Miami-Dade County

With communication method debunked, charges against autistic boy’s father are dropped

Charges against Jose Cordero, 50, were dropped Thursday, April 5, 2018.
Charges against Jose Cordero, 50, were dropped Thursday, April 5, 2018.

The state dropped all charges Thursday against Jose Cordero, the Hialeah father accused of molesting his 7-year-old special needs son.

The 10-minute hearing brought an end to a six-month saga, dating to Cordero’s initial arrest in October, after results from a controversial special needs therapy suggested he might have abused his child. In the intervening time, Cordero spent 35 days in jail, and was denied access to his family for half a year.

Cordero’s young son is autistic and nonverbal –– he rarely speaks and cannot write by himself. So the boy, identified only as J.C. because of his age, never directly accused his father of abuse. Instead, the allegations came from an elementary school teacher who knows J.C. well and has helped him communicate in class for the past two years.

Special education professional Saul Fumero had been using a controversial method called the “hand-over-hand” technique with J.C. During hand-over-hand practice, the specialist guides the child’s hand as they write. The allegations against Cordero emerged from several of these collaborative sessions.

Read more: “How a teacher’s ‘junk science’ landed a dad in jail on charge of raping his autistic son”

In late October, Fumero reported that J.C. had described sexual molestation during one of their sessions. Fumero told detectives that he had no formal training with the hand-over-hand technique, and confirmed that J.C. had not described similar acts with either his therapist or new teacher. Nevertheless, the following week, Fumero accompanied the child to an interview with the University of Miami’s Child Protection team, where the child detailed further abuses involving his mother and sister. The statements were highly graphic, and used advanced anatomical language.

“This is all a very ugly and disturbing horror story but all true!” one of the hand-over-hand statements read. Because of a lack of witnesses, inconsistencies in the statements and the controversial method used to obtain them, prosecutors determined the story was not true.

Hand-over-hand practice is part of a family of treatments called “Facilitated Communication,” in which caregivers serve as a medium for helping patients speak, write or otherwise convey messages. Facilitated Communication, or FC, has been hailed as pseudo-science within the psychology community, often drawing comparisons to playing a therapeutic Ouija board.

In their report on the arrest, state attorneys said that all members of the family were shocked by the allegations. The father, who declined to comment, vehemently denied the charges.

“The victim’s mother nearly fainted when discussing the allegations with the detectives and appeared completely unaware of any abuse,” the statement said. “The victim’s 25-year-old sister seemed equally surprised to hear of any abuse and had no idea her brother was capable of communicating in any way.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Here are some of the signs and symptoms associated with autism.