Thursday, July 25, 2013

Facilitated Communication and the Spirit (redux)

There's been a lack of activity on the blog lately, for the simple reason that we are slackers. So in lieu of original content here's a repost of something Brett wrote in the blog's early days, before a lot of current readers would have known we existed. I also inserted a clarifying comment Brett left on the original as the second to last paragraph, because I believe it rounds out an already beautiful post. If we ever were to compile our best posts into a book (which would be really hard on the ones that use gifs), this might be chapter one. Enjoy!

In 1993, Frontline News produced a news documentary called "Prisoners of Silence." In this documentary, Frontline investigated a process called "facilitated communication," a method developed to help otherwise silent autistic children communicate with the world around them.


Autism is usually expressed with withdrawal, lack of imaginative capabilities, and, if profound enough, mental retardation and a complete lack of speech. Facilitated Communication is an idea that was developed to help people with profound autism be able to communicate. It basically consists of a specially-trained clinician who holds the autistic person's hand or arm and helps guide his or her index finger onto a little keyboard.

All of a sudden, these previously mute persons who had long been assumed to be entirely low-functioning were writing grammatically correct sentences, short stories, and poems. The Frontline program showed a few examples, including the following verse.

Am I a slave or am I free..
Am I trapped or can I be seen..
As an easy and rational spirit..
Am I in hell or am I in heaven.
As may be imagined, this gained a lot of press.

But facilitated communication had a darker side. All of a sudden, facilitated messages started cropping up all over stating that autistic children had been sexually abused by their parents. Warrants were issued for parents' arrest. Children were placed in foster care. Families were torn apart.

And it was all bogus.


There were several experiments that were done to test facilitated communication. One of them consisted of some variation of showing a picture of a random object to the facilitator, and a picture of a different object to the autistic person; and most importantly, there is a screen between the two, so neither person can see or be at all aware of the other's picture. The result?

Regardless of what the autistic person saw, the facilitated message described the facilitator's picture.

I should probably be a little careful here, because facilitated communication is still in use today and a lot of people believe in it. However, for me at least, the truth is quite clear: facilitated communication is not real.

Now, I'm going to (cautiously) transition into my real topic...spiritual experiences and prophecy.

Whether sitting in fast and testimony meetings or participating in Elders' Quorum or Sunday School class, I often hear people talk about the hand of the Lord in their lives. In a way, I admire their faith. There's certainly something compelling about the belief that a deity is the one controlling your life, and not yourself. It's a comforting notion. I wish I could believe it.

When someone says that the spirit helped guide them in their dating decision, or in choosing a major, or in any other major life situation, I sometimes wish that I too could sit back and contentedly proclaim, "God helped 'em do that!" It's a nice idea that all good things in your life (and often the bad things too), great and small, can be attributed to the great benefactor in the sky. But I can't help but think that the whole thing seems a little too much like that person is putting words in God's mouth. That's not to say I don't believe in spiritual interference or prophecy--I certainly do. I just think it's not nearly as prevalent as we sometimes wish it was.

And while I'm not trying to imply an autistic God, He is, of his own accord, withdrawn from us here on earth, and generally quite silent. We, though, are disquieted by his silence, and so we have developed a habit of attributing things in our lives to Him--even characteristics. Have you ever asked someone to describe God? You'll get the Judeo-Christian generalities, but you'll also get a healthy dose of that own person's speculations, and those are more telling of the person saying them than of the Lord. It seems like everyone imagines God as their idealized self. A conservative person views God as the ultimate conservative. Someone in management might view God as the ultimate CEO. A person who feels ashamed of some personal vice will view God as being ultimately above and beyond such things.

To clarify: I believe that there is a God, and that he is a loving, paternal God. I believe he intervenes to our benefit on Earth. I'm not writing against that. What I'm trying to say is that, though he loves us and cares for us, he is still separated from us. Doctrinally speaking, it's because of the fall and all that, but nevertheless, there's an impenetrable and impersonal barrier between us and him, and in the space between us we have ascribed all sorts of things to him--never out of malice or purposeful dishonesty, but out of devotion, faith, and longing. Especially out of longing; we long to know that being who created us, and through our longing we create him in our image.

I know I am not above this. I do the exact same thing. Believing that there's a divine being who thinks and cares about the same things I do, who reaches out of heaven to help little old me, is a beautiful thing, and I do it more than I'll admit. But every so often I have moments of clarity where I can't help but notice my own hand facilitating the words God does not say.

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