Talking to Rob was slightly different than talking to the majority of people you meet. Rob used facilitated communication, a form of talking for those who cannot speak out loud. A close friend of Rob, Steve Powell who has been working with him for 16 years held his arm between his elbow and his wrist, stabilizing it so that Rob could point to letters on a laminated mat. When Rob had finished pointing to a word, Steve read it out loud so that the rest of the group could hear. I was interested to watch this form of communication, as recently I had a discussion with friends about facilitated communication, and the legal complications it has. There is a fear from some that the person holding the arm of the communicator is controlling where the arm points, and speaking for the person. This didn't seem like the case with Rob. Rob would look us in the eye while he talked to us. He spoke the same as anyone else I had met before; the words just didn’t come from his mouth. Still many people don’t believe it works. Steve and I talked after Rob’s visit. He told me at one event they went to, people were skeptical to the point that they didn’t believe it worked even when the person assisting the communicator wasn’t even touching them.
Rob’s visit taught the group a great deal. It initiated discussions about ourselves, our similarities and differences. But it also introduced us to this way of speaking few of us had heard of or seen before. I look forward to his returning visits and the discussions they bring.
To learn more about Robert Cutler and the Autism National Committee, go to http://www.autcom.org/ and read Robert's article in the Fall 2009 newsletter on pages 9 and 10. http://www.autcom.org/pdf/AutcomNLFall2009.pdf