Three users of Facilitated Communication, between the ages were observed and interviewed (utilizing methods found in Biklen & Bogdan, 2007), along with their parents and speech pathologist, about their lives, in particular their school lives. The study was concerned with the intersection between disability identity, Facilitated Communication / alternative and augmentative communication usage, and adolescent identities with special focus on how this intersection impacts these students at school. Data was collected and coded utilizing theories both from Nancy Lesko's conceptualization of the construction of adolescence (2001) and Martha Sheridan's work on lifeworld identities (2008). The study reveals how inclusion and exclusion in and out of school impact student attitudes toward school in general and academic work specifically, as well as independence / interdependence / co-dependence issues.

Timmy, who is an individual with the label of being autistic, with aphasia, was in an inclusive class for history. He also attended speech / language therapy sessions, which emphasize music and movement therapy, to move from Facilitated Communication, where an individual is physically supported while typing, to independent typing and, perhaps, some verbal speech. Timmy was seated on a couch in one of the therapy areas with his mother, Carolyn, who was facilitating. Carolyn said "You have a project coming up in your history class soon, don't you Timmy?" Timmy typed that he did. Carolyn and Donna Schaefer, the therapist, asked Timmy a series of questions about his assignment. He did not seem to always be engaged in the conversation. Timmy's eyes darted about and he did not always seem to be looking at the screen. In an effort to refocus Timmy, Donna scolded him, "Now cut that out!" Timmy's behavior was deemed to be autism related, but I wondered if he might not either be bored, unwilling to talk about school, or averting a long discussion with his mother similar to how other teenagers might interact with adults.

Research Questions

In this article, I ask:

  • How are independence and co-dependence framed by teenagers working toward communication independence?
  • How do the structures of high schools impact the identity of students with speech disabilities?
  • How do 14-18 year olds with speech disabilities frame their adolescent and school identities and intersections with their disabilities and other identities?


In this study, I have utilized the principles of participant observation, observing the participants firsthand, and semi-structured interviews, utilizing a series of written questions, with the participants and their parents, utilizing methods from Bogdan & Biklen (2007).

For this study, I elected to talk to both the participants and their parents. Because I am not a trained facilitator, it would have been almost impossible for me to talk to the participants without someone to help. I was only able to get access to the speech pathologist's office for observation and recruitment purposes, aside from one interview with Donna to gather information about what I was observing.

In addition, because the participants often could type only a sentence or two at a time, parents were able to fill in most of the missing information. This had the advantage of allowing more information about the participants to enter the study. The disadvantage of carrying out the interviews in this fashion was that it may have privileged the voice of the able bodied parent over the non-verbal typing participant, as I often, but not always, got more information from the parent.

Parents are an important part of their child's identity development (Sheridan, 2008, 214-216). A parent's perspective on their child's development, therefore, was important in discussing the child's past because the parents had more information about the participant's medical history and elements of their schooling experience (e.g. interactions with teachers and other professionals in meetings) than the teenager did.

I also utilized observation sessions at Donna's office. The boys were often comfortable with Donna and, in some instances, were more comfortable typing with Donna than their parents. Sometimes, typing would cover school issues or independence / dependence topics. Even observing the non-typing portions of the sessions allowed for opportunities to observe school-related topics.

Another reason I chose to observe at Donna's office was that my original conceptualization of this study was focused on movement as it related to alternative and augmentative communication. Since this is Donna's specialty, her office was a good place to observe. After the first two set of field notes, it became apparent that adolescent identity would be a more intriguing avenue of investigation because rhythm and movement were a means to an end, while school identity seemed to be an important part of why the boys were there in the first place.

The participants were three high school aged boys (14-18) who have autism-related aphasia, which prevents them from verbally speaking. The age range of these boys was chosen because there has not been much written about alternative and augmentative communication users in this age bracket, especially from a quantitative perspective. Previous studies quantitatively examined peer (Beck, Thompson, Kosuwan, & Prochnow. 2010) and family attitudes (Angelo, Kokoksa, & Jones, 1996). Ashby (2010) qualitatively looked at how normalcy is enforced in middle schools. However, the construction of identity by high school students with speech disabilities is a subject not addressed by the literature.

Each of the boys used Facilitated Communication (FC), but was working toward independent typing and, perhaps, some speech. These boys came from middle class, White backgrounds and were from either suburban or from small to medium size cities in the Northeast United States. Because these individuals came from fairly similar backgrounds, their values and experiences might differ from an individual from a different racial or socioeconomic background (Lareau, 2003). In addition to the boys and their parents, I also interviewed their speech therapist Donna Schaefer. This allowed for a less intrusive way of finding out about what I was seeing than taking time away from the boys' sessions.

Donna suggested each of the boys for the study. She contacted each of the boys (so as to preserve medical confidentiality) and their parents and I followed up with correspondence concerning the study once the boy and his parents had agreed to participate.

Three patterns seemed to emerge: independence and co-dependence; schooling; and emerging teenage identity. I identified patterns in my field notes and interview transcripts that aligned with these categories. I examined these categories concentrating on how intersectional discourses fit into the lives of teenagers (Lesko, 2001, Sheridan, 2008) with autism related speech disabilities.

Locating myself in the study

As someone who is labeled as having a speech disability and an AAC user, some of the structure of speech therapy sessions, issues in AAC, and frustrations with not being able to communicate were familiar to me. However, I do not identify as autistic, am verbal, did not start using AAC until I was an adult, was in the college preparatory track in high school, and have always used independent typing, so there were plenty of things for my participants to teach me.

Literature Review

Alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) refers to when the spoken word appears in a written form to supplant a communication issue. In the modern era, speech generating devices (SGD's) have increasingly been utilized, converting typed speech into digitalized speech. Typically, the goals behind AAC include raising literate accomplishment and giving individuals with communication differences, resulting from disability, the chance to express their thoughts and needs (Romski & Sevcik, 1996, Buekelman & Miranda, 2005).

In educational systems, AAC has proven helpful, in many cases, in expanding literate citizenship, allowing the individual user to expand and use one's vocabulary to express basic needs and, hopefully, one's goals, feelings, desires, and thoughts in a mutually understood way (Miranda, 2003, Koppenhaver, Hendrix, & Williams, 2007).

Facilitated communication is a specific kind of AAC (Crossley & McDonald, 1980, Biklen, 1990, Biklen, 1992, Biklen & Cardinal, 1993, Biklen et al. 2005). The method has been controversial with some maintaining the communication is not real (e.g. Calculator & Singer, 1992, Green & Shane, 1993, Calculator, 1999). As individuals emerge as successful communicators, however, these dismissals have had less appeal (Buekelman & Miranda, 2005). Some studies have suggested that people who use facilitated communication can eventually learn to type independently and/or with minimum support and even verbal speech (Broderick & Kasa-Hendrickson, 2001).

I have chosen to investigate not just AAC systems, but also how these systems affect adolescent identity. The intersectional identity between adolescence and AAC systems is an important one because it recognizes that these participants are not just people with disabilities, but also adolescents, with an emerging sense of independence, bodily changes, emerging identity, etc.

In terms of this intersectional relationship, I focus on how these individuals make sense of their lifeworld development. Lifeworld development looks at the way children and adolescents "uncover" their experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and existential realities (Sheridan, 2008, pg. 204). Lifeworld development is concerned with:

internal and external resources, multiple systems level (individual, group, family, organizational, community, cultural, and political) and influences such as personal motivations, interpersonal and intrapsychic forces, intergroup tensions, imbalances of power, resources, and opportunities (ibid)

The adolescents in this study are faced with significant communication disabilities. Many are just beginning to struggle with how their disability might create differences between them and their non-disabled peers and the implications of that difference.

Identities are constructed based upon an individual's total experience, which includes all identities an individual has. Feminist disability studies scholars, in particular, have emphasized how one identity might affect another identity. Disability identities are, therefore, not universal (Knoll, 2009). For example, being a female with a disability might significantly differ than a male's experience because of the way male and female bodies are socially constructed (Fine & Asch, 1988, Garland-Thomson, 1997). How individuals see themselves and their bodies depends upon such things as race, social class, gender, and nationality (Garland-Thomson, 1995). Part of the reason why this is important is different types of bodies can be oppressed or not oppressed in different ways, so intersectional identities are important to how bodies are seen and experienced (Wendell, 1989).

Like disability, adolescence is also socially constructed. Lesko (2001) wrote about how adolescence is constructed as a technology of upholding White, middle to upper class, masculine conceptualizations of the body. Those that violate these norms and/or disrupt the system are seen as deviant and troublemaking, similar to studies by Goffman (1963), Davis (1964), and Scott (1969). Other identities can provide or subtract social capital (Coleman, 1989). From a disability identity standpoint, this stigma can be altered by "claiming" disability (Linton, 1998) and removing the rhetoric of thinking and writing about disability away from positivist science (Smith, 2006/2008), both of which serve to disrupt the values of the patriarchy, which utilizes stigma as one of its technologies.

Lifeworld development looks at the broader picture of an individual's world. It looks at how an individual's construct their social worlds and how individual's find their place in the world. Since adolescence is constructed as being a time that an individual can develop (Lesko, 2001), it is important to get a sense of the totality of what the individual's social world is and how that world has affected them (Sheridan, 2008, 204-216).

Independence and Co-Dependence

Students seemed to have various degrees of emerging independence. Progress regarding independence marked these individuals as emerging as individuals, apart from teachers or parents. One example came during a discussion that Carolyn had with Donna. Apparently, a teacher had given them a homework assignment, but was convinced that they would not actually do it "on their own", which Carolyn seemed to take as meaning that the parents would have to offer some assistance, especially to "keep their focus". However, Carolyn reported that Timmy "had done the assignment on his own, without needing me". This apparently is a breakthrough for Timmy because up to this point he has not always been able to do assignments by himself.

Luke provided another example. One day, Luke was typing with Donna. Luke typed "Those who can; can do it alone." What Luke meant by that was that he was discouraged by needing to use facilitated communication. Luke desired to be able to type independently, if not to be able to talk. However, Luke's statement also seemed to mark the sort of values that society puts on him. Luke sensed that there was something very wrong about needing to type to communicate. This sense comes to him through societal pressures that tell him that there is something wrong about needing to type to communicate. Not only did Luke need to type to communicate, he needed facilitation in order to do that.

Donna did, however, encourage Luke to overlook this issue. She reminded him that they were working toward independence and that one day he, too, would be able to type and communicate on his own. Donna seemed to suggest in this interaction that it was okay to receive some help, so long as the end goal is to communicate independently. Luke needed to be reassured that what he was doing was okay. An ablest society (Hehir, 2002) tells Luke and Timmy that they cannot do much without assistance, but paradoxically, at their age, they should not need it, privileging "those who can" over "those who can't or need assistance".

Luke took this in stride. He responded to Donna by typing "Freedom herself is very agile, very co-dependent, and a lovely person." Luke's personification of freedom in this moment served as recognition of Donna's views and perhaps an articulation of his own views apart from pressure to fit into an ableist world. In this interaction, Luke demonstrated that freedom did not have to be related completely to independence. Freedom's agility, therefore, would resist ableist models of disability which insist on an individual meeting a certain goal. Flexibility allows the individual to develop at his or her own pace and in his or her own way.

Luke also recognized freedom as being "very co-dependent". Almost all individuals depend on others in some way or another. What Luke recognized in his interaction with Donna is that it is okay for him to need some help because everyone needs help in some fashion or another. While it is true that people with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities, might need more assistance than others, a complete move to total independence, without recognizing that it is okay to receive some support and assistance. Schools tend to insist on an agenda that emphasizes independence. This idea relies on the rugged, but controlled individualism often encouraged in adolescents, especially boys, relying on the writings of individuals such as Lord Robert S.S. Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (Lesko, 2001, 55, 60). The idea was that an individual would be independent, but use that independence to serve the state. Not recognizing and encouraging students with disabilities to take advantage for opportunities for co-dependent relationships, however especially when that involves their disability needs, infuses the idea that "Those who can; can do it alone" into their mindsets, depraving them of what, for some people with disabilities (and, for that matter those without disabilities in the traditional sense) is a useful life skill: knowing areas where one needs help and having the skills to ask for them, so that they can be self-advocates.

I am not sure of what Luke meant when he said that freedom was "a lovely person". Unfortunately, this was not something I was able to successfully probe when I interviewed him. Certainly, this gets into Luke's personification of freedom as a person (and, perhaps not insignificantly, a female person). What Luke's classification of freedom as "a lovely person" does is to create a positive association with the word and experience of freedom. With freedom being "very agile and very co-dependent", though, Luke appeared have been talking about a particular kind of freedom, one that recognizes freedom as being flexible and dependent on other people, rejecting particular aspects of freedom as being one specific thing or being an individualist pursuit.

The importance of the individual, however, is not altogether insignificant in the pursuit of workable strategies and in terms of the formation of the individual's identity as an AAC user. I want to emphasize that movement toward independence should not be completely abandoned by schools. If anything, sometimes independence is underestimated and/or does not develop properly because of co-dependent relationships within school settings. First, I shall examine assumptions about independence which may be either incorrect or overly exaggerated.

One day, Timmy's mother Carolyn and Donna were involved in a discussion about how they could establish rhythm during their sessions at home. Timmy got up. Timmy, at first, walked around in circular motions, something that was not unusual for him. What he did next, however, was something that was not particularly expected. Although Timmy had been typing with his own device, Donna's iPad was within his reach. Timmy walked over to where the iPad was, picked it up, turned it on, and went to an application that helps to build grammar skills by breaking down sentences into words, with multiple choice questions. I had seen another participant, Tony, using the same application the day before. Timmy, however, was not supposed to be able to type independently. In fact, Donna had asked him earlier about his support needs and he typed "It's easier with help." This seems hard to reconcile, however, with the fact that he was able to manipulate the iPad on his own to be able to turn it on and go to a specific program. Confidence is tied to societal issues (e.g. stigma, construction of intelligence, inclusion, etc). This idea enters into the psyche of users, making it more difficult to let go of the co-dependent relationship between facilitator and facilitatee. The challenge is to make sure the student feels supported while not making the relationship so inter-dependent that the student feels as if they cannot really communicate without the assistance of the facilitator. Too often, confidence and related concerns in students, particularly those who are not athletic, able bodied, heterosexual, White males (Lesko, 2001, pp. 162-164, 167-168) insisting that students must learn to be physically and mentally tough with little concern, if any, for students with factors that impact their performance.

The way to get around the fear participants had about independent communication seemed to be rooted in creating supportive, relaxed environments. Due to pressure on the individual to type independently and the establishment that independent communication of some sort or another is preferable to facilitated communication, acknowledged even by the participants' own desires, these individuals seemed to have a lot of pressure put on them. This stress seemed to make these individuals uncomfortable to the point where a support person was needed to ease their apprehension. Most school environments and learned communities, even those who embrace Facilitated Communication, have favored independent communication and/or the encouragement of independent communication. Such heavy emphasis seems to make non-verbal students who use facilitated communication to feel as if they are deficient, which heightens their anxiety levels. What seemed to be most effective was to create a learning environment, one which understands the student needs some help, but also pushes these students toward their goal. As I was doing my observations, I saw students have their supports removed for a few seconds at a time. Some of the students panicked a little bit, but usually could type before they were cognizant of the absence of support. Sheridan (2008, p. 209-210) found, in reference to D/deaf teenagers, that comfort level with communication situations was significant in the development of these individuals because they tended to otherwise shut down. A similar phenomenon might apply here as these individuals found communication difficult without the support they were used to having.

Co-dependence on paraprofessionals also seemed to be an emerging theme. When asked about a significant relationship at school, which could be with a friend, a teacher, or staff member, most of the participants picked the paraprofessional. Tony, for example, typed about his paraprofessional "Mrs. Howard is my best friend. She is a great stress reliever. She does know me best. She helps me with my typing. It is her calm manner that helps me focus." While Tony obviously felt as if he had a good professional support person, it is also apparent that he also considers this relationship to be a social one as well, meaning that he is not necessarily interacting with his peers and, to the extent that he interacts with Mrs. Howard, his teachers. For individuals who are on the autistic spectrum peer interaction, even among those who are verbal, can be a personal challenge. However, the fact that Tony's most significant, and the experience of similarly aged individuals with the same disability, was with paraprofessionals suggested that a) relationships with peers were not developing and b) overt dependence on paraprofessionals to fulfill academic functioning. Paraprofessionals, as Tony pointed out, do play a vital role in the classroom. When an individual requires facilitated communication, these individuals are all the more vital. For example, Tony cited her mannerisms in keeping him calm. However, paraprofessionals also present issues related to their role in the classroom. Essentially, some paraprofessionals, who work with students with disabilities, more or less become personal aides. As such, the individual ends up becoming co-dependent on the individual as the paraprofessional is meant mostly to serve the needs of the individual class, instead of, for example, acting as a teaching assistant for the whole class. When the paraprofessional becomes enmeshed with the individual, it can cut off social contact with peers, which hinders other supportive relationships such as with teachers and peers (Sheridan, 2008, p. 210). While paraprofessionals may not, in practice, have as much power as teachers, at this level, they still have more power than students, so the authority of an adult presence can be an intimidating presence. The school must find ways to make the paraprofessional conspicuous so that peer interaction might occur, particularly if that peer interaction is supportive of the individual. Tony actually did have a second paraprofessional that also helped him sometimes, so he probably was less co-dependent on the paraprofessional than he might be if he was in a school district with fewer means.

Not all social relationships were with paraprofessionals, however. Timmy, for example, talked with Donna, during our first observation session, about a friend of his that also was autistic, who he gleefully referred to as a "fellow troublemaker". Timmy seemed to take great pride in being "a troublemaker". This meant that he was coming into recognition of himself as an individual with autism and was beginning to associate that fact with an empowered sense of self. Seeing himself and his friend as a "troublemaker" meant that Timmy recognized that they were, in fact, different from able bodied people, taking delight in rebellion against able bodied norms, as he adapted a "coping" strategy (Sheridan, 2008, p. 10) and moved toward "claiming" his disability (Linton, 1998).

Tony, meanwhile, maintained a strong relationship with his older cousin, Salvatore, who also happened to be a teacher at his high school. Tony said that he "liked friends" and especially "being around Salvatore". According to Tony's father, this relationship consists of Salvatore "checking up on him every day and going to lunch with him two to three times a week". This relationship might not be in the context of a more typical teenage friend relationship in U.S. society (i.e. his cousin is older than him and a family member), but it did provide a corresponding relationship outside of the immediate family (Sheridan, 2008, p. 214), meaning that there was someone responding to him in a personal way, allowing Tony's relationships to grow in a developmentally appropriate way.

School Structures

School structures play an important role in shaping the experiences of youth. This is particularly true for individuals with communication differences and other disabilities. Luke's mother described a fairly inclusive elementary school environment, but this changed when Luke was in middle school. She said, "The kids were expected to stay still and stay quiet and that was something that he couldn't do very well." Luke's mother believed that the school was willing to be tolerant of his disability when he was younger because "When they're younger, they are all running around", but when Luke and his classmates got older, and he got bigger, this was no longer tolerated. One of the hallmarks of modern middle schools is that they allow for management of students, including discipline (Lesko, 2001, pg. 96). Since Luke could not meet his school's expectations because of his disabilities, his body was more closely watched.

Luke's parents also saw the school as not caring too much about his education. Luke's mother said:

The school basically gave up on his education. And that seemed to really frustrate him. They were basically treating him like he was retarded and the teachers basically said that learning didn't really matter for him. And that was wrong.

This school district apparently had made a decision that education is only for certain groups of people. Using their authority as educators (Mehan 1996/2009), the school district tried to segregate out certain individuals with disabilities, including communication related disabilities, from participation in education. The school's choices are related to the construction of "smartness" and Luke, apparently, did not fit into their profile of an individual that was worthy of a meaningful education. This might be related to a disability link to the Great Chain of Being (Lesko, 2001, pg. 37) wherein racial, sexual, and class deviants were vilified. Here too, Luke was held to be unworthy of education because of his disability.

The school district, according to Luke's mother, the quality of education for highly achieving students was quite different than the one offered for students identified as needing special education services.

We live in Yankeetown, in Doubleday County. Usually, our school district is really good and it really works well for high achieving students. Our other son is a good student and it is a wonderful school district for him, we certainly wouldn't change it in terms of his experience, but for special education, it isn't very good at all. They really don't care very much at all about those kids.

The contrast from special education to "high ability" learners demonstrated the willingness of the Yankeetown School District to build a high quality program for students it believed worthy of investment versus special education students, particularly those with severe disabilities, that it viewed as not being educable or at least worthy of the same type of education afforded to other students. Luke's mother even goes beyond the actual curriculum to criticize the amount of care afforded to special education students saying "They don't care very much at all about those kids." The school district, therefore, was interpreted by Luke's mother to not only provide bad education to special education students in regards to their curriculum, but also to be dismissive of those students personally, following a model that privileges those of "high ability" while vilifying those lacking ability, something not unique to hyper-masculine school culture (Lesko, 2001, p. 167-168).

Since students are required under law, in the United States, to attend school until they reach the age of 16, and because they must spend a portion of their day at school, it inevitably affects a portion of their day and, thus, is an influence on the lives of students, including how they come to see themselves.

Not only were they failing to educate him, they were not letting him communicate, not letting him show his competency. The district basically said that there would be no Facilitated Communication. And that was basically the last straw, along with the fact that he was getting increasingly frustrated. We were working with people from the local ARC, and with Donna, to try to get him Facilitated Communication, but they were just not interested at all, very adamant against that. We could see that Luke was not very happy at the school. He was acting out a lot and writing things with Donna like "I'm trapped" and "I feel like I'm in prison."

Luke's misbehavior was tied to his inability to communicate within a recognized context. The school could have given him communication, but chose not to. In doing so, the school followed a script of renewing masculinity (Lesko, 2001, pp. 167-170) by relying on positivist science and by insisting on self-reliance with little thought to those

Luke also presented his own views of the schools as an emotional experience. He typed, when asked about his school experiences, that "his thoughts are like crying tears." Luke's non-verbal actions also spoke to his words. When Luke started to think about his school experience, he became visibly agitated. We were all sitting at a table. Luke intensely gripped the table and his whole body seemed to quake. It took him a very long time to write out even a second that "made sense". (This was frequently stressed during the moving to independence process. Making sense meant that they were able to produce a sentence that was universally coherent in its meaning.).

Luke's school did provide some academic content for the students, but not as much as life skills. Since Luke's mother had simply said he was in the "life skills" program, I wanted to know what sort of educational program the school district had provided for Luke.

A: So you were talking earlier about how he "wasn't really doing anything at school" in terms of academics. So what was he doing?

M: So they did have a little bit of curriculum. A little bit of math. A little bit of reading. But that was it. And I actually observed a class once and in those closed classes, I mean, if they were trying to do math or something, it would take so long. It practically took a whole day just to have the kids do a few math problems, so, I mean, if it is going to be structured in that way, I guess, I don't really blame them for not wanting to do much with those kids, in that way, because if I were a teacher, it would certainly be very frustrating for me. So they did that occasionally, but most the time they were working on life skills stuff, kitchen stuff, cleaning, that sort of thing. And they also had him go to his therapy, you know, speech therapy, PT (physical therapy), OT (occupational therapy). But they weren't really pushing the academics much at all. We kind of understand why the teachers had to have the classroom that way. And I don't blame the teachers or the assistants. Most of them were wonderful and, you know, very kind to him, but it goes to a bigger problem in our district, just a total devaluing of kids who need special education in favor of high achieving students.

There seemed to be some inertia in regards to educating students with disabilities, suggesting in part that for some students with disabilities, within this district, "academic" education was simply not prioritized. This places the emphasis on "home economics" type skills like cooking, cleaning, and sticking to a schedule. Furthermore, other sorts of life skills, which are in the curriculum for students who are not in special education, such as reading, the principles of economics, and health were deemphasized. Tracking privileges traditional masculinity traits, including verbosity and competiveness, into who is constructed as a worthy student.

Other participants in this study had a somewhat better experience with their school districts. Timmy, for example, was included in history as a trial basis for further inclusion in academic classes. This was not full inclusion, but the school was working on getting him fully included in academic classes. Tony first goes to a special education classroom, but for a large portion of the day was in regular classes where he communicated with other students on a regular basis, accompanied by paraprofessionals who help him throughout the day (although apparently he did not form as strong of a social relationship with fellow students as he did Mrs. Howard). These schools allow more leeway in terms of who is seen as competent.

Speech Disability and Adolescent Identity

Schools sometimes are hesitant to provide cutting edge technologies and communication strategies for students. When this article was being researched, there was a strong consumer trend toward an AAC application on Apple's iPad (Valentino-DeVries, 2010, Oct. 13, Wall Street Journal Online). Schools, however, sometimes resisted paying for an iPad, however, because they considered the iPad to be a "general use" technology, meaning that it was not meant as an assistive technology. However, general use technology sometimes improves the user's experience. Tony said about his iPad, in my interview with him, "I like that the other kids like it." This device, as a general use device, was considered to be "cool" by the other kids, so they were more accepting of Tony, which was something that he saw as being an advantage of the technology. Adolescents with disabilities sometimes strategize about how to fit into a preferred social group (Sheridan, 2008, pp. 126-127). Tony seems to be using his iPad as a strategy to connect to other students. However, he is also conforming to the main social group, a practice historically instilled by White males (Lesko, 2001, pg. 3).

Parents and others sometimes interpreted behavior as being disability related and other times related to their adolescence. Tony, for example, sometimes struggled with language telling his father that he wanted "milk" when he wanted a different beverage or even a food item, which was related to his disability. However, Tony also thought this problem was funny, which led to parent-child battles. Tony's father told him in a session "You think it's funny, but I know it's not." Tony and his father seemed locked in a sort of struggle, seen much more in the industrial and post-industrial world, between fathers and sons, as sons try to differentiate themselves from their fathers before moving on with their lives (Lesko, 2001, pg. 30). Here, Tony took a much different view of the situation than his father since the problem is funny to him whereas it is problematic to his father.

Luke's mother struggled to communicate with her son, who typed much more with Donna and a lady from the local ARC. Having trouble getting Luke to write, she told me "He's a teenage boy, and I'm his mother, so I guess he isn't going to tell me anything." These constructions of adolescence and disability depend on culturally based assumptions of disability and adolescence. For example, Luke's mother jokingly wrote off Luke's failure to communicate in a sort of "That's what teenage boys are like" comment, drawing heavily on Western, White, middle class conceptualizations of adolescence including the hormonal teenager, adolescence as defined by age, and peer orientation (Lesko, 2001, pp. 3-5).


As these teenagers work toward independence with their typing, they dealt with socially constructed conceptualizations of their disability, how to accommodate the disability, and their adolescence. As these boys enter emergent independence in communication and get ready to start their adult lives, they were heavily influenced by their quest for independence, identity issues related to schooling, and issues related to the intersection of adolescence and disability.

At the same time, though, these teenagers troubled the assumptions made in an ablest world about what independence is and whether it is the best thing for them to be working toward. Co-dependence, to the extent that they acknowledged their disability, and occasional need for help was, somewhat ironically, tied to their quest to independence. The goal was to do as much as they could on their own, but also to recognize when they would need help.

School environments often played a significant role around the formation of particular identities. Schools, for example, sought to control bodies, something that was heightened as the students got older. As the schools began to watch students more closely, how the school responded to those changes was linked to how the student experienced school. Schools engaged in the re-masculinization of schools tended to not provide good environments for these students, while schools that were more conducive to inclusive environments were more positive.

Being a teenager with a disability meant that students were subject to surveillance on multiple fronts. These students were deemed as other because of their disabilities and also subject to masculinization efforts either at school or at home. As these students developed into young men and developed independence, they had to negotiate both adolescence, disability, and the re-masculinization of their schools, while also managing their White, male, middle class identities. These other statuses, however, were demeaned in a system that enforced an exacting system of masculinity.

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