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Nancy Meissner, Psy.D. is a 2018 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Seattle.

Dissertation Committee

Alejandra Suarez, Ph.D., Committee Chair

Jane Harmon-Jacobs, Ph.D., Committee Member

Sara Paul, Ed.D., Committee Member

Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2018

Abstract

Few projects have combined quantitative and qualitative approaches in the analysis of facilitated communication as did this study of a 17-year-old nonverbal autistic male responding to homework questions using facilitated communication. Findings were consistent with prior studies: Tim was minimally able to produce correct responses independent of facilitator influence under controlled conditions; whereas, at least some typed messages in the spontaneous narratives appear to be his authentic communications independent of facilitator control.

An overview of the history of facilitated communication, its related research, and the heated debates around its validity are presented. Disparate findings between controlled and non-controlled circumstances are examined, first within a traditional paradigm, and then within the framework of the past decade’s sensorimotor and neuroimaging research. EEG, fMRI, and DTI neuroimaging studies indicate autism is a disorder of disrupted cerebral neural connectivity - specifically of long-range neural underconnectivity and short-range over- and, to a lesser degree, under-connectivity. Research linking these findings with the long-discounted sensorimotor behavioral research (and firsthand accounts) indicating aberrant sensory integration and motor planning processes are core features of autism has just begun.

A key argument against advocates’ explanations for FC being authentic in some situations but not in others has been with their lack of a substantiating theory. Based on combined evidence from neuroimaging and sensorimotor research, this author theorizes that dyssynchronous activation of brain regions and long-range underconnectivity necessary for higher order integration of sensory input and motor planning, which are exacerbated by increased anxiety and cognitive and emotional demands imposed by controlled designs, explain the disparities between abilities to respond under controlled versus non-controlled conditions. As demonstrated through neuroimaging research, widespread disrupted cerebral neural connectivity appears to be the fundamental neurological mechanism underlying autism with its associated behaviors that have for too-long been socially interpreted and misinterpreted rather than neurologically explained. This author proposes that as task-based neuroconnectivity research advances, the disruptions in neural connectivity will account for the differing outcomes produced when typing with facilitation under controlled versus non-controlled conditions. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA, http://aura.antioch.edu/ and Ohio Link ETD Center, https://etd.ohiolink.edu/etd.

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Nancy Meissner, Psy.D., 2018

ORCID Scholar # 0000-0002-1557-9524

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