Rocket Ship Headed to Mars, Brooke 2013

Facilitate (fa-cil-i-tate) / fəˈsiliˌtāt/

verb (used with object)

Definition: to make easier or less difficult; help forward (an action, a process, etc.); make possible; make smooth / smoother; smooth the way for

Synonyms: enable, assist, help (along), oil the wheels of, expedite, accelerate, forward, advance, promote, further, encourage, catalyze

Last week, I read a story that my daughter wrote with her aide. If I had words big enough to describe the awesomeness of the story, I’d use them. I don’t. Thankfully, I don’t need them, as she agreed to share it here, so you’ll get to see for yourself just how insufficient my words would have been to tell you about hers.

The story is all Brooke. There’s no missing her deliciously unique voice within it. And yet, it’s so much MORE Brooke than we ever see in writing. It’s longer, more detailed, more HER than anything I’d seen to date. I marveled at the patience, the diligence, the tenacity, that it must have taken for her to have written it.

I knew that the writing must have been highly facilitated. But there was no question in my mind that the thoughts were hers.

There’s been a lot of cynicism floating around recently regarding facilitated communication. This isn’t anything new of course, but the recent spate of books written by non-speaking Autistics, and the wild popularity of one in particular, seems to have brought the doubters to the fore.

As I’ve said on the topic before, a healthy dose of skepticism is necessary if we are to ensure that our loved ones are never used or otherwise manipulated by those whose self-interests might clash with the truth. It is vital that we remain continuously and rigorously critical of any method in which one human is inserted, in any way, into the space between another human being’s thoughts and the process of the expression thereof.

But I won’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water just because manipulation is possible. Because here’s the thing — manipulation is always possible. In everything that humans touch. We are imperfect creatures  driven by our own self-interests and need for self-preservation. But we are also capable of incredible things. All of us.

I asked Ms J to describe to me the process by which she facilitated (enabled, assisted, helped (along), oiled the wheels of, expedited, accelerated, forwarded, advanced, promoted, furthered, encouraged, catalyzed) the process of writing Brooke’s story. This was what they did:

Brooke dictated her story to Ms J, who acted as a scribe, writing her words as she said them in long-hand on lined paper. Ms. J. periodically prompted Brooke to expand her narrative, asking questions like, “How did it feel when you were swinging?”and, “What happened after that?” She encouraged her to add more detail by asking questions like, “How did you get to outer space?” Next, Ms. J. gave the lined paper to Brooke, who, with some help with punctuation (particularly in placing the quotes) typed it into the computer.

The result is nothing short of incredible.

And nothing short of all my girl.

(For background – In Brooke’s school, the fifth graders are assigned kindergarten buddies. The buddies sit together at all-school assemblies and are encouraged to seek each other out. This is the story of Brooke meeting hers for the first time.)

Buddy Story

One day we went to Ms. M’s classroom downstairs because we wanted to see our buddies. I did not know who my buddies were so Ms. M told me I had 2 buddies. Their names were Maddy and Sam.

After I introduced myself we read 2 books. Then we went outside for snack and recess. When my buddies and I finished our snacks I said “Ready to play Maddy and Sam?” They said “Yes!” We played on the swings. I went really high like an underdog and it felt like I was flying like a bird. Maddy and Sam said “We want to go high too.” They went high like a bird too.

After we got tired of swinging we played outer space. We made a pretend rocket using our imagination and the recess car was the rocket ship. Sam asked if we like mars. Maddy and I said “yes we do like mars.” then I said “Do you guys want to go to mars?” My buddies nodded their heads. Mars was great but I had to go back to class so I said goodbye to my buddies and went back to class. I had fun at recess with my buddies  and I loved playing with them  and can’t wait to play with them again.

*names changed

Facilitation is tricky, but like everything else in this sticky, messy, human world of ours, it’s not black and white. As a matter of fact, in my house, it’s a hot pink rocket ship that allows us to ride along to the outer edges of my daughter’s incredible imagination. And for that, I am grateful.

11 thoughts on “facilitation

  1. This is absolutely amazing. I almost said that it is incredible and then I realized how credible it truly is. Leaps and bounds. Thank you Ms. J for facilitating.

    Love you,

  2. I really, really wish my little one had made the cutoff and was in the K at the public school, because your daughter might have been her buddy. And that would have been awesome.

  3. It does give me hope to see facilitation being used properly, to give your sweet daughter a voice.

    What concerns me is what you’ve already touched upon, but it goes deeper than just “manipulation”: a dishonest facilitator (as you say, “everything humans touch”) can tell parents exactly what they want to hear. In some forms being sold to the public, like Rapid Prompting Method, there is absolutely no intermediary “checks and balances” and the results are…. far from balanced.

  4. I love this story because it’s such a great example of the positive impact of facilitation. It’s as clear as day that Brooke didn’t need to have someone else come up with the world inside her imagination, but without granting her the proper tools, we would never know about it’s true extent. Some would assume she had no imagination, no depth of understanding of the story she was telling, simply because she wasn’t able to explain it on their terms.
    Facilitation may grow murky, and certainly action is warranted to prevent those who would take advantage of autistics, but how can we stand by and allow the rare abuse to invalidate that which is achieved through facilitation, especially given its effects are so game-changing?

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