Thursday, June 04, 2009

Some questions for Rabbi Sachs, autistic facilitator

As Shirat Devorah noted the other day, Tamar Yonah is going to be interviewing Rabbi Sachs, and we might want to pose questions. In New York time, the twelve-minute interview is scheduled to be at a few minutes after 8 AM this coming Sunday. Maybe I will call in and ask, but maybe not. Anyway, here are three questions I composed for Rabbi Sachs.

1) Foremost, facilitated communication was once popular, but now is widely regarded as a pseudoscience. At the least, it is controversial. There are proponents of it in limited form, notably Dr. Douglas Biklen. Indeed, Daniel, one of the autistics (or rather Rabbi Sachs) responded to a query of the authenticity of autistic messages by saying
"I refer you to Dr. Biklin from Syracuse University Who made many “nisyonot” (experiments), did much “mechkarim” (research) on the subject."
However, there is a big difference between regular FC, which is controversial, and the utter craziness which these mystical facilitators and autistics are engaging in!  I (Josh Waxman) corresponded with Dr. Biklen to ask him about the FC of Ben and Daniel, and he distinguishes his FC from the FC that these guys are doing. He wrote to me:
Joshua, thanks for your email.  I see no relationship between religious messianic claims and facilitated communication training.  Our approach is to work to ensure that individuals are able to be in control of their own communication, and to proceed to physically independent typing and to speech in conjunction with typing.  I do not condone practices that ignore the importance of independent communication.  
If so, how do they really justify what they are doing?

2) The autistics have had some famous false predictions (such as an apocalyptic war in Israel a while back, and "the biggest rosh hashanah ever", and that all *commercial banks* (rather than investment banks) would fail such that money would be worthless and all people would be lining up to get their money out but would not be able to do so.) These claims *failed*, despite some kvetching that supporters try to pretend that some were accurate predictions. Why should we listen to them? They are nevi'ei sheker!!

3) In one of the early Jewish autistic books, a number of the haskamos were explicitly that this will inspire people and draw them closer to Judaism, but that *of course* one should not listen to them for the sake of predicting the future or to determine halacha, because that would be in violation of tamim tihyeh im hashem elokecha. Yet now, these autistics are instructing as to practice (don't eat pizza or soda; wigs are assur and ignore rabbis who tell you otherwise because they are illegitimate, etc.), and as to the future. This would then seem to be a violation of tamim tihyeh. I am sure Rabbi Sachs will have a faulty rationalization in response, but I think it is important that listeners hear these questions to possibly recognize that this is by no means clear cut and wonderful.


Ephraim said...

Fine post, Josh. Some years ago, I emailed one the proponents of FC and asked for published evidence. A couple were no more than case studies published in a practitioners journal. The other was a flawed and conclusively underwhelming experiment.
Biklen's protests to the contrary, FC's mundane and mystical claims are very much tied together. The DSM/IV criteria for autism indicates that when autistic people do communicate they tend to use language idiosyncratically. We see no such idiosyncrasies in FC. The normal language we receive from FC indicates who's really doing the communicating.
This point has not been lost on these pseudo-mystics. They have claimed that the lack of idiosyncrasies in FC, indicates that the messages do not come from the mind. They come from the soul. (Thus, the crazier claim is actually more consistent than that of Biklen!)

Zvika said...

I listened to the broadcast...all I can say is listen to it yourself.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. i'll try to check it out.



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