The 23-years-in-a-coma guy really isn't talking - How Facilitated Communication Doesn't Work

by | Nov 24, 2009 09:00 AM ET

You may have seen one of the stories over the weekend talking about a man named Rom Houben. According to the article, he had apparently been in a coma for 23 years but was actually conscious the whole time. He was trapped inside his body, unable to communicate. Here are a few of the articles, plus a CNN video:

- Man in ‘coma' heard everything for 23 years

- 'I screamed, but there was nothing to hear': Man trapped in 23-year 'coma' reveals horror of being unable to tell doctors he was conscious

- Trapped in his own body for 23 years - the coma victim who screamed unheard

The problem: He's not really communicating.

The video (and the first photo in the third article) shows the problem. Rom Houben is not typing on the keyboard - someone else is. This is called "facilitated communication", and the following article by James Randi explains what has gone wrong:

This Cruel Farce Has To Stop!

I cannot understand how anyone, professional medical person or layman, can continue to believe that the farce known as "Facilitated Communication" represents anything other than a fantasy that was begun back in 1977, when an Australian woman named Rosemary Crossley came up with the idea that autistic persons could express their thoughts via a keyboard when their hand was "supported" by what she called a "facilitator." In 1989, Douglas Biklen, a sociologist and professor of special education at Syracuse University, eagerly took up her cause, and as a result vast sums were donated to SU by friends and family members of autism victims - money that was simply wasted in futile "research."

James Randi is not one to mince words. The article does a good job of explaining and providing evidence for his point of view. And this little video, showing a small piece of a 60 Minutes episode, shows how easy it is to disprove Facilitated Communication - take the facilitator out of the room for part of the conversation and the Communication comes to an end:

See also: Reborn Coma Man's Words May Be Bogus

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