Love. Listen/Observe/Read. Act. Repeat.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Question authority

I'm on the hook for two presentations at the Texas Parent-to-Parent conference in San Marcos June 24-26. In one presentation I'll be working with Shahla Rosales, a professor of applied behavior analysis at the University of North Texas, on ethics in treatment decisions. She's come up with six guideposts for clinicians. She shared them with me a year ago and they resonated so wonderfully for me, as a parent, that I proposed we offer the same talk for parents at P2P.

I'm so lucky that she said yes.

I'll be teeing up the talk, sharing some of those school-of-hard-knocks stories that seem to define the world of parents who have children with disabilities. I'll focus on some of the hazards in our attitudes and fallacies of thinking. Shahla encouraged me to key in on one common fallacy of reasoning that clinicians bring to the table with treatment decisions -- appealing to the wrong authority.

Treatment choices should be evidence-based, but not all evidence is created equal, Shahla reminded me. Parents are sometimes in a better position to vet the rigor of evidence simply by questioning its authority with clinicians. Simply put, ask them to explain it to you.

Case in point: when Sam first began receiving services in preschool (I shared this story in my book), I was lost during an ARD/IEP meeting that went over test results. The speech therapist said that Sam could not touch his nose when he was asked. I asked her why that was important. From my perspective, as a young mom, I knew Sam "couldn't do" things. That was why we were there in the first place. The teachers and therapists developed an exhaustive list of things Sam wasn't doing, which did me no good. I could have written the list out for them and saved them a lot of time. But I asked the therapist to explain why he wasn't doing some of those things, and was stunned when she couldn't answer me.

Of course, she was embarrassed.

She followed through, however. She called up a former professor and called me several days later with the answer.

She said that most young children learn words from context. If you point out the zit on your nose, talk about blowing your nose, get a tissue to wipe your nose, or bump your nose on the door, and make some drama over that, most children learn that "nose" belongs to that sticking-out thing on your face. I recognized that Sam needed to be told things directly to learn them. After that telephone conversation, I stuck a computer label identifying dozens of things in the house for Sam. I also made him a shoe box full of vocabulary cards.

That and other direct interventions helped his early vocabulary explode.

I try to remember to be brave and ask questions and have things explained to me, because it never fails in creating a better environment for learning.

The hippies got that one right: question authority.

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