstreamed." Instead, he jumped right in.

It took a lot of mind changing on the part of the system. His mother, Polly Medlicott, forged partnerships with teachers willing to "risk" doing something untried and untested. The students, for the most part, responded warmly and supported Chris.

For three years at Jordan High, Chris used a communication device with pre-recorded messages to communicate with fellow classmates. We used this board to indicate his answers to multiple choice tests, which were the same tests his classmates took.

Although Chris was very challenged in controlling his body, he fought through to steer a power chair and make himself heard.

For the most part, you heard the message of the film. However, there are many people for whom FC may be the only mode of expression through which they can meet the world. Please listen to Chris and allow them that.

James Hoesch
Chapel Hill


With great interest and mounting concern I read the article about the documentary A New Kind of Listening ("Hello in there," Oct. 21). It seems to me that Marc Maximov did not write a piece of unbiased reporting, his research was sloppy at best, and some of his comments defy logical thinking. Mr. Maximov is obviously an opponent of Facilitated Communication and uses every opportunity to throw verbal darts.

I would like for you to know that I have no interest or ties to Facilitated Communication, have no relation to any disabled people and had no idea what to expect when I viewed this documentary. I was deeply moved that there was a method found to allow those so very intelligent and eloquent people to express themselves. Margaret Heath explained that she does not guide but exerts backward pressure on the hand to stimulate the movement. It was stated that Chris Mueller-Medlicott took up to an hour to write one sentence. What facilitator would spend this amount of time to get one sentence on the screen if it was not the words written by Chris?

Also, I do not find the expressions of the three participants very similar. The only common denominator is the use of some unusual but very precise words to express what they want to say. Certainly all participants have worked with several facilitators, and I wonder if Mr. Maximov has bothered to compare the writings done by one person with various facilitators. I have no doubt in my mind that the results would confirm that the words are written by the author and not by the facilitator.

I am left wondering what Mr. Maximov's motivation is to deny these wonderful people the acknowledgment that they indeed do communicate.

Margit Gratzl
Durham

Comments (2)

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As one who knows the people in the film, I have an understanding of all the discussion that has been submitted by the author and others. I wish all of the doubters could have been in a group discussion I participated in some years ago with about 15-20 people, of whom 3 were men who used FC. During the discussion, suddenly one individual (who uses FC) jumped into action and started furiously typing to react to someone else's statement - and then a second person sprang into action and started typing another very appropriate remark. The doubts vanished! It was clear that this was real communication.

We must allow any possibility of communication for people who cannot speak and work to improve the techniques instead of working to deny this most elemental aspect of our lives. There is much we still have to learn in the area of disability. As has been quoted by several people, "Absence of evidence is not Evidence of Absence."

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Posted by Karen Crumbliss on 11/10/2009 at 6:16 PM

First of all, Id like to thank the letter writers and commenters for adding their thoughts and perspectives on my article. The subject of facilitated communication (FC) turns out to need much greater attention than the 750 words I wrote in my review of A New Kind of Listening.

I appreciate Kenny Dalsheimer and Alison Latimers setting the record straight on the reasons for the disclaimer at the end of the film. In talking to Dalsheimer, I was told that the Institute had been shown a rough cut, and that a decision was made to add the disclaimer. But I misunderstood his explanation and thought the Institute had requested it. I apologize for the error.

Like Dalsheimer, who didnt want FC to be the focus of his film, I didnt want it to be the focus of my reviewthe film tells the story of an inclusive theater group, and the FC question is tangential to its main points. But I felt that to leave unmentioned the serious doubts I felt on seeing the communication depicted in it would betray my responsibility as a reviewer, would amount to an act of willful ignorance along the lines of the emperors new clothes. I watched the video very carefully, repeatedly pausing and rewinding. It seems clear that at times Chris Mueller-Medlicott is typing without looking at the keyboard. This was the cause of my initial suspicions.

As far as the accusation of lazy journalism and of failing to do proper research before writing my article, I acknowledge that I could have contacted more sources. But again, the credibility of FC was not the focus of my article. And, in fact, I did research the issue rather extensively before I wrote about it.

There is a vast wealth of material on FC on the Internet. The disclaimer at the end of the film states, For training guidelines and research validating facilitated communication please visit: www.inclusioninstitutes.org. I visited the site, and read the better part of the information posted there. I found much other relevant information at the Web site for DEAL (Dignity, Education and Learning: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~dealcc/), an Australian organization directed by Rosemary Crossley, the inventor of facilitated communication, and at numerous other sites.

I also came across a documentary that appeared on the PBS series Frontline in 1993. The film, Prisoners of Silence, echoed many of the doubts I experienced while watching A New Kind of Listening (a transcript of the show is here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/programs/transcripts/1202.html. It has also been posted to Google Video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3439467496200920717&ei=Yl_ySoKDIY3uqQKH0ow9&hl=en#).

The Frontline documentary, and much other research available or referred to online, presents overwhelming evidence against facilitated communication. Study after study has revealed messages typed using FC that originated from the facilitator, not the client. In 1994, the American Psychological Association resolved that Peer reviewed, scientifically based studies have found that the typed language output (represented through computers, letter boards, etc.) attributed to the clients was directed or systematically determined by the paraprofessional/professional therapists who provided facilitated assistance . Consequently, specific activities [involving FC] contribute immediate threats to the individual civil and human rights of the person with autism or severe mental retardation.

The FC communitys responses to specific criticism do not seem credible. In the face of the accumulated evidence, they accuse their critics of professional bias, poor study design, and a desire to silence people who are disabled. They point to a few cases in which clients using FC have gone on to communicate independently. This is a marvelous outcome for those individuals, but it doesnt diminish the grave danger to the rights of other FC clients, for whom the evidence indicates that in the majority of cases, someone else is essentially speaking for them.

The issues surrounding FC inspire intense emotions that can cloud rational judgment. Its not surprising that many therapists, family members and advocates would prefer to ignore evidence that it doesnt work. To be sure, in the specific case of Chris Mueller-Medlicott, Im not prepared to make any definitive claim about the validity of his communication. His family and others around him were in a better position to judge than a critic who watched an hour-long film in which he appeared.

I do, however, want to share with Indy readers the results of my research on facilitated communication. I invite those who are interested to look into the matter for themselves and decide which arguments they find most persuasive.

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Posted by marc max on 11/05/2009 at 4:21 PM
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