In response to Sturmey (2003), as far as the facilitators and their reliability are concerned, we note that Tuomas' mother is a qualified speech therapist and that almost the majority of the sessions reported in our article (Niemi & Jussi, 2000) were observed by the second author.
It is indeed notable that Tuomas, a child diagnosed with mental retardation, has become a prolific writer. In addition to his autobiography, he has written numerous articles in Finnish newspapers and periodicals. Strange as it may seem, this person, who had been diagnosed with mental retardation, and still had severe motor problems, developed into a full-time writer, who was able to type on certain occasions almost independently (with a light support under his elbow). We wonder whether the scholarly literature on facilitated communication can show cases of spontaneous recovery of such a magnitude. If not, we assume that the facilitation process has, in some, admittedly, scientifically yet-to-be-explained, manner contributed to his development.
We are aware of the critique against facilitated communication and the methodological pitfall of incorrectly regarding the subject as the source of the language produced, instead of the facilitators. Now we come to the really big mystery paradoxically created by those accusing the proponents of facilitated communication of unscientific practice and deduction.
Those supporting facilitated communication realize that the value and effect of the “touch-on” approach on the patient is limited to social support and attention focus. Nothing more is implied. However, those who claim that these “touches” bring forth such elaborate language, as in the case of Tuomas, owe the scientific community an explanation, which is harder than providing scientific evidence. To speak in concrete terms, we ask, How can a person touching the patient's left elbow or shoulder deliver messages accurate enough to monitor and guide the typing performed by the patient's right hand? We would like to see a psycholinguistic model that would account for this phenomenon.
Sturmey (2003) excels in his linguistic naiveté as he stated that there was no evidence that Tuomas understood grammar before his use (production) of yes and no. However, we all know that comprehension well precedes active production, and in the case of Tuomas, we have valid and firm evidence to show that he was able to follow spoken instructions (e.g., focus his eyes on certain items) as early as age 2. In addition, according to his mother (an active speech therapist), Tuomas was always very calm and concentrated when she read books to him. Thus, there is evidence that he was exposed to rich language from a very early age and that he indeed had grammar within himself. He was just unable to express himself through language before.
Authors: Jussi Niemi, PhD, Professor in Linguistics ( firstname.lastname@example.org) and Eija Kärnä-Lin, PhD, Lecturer in Special Education, PO Box 111, University of Joensuu, Joensuu, Finland 80101