Allegations of sexual abuse by nonverbal autistic people via facilitated communication: testing of validity

Child Abuse Negl. 1998 Oct;22(10):1027-41. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(98)00082-9.


Objective: The aim of the paper is to offer a comprehensive approach to establishing the validity of allegations of sexual abuse by nonverbal autistic children and adults produced through facilitated communication (FC). This approach is offered as an alternative to existing methodology that relies exclusively on the "message passing" task, and has been used to advantage in the courts.

Method: Three components to the battery are included: (a) specialized psychometric testing; (b) a variant of the message passing task; and (c) systematic analysis of the allegations themselves. Through the juxtaposition of the data from the different sources, conclusions can be reached as to the allegations' authorship.

Results: The results of a series of studies addressing the issue of validity of FC in general are briefly presented. Then a case presentation is offered to demonstrate how the technique can be employed to clarify allegations of sexual abuse. Elements of two other cases are also briefly discussed.

Conclusions: Facilitated communication has been heralded as a breakthrough, allowing nonverbal people with autism to express themselves. It relies on manual guidance by a facilitator. Its proponents' resistance to allowing the technique's validation relying on the paradigm of normal science has resulted in its broad dissemination without support. In the case of sexual abuse allegations thus far the "message passing" task has been used to assess their verity. The present methodology is offered as a more comprehensive alternative to "message passing," with relevance to other populations of nonverbal individuals.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Communication Aids for Disabled / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • North America
  • Psychometrics
  • Rape / diagnosis*
  • Rape / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Rape / psychology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Truth Disclosure*