Julian Wendrow was arrested in December 2007 and spent 80 days in jail, his two children taken away, as he was charged with rape of his then 14-year old daughter, with the mother as a silent accomplice. The girl, severely autistic and non-communicative, provided this information to a teacher’s aide at her school via FC. The mother was also arrested.
Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges when the child, Aislinn, “become uncooperative”. That is, a courtroom demonstration showed Aislinn could not type the correct answer when the facilitator did not hear the questions.
The Wendrows initially believed that FC was a way to interact with their child. It was not as they hoped. Their tests showed that it was not Aislinn doing the communicating; her facilitator was crafting the message by holding the disabled girl’s arm to “guide” typing on a keyboard.
Time after time, through tests and studies, FC has not been shown to work. While it is possible that paralyzed people may benefit from such assistance, non-communicative people can not suddenly learn to read and write, especially in very adult vernacular.
The Wendrows were not the first or last to be falsely accused. In the 1990s, there was a succession of such cases alleging abuse that was supported almost exclusively via FC testimony and evidence.
Howard Shane of Children's Hospital Boston, Director of the Autism Language Program, testified in the Wendrow case and consulted in another case in 1992. He had devised a simple test for FC.
The test, which Shane has used in other sex abuse cases involving FC, hinged on pictures: Shane would show one picture to Janyce Boynton, the facilitator, and a different picture to Betsy [a 16-year-old autistic girl, supposedly used facilitated communication to accuse her father and brother of sexual abuse]. Then Betsy, with Boynton's help, was asked to type what she had seen.
In every instance, the word typed was not what Betsy had seen but what Boynton had seen.
In the Wendrow case, there was no physical evidence, no other suggestions of abuse, and no witnesses who corroborated the abuse. There were also clear inconsistencies, such as Aislinn reportedly communicating Christian religious concepts even though the family was Jewish. Worse, there was a violation of rights by the police interrogators on Aislinn’s brother Ian:
Ian […] was interrogated for two hours by West Bloomfield police who told him they had videotape of his father assaulting his sister. Police never had such a tape and the claim was a lie that a psychologist would later testify left the boy traumatized. Jurors did watch a video showing Ian's interrogation, in which the boy, then 13, doubled over in tears.
The county reportedly spent about $660,000 to defend this case. Prosecutor David Gorcyca testified: "I certainly think something happened. I believe some sort of sexual abuse occurred."
Belief is not evidence. This is cognitive bias at work - a textbook example. He can not come to terms that this was all an unstable house of cards that should never have gone this far therefore he continues to rationalize it in his own mind. Many families who still use FC do the same, rationalizing the concept because it is profoundly comforting to think their disabled children can talk to them.
Dr. Shane, however, gave up researching FC 15 years ago in relation to autistic patients because it clearly was not what it was claimed to be. There was no controversy, it simply did not work. "It'd be like suggesting that we continue to study cold fusion or bloodletting," Shane said.
The Wendrow’s civil case against the county is over. The family was awarded $3 million in damages. $2 million went to Ian, with the jury stating that assistant police chief violated Ian’s constitutional rights during his interrogation.
The Wendrow's hope this verdict is the chance to put a nightmare past them. The other defendants in the case - West Bloomfield Police, the Walled Lake School District and the state of Michigan, which allowed social workers to remove the children from the home, settled out of court individually for $3.75 million. Let’s hope that a lesson is learned. Facilitated communication is false hope and can be tremendously hurtful with even the best intentions. Institutions must be far more diligent in their methods and consider the scientific evidence.
Prosecutor Gorcyca has refused to apologize to the family.
Facilitated Communication Persists Despite Scientific Criticism (S. Novella - The NESS)
Facilitated Communication: Sifting the Psychological Wheat from the Chaff (APA)
This Cruel Farce Has To Stop! (SWIFT)
The Naked Emperor (Rom Houben case - SWIFT)
Prisoners of Silence (PBS Frontline)
Congratulations, Syracuse University! (SWIFT)