Anne McDonald

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The Anne McDonald Centre in Melbourne for disabled people with little or no speech.

Anne McDonald (11 January 1961 – 22 October 2010) was an Australian person with cerebral palsy who has been credited as an author and an activist for the rights of people with communication disability.[1] The Anne McDonald Centre is named after her, which promotes alternative medicine.[2] McDonald is known for being one of the first subjects of the scientifically discredited facilitated communication technique.

Early life[edit]

McDonald was born on 11 January 1961 in Seymour, Victoria. As a result of a birth injury, she developed severe athetoid cerebral palsy. Because she could not walk, talk or feed herself, she was diagnosed as having severe intellectual disability. At the age of three, she was placed by her parents in St. Nicholas Hospital, Melbourne, a Health Commission (government) institution for children with severe disabilities, and she lived there without education or therapy for eleven years. During McDonald's time in the hospital she was neglected and starved, and in a later court case the Health Commission conceded that at age 16 she weighed only 12 kilograms. Despite her ill-treatment, McDonald was purported to have considered herself "a lucky one" in that she was able to be released, and to have estimated that 163 of her friends died in the institution while she was there.

In 1977, when McDonald was 16, Rosemary Crossley reported that she was able to communicate with her by supporting her upper arm while she selected word blocks and magnetic letters. Crossley continued using similar strategies with McDonald and other individuals with disabilities, developing what has become known as facilitated communication training.

Through Crossley, McDonald appeared to seek discharge from St. Nicholas. Her parents and the hospital authorities denied her request on the grounds that the reality of her communication had not been established. In 1979, when McDonald turned eighteen, a habeas corpus action in the Supreme Court of Victoria was commenced against the Health Commission in order to win the right to leave the institution. The court accepted that McDonald's communication was her own and allowed her to leave the hospital and live with Crossley.[1]


After leaving the institution, McDonald got a Higher School Certificate (University entrance) qualification from a night school and went on to receive a humanities degree from Deakin University in 1993.

McDonald was credited as a co-author, with Crossley, of the book Annie's Coming Out (1980). The film Annie's Coming Out, based on the book, won several Australian Film Institute awards (including Best Picture) and was released in the US under the title Test of Love. It won the inaugural Allen Lane Award for the best book of the year dealing with disability. Some questioned whether McDonald had the capacity write a book, and she had to demonstrate her abilities in the Supreme Court to win the right to manage her own financial affairs and enter into a contract with Penguin Books.[1]

On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December 2008, McDonald received the Personal Achievement Award in the Australian National Disability Awards at Parliament House.

Death and legacy[edit]

McDonald died of a heart attack on 22 October 2010.[3] She received a posthumous award from the Australian Group on Severe Communication Impairment (AGOSCI).

Media Controversy[edit]

The story of McDonald's use of facilitated communication has been questioned by skeptics, as the technique has been proven by science not to work. Psychologists and policy makers have argued facilitated communication is, at best, ineffective wishful thinking, and at worst, actively harmful.[4][5]

McDonald and her story have reappeared in the news following the sexual assault case against facilitated communication aide Anna Stubblefield.[1]

Related reading[edit]

  • Annie's Coming Out (Penguin Books, 1980) ISBN 0-14-005688-2


  1. ^ a b c d Engber, Daniel (20 October 2015). "The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  2. ^ "Rowing Upstream | Anne McDonald Centre". Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  3. ^ Chandler, Jo (29 October 2010). "Annie has gone but her legacy and fighting spirit live on". The Age. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  4. ^ Wombles, Kim (27 August 2014). "This Is The Song That Never Ends: Facilitated Communication | Science 2.0". Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  5. ^ "The Most Dangerous Assumption". The Tacoma Ledger. 28 September 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2019.

External links[edit]