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Facilitated Communication: A Systematic Observational Research Project Involving Fine-Grained Video Analysis and Eye Tracking (funded through NAAR)

Facilitated communication (FC) is a strategy which aims to enhance communication skills by helping people learn to point or type. It is controversial when used by people with autism because it involves physical contact between the FC user and facilitator, making it difficult to determine who is responsible for the typing. Some peer-reviewed studies have concluded that the emergent language is being authored by the facilitator, while other peer reviewed studies have concluded that the emergent language is authored by the FC user. Some, but not all speech and language professionals maintain that FC is a useful strategy. This research used fine-grained video analysis to measure typing-related behaviors in FC users and facilitators. By comparing the same FC users working with different facilitators, and facilitators working with different FC users, inferences about authorship could be drawn based on behavioral inconsistencies. If an FC user is typing, one would expect to see consistency in the way they type letters and words, irrespective of who is giving physical support. This project explored the usefulness of eye-tracking technology as a means for enhancing understanding of FC. FC users wore eye-tracking equipment while typing, which shows where they are looking at any given point in time.