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Rosemary Crossley

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Rosemary Crossley
Born(1945-05-06)6 May 1945
Died10 May 2023(2023-05-10) (aged 78)
Known forFacilitated communication
Notable workAnnie's Coming Out

Rosemary Crossley AM (6 May 1945 – 10 May 2023) was an Australian author and advocate for disability rights. She was one of the first major advocates for facilitated communication (FC), a scientifically discredited technique which purports to help non-verbal people communicate.[1] Crossley was the director of the Anne McDonald Centre near Melbourne, Victoria, which provides assessment and augmentative communication services in Victoria, Australia.[1][2] The award-winning 1984 film Annie's Coming Out, known as Test of Love in the USA, was made about her work and life with a woman named Anne McDonald, whom she met at St Nicholas's Hospital in Melbourne in the 1970s and later brought to live with her.[3] Crossley dedicated her life to helping those with little or no functional speech. She died after a short battle with cancer on 10 May 2023, at the age of 78.[4]

Advocacy controversies[edit]

The Anne McDonald Centre, a centre for FC use in Melbourne directed by Crossley.

In 1975, Crossley was working at St. Nicholas Hospital, Carlton, Victoria, which was run by the Mental Health Authority and housed children with intellectual disabilities.[5] Concerned that the hospital schedule accommodated inflexible staffing arrangements, rather than the needs of the children, Crossley made a submission to a Victorian committee on mental retardation.[5] She also raised questions with the Mental Health Authority about some of the children in the hospital, claiming that although they had severe physical disabilities, they were not intellectually disabled.[6][7]

Crossley was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 1986 Queen's Birthday Honours, for her services to people with severe communication impairment.[8] However, many experienced speech therapy professionals said that Crossley was manipulating the hands of her clients, and the thoughts that were written were those of Crossley herself.[9]

Crossley established the DEAL (Dignity, Education, Advocacy, Language) Communication Centre,[10] which was later renamed the Anne McDonald Centre.[11] Douglas Biklen of Syracuse University, Division of Special Education and Rehabilitation, visited her in Australia, and went on to popularise facilitated communication in the US.[12]

In 2012, journalist Andrew Rule published two articles in the Melbourne Herald Sun about Crossley, under the titles 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'True Crime'. The latter asserted that Crossley falsely claimed facilitated communication was effective for McDonald, as McDonald did not have the capability to advocate for herself.[13] The newspaper later published clarifications that they did not intend to convey the meaning that Crossley deliberately misled people, nor that she was a criminal. They removed both articles from the newspaper's website.[14]

Crossley claimed in the 1993 Frontline documentary "Prisoners of Silence" that a comatose man that she was working with could pick his own housing arrangement, but Frontline disproved this claim using digital overlays.[15]

Crossley defended Anna Stubblefield against charges that she had sexually assaulted a man with severe cerebral palsy, identified as D.J., by claiming that he could answer yes/no questions independently.[16] Sociologist Mark Sherry said that Stubblefield manufactured D.J.'s communications. Stubblefield's conviction was later overturned.[17][18]

Court cases[edit]

Crossley was involved in multiple court cases concerning false abuse allegations made through facilitated communication. One involved the termination of an employee, and the other one involved forced removal of an intellectually disabled woman named Gina from her home. One of the clients consented to a hysterectomy through facilitated communication.[19][20]

Crossley had attempted to go on trips with Leonie McFarlane, another individual who has cerebral palsy and is nonverbal, to a conference about disability in another state, but her application to the Supreme Court was not successful. McFarlane's parents opposed the request because they said that she could not communicate independently. Crossley had previously been banned from seeing McFarlane in 1980 at St Nicholas Hospital, but after the closure of the hospital, McFarlane had often gone on outings with Crossley and McDonald.[21]

Crossley also attempted to also give a woman named Angela Wallace the legal right to leave the institution she was at by using facilitated communication. However, based on an investigation by Peter Eisen, it was determined that Wallace would not have the ability to give consent.[22] Additionally, it was found that Crossley helped create a false accusation of sexual assault through "Carla", who was purported to have claimed through FC that her father was abusing her.[22]

Authorship controversy[edit]

Crossley is a co-author of Annie's Coming Out,[23] a story about a girl named Anne McDonald whom Crossley claimed had learned to communicate through facilitated communication. McDonald's story went on to be made into a film titled Annie's Coming Out (also called A Test Of Love) in 1984 starring Angela Punch McGregor and directed by Gil Brealey. The screenplay for the film was written by Crossley's partner, Chris Borthwick, with both Crossley and McDonald credited as contributing writers. The film won Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

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. In 1977, when McDonald was 16, Crossley reported that she was able to communicate with her by supporting her upper arm while she selected word blocks and magnetic letters.[17][24] 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][25]

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. On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December 2008, McDonald received the Personal Achievement Award in the Australian National Disability Awards. McDonald died of a heart attack on 22 October 2010, aged 49.[26] She received a posthumous award from the Australian Group on Severe Communication Impairment (AGOSCI).[citation needed]

Annie's Coming Out depicts Crossley account of developing facilitated communication. Widespread controversy has continued to accompany its use in the autistic population,[27] with a number of peer reviewed scientific studies have concluded that the language output attributed to the clients is directed or systematically determined by the therapists who provide facilitated assistance.[28] Some have questioned whether McDonald was actually communicating through Crossley.[13]

Crossley later wrote Speechless: Facilitating Communication for People Without Voices[29] about the experiences of several people who she considered to have first acquired communication through this technique. She was the Keynote Conference Speaker at the International Association of Severe Disabilities in 1990.[30]


  • The Dole Cookbook (Collingwood: Outback, 1978) ISBN 0-86888-219-4[31][32]
  • Annie's Coming Out (Penguin Books, 1980) ISBN 0-14-005688-2
  • Facilitated Communication Training (Teachers College Press, 1994) ISBN 0-8077-3327-X
  • Speechless: Facilitating Communication for People Without Voices (1997) ISBN 0-525-94156-8


  1. ^ a b c "Anne McDonald Centre Home Page". 22 July 2021. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  2. ^ "Our Director – Rosemary Crossley". Anne McDonald Centre. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  3. ^ "Annie's Coming Out". NFSA Online Shop. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  4. ^ Morris, Linda (11 May 2023). "Rosemary Crossley Obituary, Member Of Anne McDonald Centre Has Died". today obits. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  5. ^ a b Owen, Wendy (11 November 1975). "Retarded children 'put to bed at four'". The Age. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. p. 3. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  6. ^ Roberts, Mike; Dunstan, Kate (28 April 1979). "Delay in mental hospital probe". The Age. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. pp. 1, 3. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  7. ^ Roberts, Mike; Dunstan, Kate (28 April 1979). "Ward of tragedy. Increased aid sought for deformed children". The Age. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. p. 3. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Ms Rosemary Crossley". Australian Honours Search Facility. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  9. ^ Carroll, Robert T. "Facilitating a Dangerous Delusion at MIT". Skepdic. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  10. ^ DEAL (Dignity, Education, Advocacy, Language) Communication Centre www.deal.org.au
  11. ^ "About Us". Anne McDonald Centre. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  12. ^ Editorial Board (12 April 2016). "Syracuse University's reinforcement of facilitated communication inexcusable, concerning". The Daily Orange. Syracuse University. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  13. ^ a b Rule, Andrew. "True Crime Scene: More Doubts over Disability 'Miracle'". Herald Sun. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Clarification". Herald Sun. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: News Limited Australia. 30 January 2013. p. 23. On May 14, 2012 the Herald Sun published an article entitled 'Rosemary's Baby', which some readers may have taken to mean that Dr Rosemary Crossley deliberately misled people in relation to facilitated communication for children with severe autism. The Herald Sun did not intend to convey this meaning. The Herald Sun accepts that Dr Crossley has always been well intentioned. A follow up article in the Herald Sun of May 18, 2012 was published online under the heading 'True Crime'. Dr Crossley is not a criminal and the Herald Sun regrets any such imputation. Both articles have been removed from the Herald Sun website.
  15. ^ Palfreman, Jon. "Prisoners of Silence". Frontline. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Trial over rape of voiceless disabled man reignites ethical debate". ABC News. 19 June 2017. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  17. ^ a b Flaherty, Colleen. "Professor accused of raping disabled man sees her convictions overturned". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  18. ^ Sherry, Mark (17 August 2016). "Facilitated communication, Anna Stubblefield and disability studies". Disability & Society. 31 (7): 974–982. doi:10.1080/09687599.2016.1218152.
  19. ^ Geschke, Norman. "Report on the investigation of the removal and placement of a client of intellectual disabilities services because of allegations made by facilitated communication" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  20. ^ Geschke, Norman. "Report on the investigation of a complaint of unjust dismissal because of allegations made by facilitated communication" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  21. ^ Griffin, Michelle (9 May 2011). "Carer revisits battleground of Annie's Coming Out". The Age. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  22. ^ a b Dwyer, Joan (February 1996). "Access to Justice for People with Severe Communication Impairment". The Australian Journal of Administrative Law. 3 (2): 73–119.
  23. ^ Annie's Coming Out www.amazon.co.uk
  24. ^ "Rowing Upstream". Anne McDonald Centre. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  25. ^ "The Most Dangerous Assumption". The Tacoma Ledger. 28 September 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  26. ^ Chandler, Jo (29 October 2010). "Annie has gone but her legacy and fighting spirit live on". The Age. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  27. ^ Biklen, Douglas. (2005). Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone. New York: University Press.[ISBN missing]
  28. ^ "Facilitated Communication: Mental Miracle or Sleight of Hand?" (1994) By Gina Green, Ph.D.
  29. ^ Speechless: Facilitating Communication for People Without Voices www.amazon.com
  30. ^ ...(1990, August). Keynote Speaker Spotlight: Rosemary Crossley. "TASH Newsletter", 3.
  31. ^ O'Sullivan, Margaret (19 November 1978). "A cookbook for people on the dole". The Sun-Herald. Sydney, New South Wales. pp. 170, 178. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  32. ^ Erlich, Rita (21 November 1978). "It's not so hot". The Age. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. p. 18. Retrieved 4 August 2019.

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