Exploring and reflecting on meaningful pathways to inclusive and personalized learning and living for students with complex developmental needs because education should prepare all students for a lifetime of inclusion, connection, growth and learning.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Promote the "Medicine" of Inclusion - Sharing a Great Idea to Promote Understanding of the Connection Between "Behaviour" and "Belonging"


Came across this great resource that I wanted to share: The Importance of Belonging

Page 11-15 outline a process that could be used with a learning support team or a whole staff to come to understand the connection between feeling excluded and behaviours.  A critical point made in this section is that behaviours are often a result of feeling excluded and when we think in terms of a consequence-driven approaches to behaviour, we are generally doing things that will further exclude the child. 

Page 16 has a chart that can be used to generate proactive plans related to increasing a student's feeling of belonging.  When we put an action plan in place related to increasing belonging for a student, we are addressing the root cause of the behaviour rather than trying to respond to the outwardly displayed symptoms.  I really like the idea of approaching this planning process from the angle of thinking through how we can facilitate specific feelings associated with belonging. 

I have not tried the process yet.  I just found it really interesting and have put it in my toolbox as I'm sure there will soon be a time where it will be useful to support a student. 
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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Worth Thinking About - Talking the Talk or Walking the Walk

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Reminded me of Drew Dudley's TED Talk about every day leadership
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I post a new "Worth Thinking About" question each Sunday. 
In reality, some might be more "and" statements rather than "or" statements. It is about finding the right balance so that we are aware enough to be effective in supporting student learning.

Click here to check out more "Worth Thinking About" posts.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

We Each Need a Tool Box and a Team

 
I have used this graphic already for a previous post but I came across it again tonight and it sparked a thought that tied to a couple of other things I have been thinking about.  The first is this Simon Sinek clip about having a personal "Creativity Tool Box". 
 
 
If a person doesn't have a "tool box" to draw from it would be difficult to see the road to success as anything other than what is portrayed on the left hand side of the diagram above.  "If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail."  You could hammer harder or hammer longer but if the problem is not a nail chances are you are going to get the same result no matter what you do with the hammer.  You either win or you fail.

When someone has a tool box they can travel a different path.  They may start out thinking the problem is a nail but when the hammer doesn't work they can go to their tool box and use a different tool.  That tool may or may not work but it doesn't matter because eventually one of the tools will.  That person will persevere as long at they feel they still have tools left in their box to try. 

The idea of a toolbox is not really a new one.  It's been tossed around a lot.  Perhaps the paradigm shift here is the statement in the video that when we build our toolboxes we should be focusing on amplifying our strengths rather than on improving our weaknesses.

This challenges us in education to think beyond individuals traveling down isolated paths learning to use tools outlined in a curriculum one after another as they move along a pre-defined path from "uneducated" to "educated".  The sad reality of this approach is that it does mimic the left hand side of the above diagram with the potential to reach a dead-end failure.

It may mean recognizing that for some students it really doesn't matter if they are able to use a specific tool for a specific purpose in an isolated context.  Rather, we should be aiming for that student to have the skills he/she would need to be a part of a team that is planning, building and decorating an entire house.  Not everyone would have to come with the same toolbox and not everyone would come to do the same job. Even those doing the same job might use different tools and complete the task in different ways.

What would matter is that everyone knew how to work together, who to go to or what sources of information they have when they came upon a barrier and how to bring their own gift forward in creating the best house possible.  What would also matter is that the house can't be built without the unique contribution of each person on the team. It seems that if each person worked to develop their own tool box and amplify their strengths so that they were able to "bring value to a team" they would be in a much better position to be ready for an ever evolving and increasingly connected world.

But what about those students who do not seem to have a gift that could be amplified? Where is there value in all of this?  When we shift our thinking from isolation to collaboration, we start to see that there are two ways to contribute - we contribute by "being" and we contribute by "being".  We all have our own unique balance in how much of each we do.  Our contribution about "being" is related to how we make other members of the team feel about themselves and about what we are doing.   person makes others in a team feel will impact the overall quality of the end product.  It has nothing to do with we perceive to be "elite" skills or abilities.  A great example of the contribution of "being" is Rudy.  Everybody has some strength to amplify but this might mean thinking of strengths as not only those things we are good at by ourselves but also those things that can only really come through when working as a member of a team. 


 
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Worth Thinking About: Help or Support?

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Reminded me of the must see short film Butterfly Circus
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I post a new "Worth Thinking About" question each Sunday. 
In reality, some might be more "and" statements rather than "or" statements. It is about finding the right balance so that we are aware enough to be effective in supporting student learning.

Click here to check out more "Worth Thinking About" posts.
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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Perception as a Barrier to Learning Part 2

Kind of crazy how a Ted Talk related to what I write about seems to pop up right after I write it.  Came across this today and wanted to add this great Ted Talk by Eduardo Briceno to what I posted about yesterday.  Our perception of "intelligence" matters because we pass it on to our students.


"The difference between these two
groups... a different perspective
on intelligence."

None of this is about a list of things to do. It's about what we believe. Can we really say we are operating from a growth mindset if we believe that there are some students that we just cannot educate with their peers?

"If you hear 'I can't do it,' add 'yet'!"
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Friday, August 16, 2013

Perception as a Barrier to Learning

Came across a great video this morning. 

 
Although the video is about health care, it also applies to education.  The way we perceive students an their behaviours impacts how we interact with them and whether or not they will engage with and, more importantly, how they will engage with learning. 

There are obvious implications related to this video when it comes to how we interpret the "behaviour" of students but I want to focus more on how our perceptions also play a role in curriculum learning.


Traditionally, when a student appeared to not understand a curriculum concept, we have assumed that this is because the student is unable to cognitively understand the concept.  Our response generally was to work with the student either during class or at another time and go over the concept again by breaking it down, giving examples, trying to apply it to their context, changing the language that we use...etc.  If this didn't work, we then made the assumption that the student was not cognitively capable of "getting it".  In the worst case scenario we would at that point give up on the student and not support their learning at all at that point.  But in most situations, if this happened often enough we would take one of three paths: (1) move the student to a lower academic stream where the learning is aligned with what we believe the student to be capable of, (2) modify the work in the classroom by having the student do "easier" work, or (3) start the process to move him "into" special education. 


The unfortunate reality of this approach is that we instill in a student the belief that there is something inherently wrong with them and that is why they cannot learn and this reinforces the belief in a fixed mindset.  I have come across countless statements like the following from adults with learning disabilities and/or ADHD in the past few weeks alone:
I can attest to just how limiting the process is. As a child, I was diagnosed with an auditory disorder that made it difficult for me to process speech in real time. I repeated third grade. Then, after an anxiety-ridden IQ testing session in fourth grade, I was sent to a school for students with learning disabilities. By the time I re-entered public school in sixth grade, the label "special ed." was hard to overcome, despite my yearning for more intellectual challenges. If it weren't for a couple of teachers (thank you Mrs. Jeuell and Mrs. Acton!) who considered the kid rather than the system's preconceptions, I might never have earned a doctorate at Yale. (Source: http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/american_education_and_the_iq_trap)
As the video above points out, although Response to Intervention (RtI) models offer a "best practice" approach, the misinterpretation and implementation of these models as being only about direct pull-out boxed academic intervention or remediation can create the same barriers to learning as the special education remediation approach.   
 
What if we changed our perception and rather than believing that the student is incapable (or unmotivated) to learn the concept, we started from the presumption of competence and learner variability and thought through and responded to the barriers that may exist to that student's learning?  What if we started to explore what we could do beside just tutoring the student using the same method of instruction that we presented the material in to begin with?  What if we looked at the student's strengths and figured out how we might use these to compensate and get around the barrier? 
 
There are times when direct academic intervention or remediation is needed.  I believe there are students that have lagging academic skills (numeracy and literacy) for whom we can provide an intensive intervention and get them "caught up".  I believe there are times when we need to think about remediating by assessing a student to see if they have the pre-requisite skills needed for a specific curriculum unit and then spending time with them making sure they have those skills before the unit starts.  I also believe that there is a need to do direct daily work with students on literacy skills at their level and that this may require more than one teacher to accomplish it.  Finally, I believe that short term or long term tutoring (be it by a peer or an adult) is an effective intervention for some students.  But we have to recognize that all of these direct approaches are based in a belief of fixing the student and do feed in to a deficit model that could impact a student's sense of self-efficacy as a learner. 

Of those personal narratives that I have been reading by adults with LD and/or ADHD what strikes me is how many of them speak of the ticket as being a strategy or a tool as opposed to their time "in" special education, resource rooms or intervention.  We need to find an appropriate balance between remediation and compensation and put the same effort and resources in to implementing and evaluating indirect interventions as we put in to implementing and evaluating direct ones.  Part of this may involve letting go of the idea that reading and writing are the "right" way to do things and other methods are "modifications" or "adaptations".  Part of it may require that we adapt flexibility in methods, materials and assessments for all students so that each can come to understand themselves as a learner and then take on the responsibility of employing learning methods that work for them. 
 
Beyond thinking about direct academic instructional approaches we can ask so many questions that focus us in the process of learning...
  • Does the student need some way to compensate for a cognitive barrier that exists as result of our materials or methods?  Can we use "cognitive tools" like text compactor, text to speech software, word prediction software, Livescribe pens, Voice Dictation on iPads...etc.  So many of these things don't even cost anything.  Check out the Free Technology Toolkit for UDL in Classrooms for categorized possibilities. What if we don't have access to the technology? Can we provide note outlines, leveled text on the topic that is being studied, recorded text, the opportunity to record or speak rather than write, word walls or banks...etc.
  • Could we change our materials, methods or assessments to match the student's learning profile and still achieve the same curricular outcome?  If the objective is content related, does it matter if the student creates a video explaining rather than writes a paper?  If the objective is process related does it matter if he/she chooses a topic he/she is interested in to show he/she understands that process? 
  • Can we impact the student's motivation related to learning the objective?  This Minecraft History Project is a great example of taking a project that taps in to a student's intrinsic motivation.  How can we use the strengths or interests of the learner to achieve the outcome? 
  • Can we provide the student with organizational supports or teach them strategies so they can create their own organizational supports so that they are able to keep moving through the process?
  • Can we teach the student learning strategies and/or self-regulation strategies (self-monitoring, questioning, summarizing, goal setting, organization, note-taking, visual mapping, connecting to prior knowledge, understanding of vocabulary...etc.) that they can use? 
  • Can we create a check-in process or have self-correcting components so that the student gets regular feedback and gains the confidence to keep moving forward?
  • Can we modify the environment in a way that would better support the student's learning?
  • And for some students it might be worth asking is we are aiming for the right goal?  What part of the curriculum objective matters for this particular student?  Is this a situation where there is actually a more important goal that should be overlapped?  If this is about curriculum overlapping (working on a different student specific goal in the given context), what is that goal and do facilitate the learning related to that goal? 
When we engage in this problem solving process to support learning we foster a growth mindset culture.  We shift away from getting through curriculum objectives and towards working with a student to build the agency that they need to take the reigns in creating their own success in school and in life.  As we engage in the process the team and the student come to understand what works and what doesn't work for that specific student.  By continuing to engage in the process when something doesn't work, we model perseverance and a belief in the competence of that student.  By including the student in problem solving, implementing and evaluating how interventions and instructional approaches work for him/her we are helping him/her to develop a sense of him/herself as a learner.  As a student develops this understanding of self we begin to tap in to one of the biggest untapped resources in our school system... the students themselves.  When a student knows what works for him/her as a learner, he/she can take the differentiation reigns.  When a student has been empowered as a learner, they are in a position to empower others.  When we engage a student in the problem solving process, they might come up with more innovative solutions then we ever could. 
 
The challenge of it all is how far we can stretch our beliefs/perceptions related to the concepts of "fair" and "equal" and, even more challenging, how far can we stretch ourselves in regards to the presumption of competence and thinking in terms of changing the environment rather than the student. 
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Inclusion is Action!

"I don't listen too much to people when
they tell me I can't do something.
There is not a whole lot that is
going to stand in my way."
 
 
Inclusion is about finding answers to the
question "How are we going to do this?"
 *
When we take students out of their natural
environment we will not be as intentional about
working with them to find these answers.
 *
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shame as a Barrier to Learning Part 2

Came across this today and wanted to add this great Ted Talk by Brene Brown to what I posted about yesterday.   
 
 
"If we're going to find our way
back to each other, vulnerability
is going to be that path."
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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shame as a Barrier to Learning

Last week I wrote about barriers to learning.  Today I was reading this Dylexia Insight post on the National Center for Learning Disabilities website and this statement got me thinking again about what we should be doing as teachers in our efforts to break down barriers to learning: "For starters, let me tell you that when it comes to dyslexia, most people focus on reading or spelling. They should instead focus on shame. Shame is a feeling that you’re unworthy because of something you are. It’s different from guilt, which is feeling bad about something you did, like stealing or cheating. Shame comes from not feeling normal."  Sadly, as the following video outlines, this becomes a cyclical process that is difficult for a student to break out of.  
 
 
It gets bigger though.  The ripple effects can go so much deeper than just not acquiring reading because reading is connected to language and we need language for self regulation.  This video outlines why we seem to see a move from a student having a learning disability code to having a behaviour disorder code.  It may seem extreme but I think it would be worth taking a look at data to see how often students move from mild cognitive/intellectual disability codes to behavioural codes through the course of their schooling. 
 

It is critical to recognize how closely tied together emotion and cognition are.  Emotions will either interfere with or facilitate learning.  A student who feels shame will not be able to learn and it will be difficult for that child to ever develop a sense of efficacy of themselves as a learner. 

 
What is the solution for the student who has difficulty learning to read?  We clearly must increase the intensity of instruction and/or intervention to support acquisition of reading skills.  Is that enough?  Are we contributing to the shame that child feels by focusing only on their area of weakness?  How do we ensure balance?  How long do we continue to think in terms of intervention and remediation before we also think in terms of compensation.

I would say the Dylexia Insight post I referenced at the beginning should give us some insight in to what is helpful to him... auditory text for "reading" and dictation software for "writing".  This involves understanding learner variability and perhaps even redefining what "reading" and "writing" in order to break down barriers to learning.  If a student is not getting stuck in the shame of reading because they can listen to or view content rather than read it, they can engage the cognitive processes required for learning.  The flip side of this is, if we have one student doing something a different way, it can also set up a situation where the student will feel different (and therefore potentially feel the same shame).  The key seems to be more related to having flexible options for students so that they can learn in the way that is most effective and efficient for them. 

There are many components in the concept of "21st Century Learning" that would open up more doors for students who feel shame about what we have labeled as learning and intellectual disabilities but without explicit awareness of how we can design materials and learning activities to address learning variability an opportunity to reduce the achievement gap might be missed. 

Todd Rose has several great talks about learner variability. The following talk was presented at a Cyber-learning Symposium. He talks about how critical it is to think about learning variability as we move forward with designing our next generation of learning environments. The Rubric's Cube example speaks to the concept of using different paths or strategies to get to the same end goal. Technology simply opens up more paths and more strategies that can allow for increased learner variability.  The second cube that he presents is about "retrofitting" rather than "designing". In order to approach addressing learner variability from the design standpoint, we need to start with an understanding of variability and it seems the only way that we can really understand variability is if we have the whole range of it in our classrooms. 
 
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Monday, August 12, 2013

Resisting the urge to finish prematurely...

 
"When you are looking at becoming an inclusive society,
there really isn't a beginning or an end. It is all about
the process. It is all about becoming accepting and
becoming inclusive, and not reaching a finite goal." 
 
In the book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, Scott Barry Kaufman. proposes the Theory of Personal Intelligence where intelligence is defined as "the dynamic interplay of engagement and abilities in pursuit of personal goals." He goes on to state that "any behaviour that narrows the distance between the starting state and the goal state of a person's personal goal counts as an intelligent behaviour" and then to say that "the formulation of multiple strategies to overcome obstacles and reduce discrepancy between the starting state and the goal state is an incredibly important manifestation of human intelligence."

This definition shifts the focus from product to process and can only be realized through the lenses of presumed competence and a growth mindset.  It speaks to the recognition that each student comes to the classroom with their own unique set of personal characteristics and those characteristics can be leveraged and/or accommodated for in the process of overcoming the obstacles that would move a student from where he/she starts to the goal. 
 
This is one of those books that pulls pieces together.  It will take time to connect both the theory and practice to my personal context.  It is reflective of much of what is happening in the drive to reform, transform, or redesign education.  This quote speaks to that...    
The deep implication here is that there should be no external pressure to realize a goal at a particular rate. The comparison isn't with others: it's with your former and future selves. If we rid ourselves of the notion that any of us ever reach a state of "failure" then there's no problem whatsoever in encouraging people to engage with a domain. If anything, there's an abundance of evidence suggesting we should encourage all people with a love for a specific domain to engage in what they love.
Throughout this book, I've tried to illustrate the incredible transformation people can undergo when they are allowed to engage in a domain that is aligned with their self identity.  In some cases, such as people with Asperger's, when engaging in their area of special interest their "disabled" characteristics complete evaporate (see Chapter 11).  In Chapter 12 we also saw that a love for the domain was the single best predictor of lifelong creative achievement - both societal and personal - long after the effects of IQ and divergent thinking faded away. 
It's a myth that geniuses consistently produce great work. The output of most creators, including those we label "genius," tends to be highly uneven.  The key for expertise is consistency, but the key for greatness is quantity.  According to the "equal-odd rule," quality is a linear function of quantity: the more you create (regardless of the quality), the greater your chances of producing a masterpiece.
This suggests we should encourage children to dream the impossible, to think beyond the standard expectations, to dare to be unrealistic. Such encouragement promotes the importance  of perseverance and questioning the established order. What's more, this instills in all people a mindset of lifelong learning and growth. 
While some may consider the world I've described beyond our reach, I can already see glimpses of it today. Throughout this book, I've highlighted the many progressive educators who are promoting learning goals, emotional self-regulation, self-regulated learning strategies, self-expression, self-pacing, context, deliberate practice, grit, passion, persistence and play.  All of these fundamentally human characteristics are part of human intelligence, because they contribute to the adaptations of our species.  Without them, we wouldn't be here today to be able to use them to adapt our personal goals within our lives. 
One other critical component of this theory is that "engagement and ability are inseparable throughout human development, dynamically feeding off each other as we engage in the world." It is not a surprise really that engagement is critical to human development.  In reality, is more about how we bridge the knowing-doing gap around this idea.  How do we facilitate the personal connection and meaning that are at the heart of engagement?

Finally, I can get to the title and the starting video and quote of this post.  So often in our drive to be "effective and efficient" we are pulled by the urge to finish things prematurely rather than to engage in the messy and often frustrating process of exploration and learning.  These processes make us uncomfortable because they are rooted in knowledge creation that challenge the status quo that our entire system is based on.  Our system is based on knowledge dissemination, not knowledge creation and it's hard to imagine that advancement in society have actually ended up making that system irrelevant.  When we constantly look for the finish point or the product are we missing the point? 

The connection point for me is at the end of the quote above: "because they contribute to the adaptations of our species.We, and the world around us, are constantly evolving.  We can't avoid change.  We are always in a state of becoming and to be prepared for life we need to be comfortable with that.  Our brains are constantly changing... not just individually but they evolve from generation to generation.  When I think of the concept of "presumed competence" (which I do a lot particularly because of the student population I work with), I think about environments where we believe that we can dynamically work with students to figure out student-specific "strategies to overcome obstacles and reduce discrepancy between the starting state and the goal state" and keep moving students along a path of learning agency.  In the classroom context this might mean personalized definitions of and current goals but the overall goal of education should be the same... to prepare students for a lifetime of learning. 

This leaves me with a lot of questions and none of them are simple.  None of them are black and white but sometimes it is worth thinking about where they sit on the continuum of black and white because the way we frame things matters.  How far can we push the edges?  Can we imagine students with the most complex of needs being lifelong learners? If we can't imagine this, are we saying that the purpose of school for this population is somehow different?  If this is the case, what impact does that have on the way we interact and the programs we create?  Are we generating a larger gap in the process of equipping some students to adapt, learn and grow and aiming for basic survival with others (aka segregated "life skills" programs)?  Have we created a system where we believe there is linearity to learning and our default to "problems" is remediation based on the track we believe should be followed rather than compensation based on individual student profile?  Does this feed in to a fixed mindset that our duo-track education system seems to be rooted in? Are we putting resources in to labeling, remediating, clustering and segregating rather than creating inclusive learning communities where our focus is to foster personalized learning by finding "strategies to overcome obstacles and reduce discrepancy between the starting state and the goal state"?
 
I believe we can push the edges further and I believe that involves thinking about having the same goal of life long learning for all students. Life long learning is rooted in our passions and dreams and increases a person's quality of life.  For some that means pursuing post-secondary school or entrepreneurship. Can we imagine this possibility for ALL students or do we get stuck in thinking about jobs of flowers, food or filth for a certain population regardless of whether that is what they desire or not?  Do we understand that authentic contribution is rooted in sharing our passions and strengths rather than in the completion of tasks that others label as important? What impact does the way we set up programs have on the doors that remain open for students beyond high school?  Do we resist the urge to take the path of falling back on repetitively having a student do what we believe the student to "be capable of doing" rather than pushing the edge to figure out how we can create the context for continued growth and learning?  Do we resist the urge to fall back on busy work or life skills when we get to that point of not knowing what to do to keep moving ahead?  If we do that, are we sending a fixed mindset message and have we put a limit on the student's learning?  Is this the equivalent of finishing prematurely?

Not simple questions but I believe they are ones worth thinking about given the current climate of education and adult services.  I have to throw in a few great examples of the continuation of learning beyond high school here...
It seems the only way to end this post is with Seth Godin's "Stop Stealing Dreams" Ted Talk...

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Worth Thinking About: Naked Independence or Assistive Technology?


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Reminded me of David Edyburn's writing
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I post a new "Worth Thinking About" question each Sunday. 
In reality, some might be more "and" statements rather than "or" statements. It is about finding the right balance so that we are aware enough to be effective in supporting student learning.

Click here to check out more "Worth Thinking About" posts.
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Saturday, August 10, 2013

"Red Lights" - My Other Blog...


It's been almost nine years now since I wrote my first blog post.  It seems so long ago... there was no Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest then but there were message boards and chat rooms that had opened up a whole new world for parents of children with disabilities.  Through these spaces I have met and remained friends with some amazing parents of children with Down syndrome.  We have shared the fears and celebrations and many of us took to blogging as way to keep each other and our families informed when the opportunity presented itself.  My blog was titled Red Lights to represent the lessons that I had been learning from my son (Mikey) about slowing down and enjoying life.

Eventually, I also began a teaching blog that went through the names "Building a Program that Works" and "Living and Learning" before evolving with my own teaching practice to "Eliminating the Box". 

As I can start to see the end of my graduate studies, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on both my life and my career to this point.  I have always known that Mikey has a deep and profound purpose and meaning in my life but as I have spent some time reading back through the things that I wrote on my Red Lights blog, it became clear to me that I did not stop writing because I couldn't keep up two blogs... but that I stopped writing at the time that we added Autism Spectrum Disorder to Mikey's label.

Who Mikey was did not change with that label but in the blink of an eye I felt like I went from having a child with Down syndrome to one with Autism and I quickly learned that the general public's response is very different to the two labels.  When I mention Down syndrome, the response goes something along the line of "Oh... they are so loving and happy all the time" (to which I want to invite them to spend a few days in our home...) while the response to Autism is something along the line of how hard that must be.  Both are wrong (but I won't go in to that) but the later had a deeper and more negative impact on me as a parent and a person.  Suddenly, it seemed that rather than an amazing, funny, creative, determined little boy he was being seen as a burden.

I believed the diagnosis would help us to better understand Mikey and that we would use this information to create a world with him that would work better for him.  Instead, his behaviour tracking form was changed to the one that was used for all kids with autism to ensure that regulations were being met.  It seemed that "behaviour" and "autism" were used almost interchangeably.

I had been prepared for Down syndrome.  In fact, I had chosen Down syndrome.  I purposefully set out to adopt a child with Down syndrome back in 1999.  I had not been prepared for Autism and I was just coming to learn more about it as I did have one student with Autism.  Mikey was not a different person after the diagnosis but it seemed the label to Autism meant that others had different expectations of him.  For a stretch of time after he got the diagnosis, I questioned if I had done the right thing by pursuing the diagnosis. 

In one of my last blog posts on Red Lights I shared the following song...

 
I was introduced to the song at the end of the movie called Adam...

 
It's a love story with a bit of a surprising ending. The girl in the story convinces Adam to pursue his dream and when he achieves it, he asks her to move with him.  She is set to go and at the last minute Adam says something about how he needs her to go with him because he can't do it without her.  She repeats the line about him not being able to do without her and then says she can't go with him.  He ends up going alone. When I watched with a friend, her take on the story was that she didn't want to be burdened by him and his neediness. In that conversation something flipped for me in regards to better understanding how different people will see and use labels differently. For me, what she did was the deepest act of love possible. She loved him and wanted to be with him but as long as she was with him he would not believe in his own independent ability... and so she forced the situation, gave up what she wanted and sent him off to pursue his dream on his own.   

The last scene in the movie shows him a year later, having established a new and independent life for himself.  He has a job he loves rooted in his passion area, new friends, a home of his own...etc.  He is seen reading a letter from this lady who had such a profound impact on his life and then the song kicks in.
You know there will be days when you're so tired that you can't take another step.  Night will have no stars and you'll think you've gone as far as you will ever get...
Go where you wanna go... Be what you wanna be... If you ever turn around... You'll see me.  
In that moment I understood that the people's beliefs and opinions of the label didn't matter.  It wasn't about the label and the things that he couldn't do.  It was about Mikey and the person that he is and the things that he can do.  I needed to stop buying in to a system that focuses on remediation and trying to fix what we have socially defined to deficits.  This is the hard part to say as a parent... I needed to be okay with where he was at and part of that involved not buying in to a system that defines his path for him. 
 
The hardest part... I needed for him to be his natural environment without everything being pre-defined so that we could let him lead us and all begin to explore with him where he is going to go in this world.  It goes against every instinct that I have as a parent and even as a teacher.  I had bought in to the idea that we need to be proactive and head off all potential problems.  I believed the only other option was to be reactive.  But it seems that maybe the concepts of proactive and reactive sit in the middle of simplicity and what this should be about is actually extremely dynamic and complex.  By trying to make it simple, we may make it easy in that moment but we end up limiting potential. 
 
It's now been 3.5 years since the diagnosis and two years since we moved him from receiving his education primarily in self-contained classroom to his starting point being the general education setting.  The differences in him can only be seen by those who truly know him but to those of us who truly know him, the differences are profound.  Some of it can be pinned to just growing up but as his mother I have the whole picture of what his personality has been like in different educational settings and this goes deeper than just developmental milestones.  It reaches down to how he feels about himself. 
 
Each summer I try to work with him on his communication system and each summer he we don't get very far probably because I'm pretty in tune with him and he knows that there is an easier way to get his point across with me.  This summer we started from a different place... I asked him if he wanted to learn to use the devise so he would be able to talk more with his friends at school.  He sits with me on the couch while I talk to him with it and watches my every move.  He goes to it to talk to me (still mostly requests).  He will purposefully make mistakes with it so that I have to re-engage back with him.  He is now starting to just explore it and see what is in all the layers of the system.  And this morning... he repaired the sentence he was working on. 
 
I know there are many who would believe that we should be looking for "the best of both worlds"... that we could achieve the same thing if he just joined the "regular class" for options... that the gap is too big academically for him to be in junior high core subjects.  I will not deny that we do not yet have the academic modifications fully figured out and that at times the gap does seem overwhelming... but the bottom line is that in the end I am kind of thinking that there is more to it then being either proactive or reactive... that what we actually need to do is think in terms of being responsive because that is how we ensure his autonomy.  So it means we need to put in him in contexts where we might have no clue what to do because that is the only way we are ever going to figure out what to do. 

In the end it all makes sense that I moved from writing a blog about Mikey to writing a blog that reflects the bigger picture of my learning. Mikey's story is his to create and maybe some day it will be his to write if he so chooses. My job isn't to write his narrative for him but rather to support him in his journey so he can find and live and share his own story in whatever way works for him.  I sometimes feel a sense of loss for not continuing to write on Red Lights but in this moment I feel like the fact that I stopped writing it is a reflection of both mine and Mikey's growth.  
 
I will not deny that the fact that I'm both a teacher and a parent sometimes creates tension even in myself.  There are times when I question if I'm too close to all of it to be professional. Does my role as a parent interfere with my professional judgement?  But there are also many times where I think who better to be doing this then someone who has to look at the larger picture that extends beyond the handful of years that a child is in school.

 
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Friday, August 9, 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sesame Street Self-Regulation and Executive Functioning Curriculum


Sesame Street launches its 44th season on September 16th, 2013 with a new self-regulation and executive function curriculum. Cookie Monster, the poster-child for someone needing to master self-regulation skills, attempts to explain these concepts while devising personal strategies on waiting to eat a cookie.

Tune-in to a new season of Sesame Street beginning September 16th, 2013 on PBSKids!

Go to www.sesameworkshop.org/season44 for information on Sesame Street's 44th season.

And just a funny little sign of our times... I love that they have the hashtag #controlmeself in the middle of a video designed for preschoolers!
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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Access to Learning - Breaking Down Barriers

Inclusion is about increasing participation for
all children and adults.  It is about supporting
schools to become more responsive to the
diversity of children's backgrounds, interests,
experiences, knowledge and skills.
(Tony Booth and Mel Ainscow)

Inclusion is about belonging and to facilitate belonging for all we must be intentional about access. This means we need to think beyond compensating for physical/motor or sensory-perceptual impairments (i.e., overcoming barriers related to lack of mobility or difficulty with manipulation and management of objects or overcoming barriers tied to visual or hearing impairments) when we think about access. We need to expand our scope to think in terms of access to learning.  This involves going beyond our belief that we are providing the opportunity to learn to breaking down barriers that may exist for students to actively participate in the process of learning.

Traditionally, we have tried to break down these barriers through a separate "special education" system, believing that we could create access to learning through creating environments tailored to the unique needs of the students who do not fit in to the system as it stands now.  Over time, we have focused on a combination of fixing, remediating or compensating for the impairment or deficit perceived to be within the student.  The goal of this approach is to help the student to be better  so able to function in society as it is right now. 


 
Although there are obvious issues with this approach, it is important not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater".  Specialized services to that focus on overcoming these barriers are an important aspect of a continuum of supports and services.  Without specialized supports and services we are doomed to a one-size-fits-all approach that results in turning impairments in to disabilities and creates barriers to the student engaging in the process of learning.  It is important to examine the physiological impairments that might exist for a student in the learning process and remediate, intervene and/or compensate appropriately.  Special education has made great progress in this area. So much progress, in fact, that we are now able to imagine a continuum of properly allocated supports and services that are flexible and responsive rather than all-encompassing special education placements. 

Barriers Related to Physiological Diversity

Bottom line is that no matter how far we progress with inclusive education, it will continue to be important to consider access barriers tied to physiological differences. Aside from physical/motor and sensory-perceptual barriers, we must also look at cognitive, social-emotional, and an expanding definition of sensory-perceptual barriers to include sensory regulation and literacy-print barriers. 

Cognitive barriers that we can work to reduce include barriers related to (1) listening and reading comprehension, (2) the ability to express ideas through speaking or writing, (3) mathematical thinking and reasoning, (4) organizational/executive functioning skills.  Much of the work that we do in breaking down these barriers and ensuring students have access to learning is tied to timely and focused interventions, teaching of strategies that will help the student overcome these barriers and providing supports so the student can engage in the learning the process (example: step-by-step process outline for the student who has difficulty with organization).  Access to learning tied to students who have cognitive impairments is an area that really requires another post (or maybe several) so I'm not going to go too far in to it right now except to say that we still have a lot to discover in this area.

In the book The Learning Tree: Overcoming Learning Disabilities from the Ground Up, Greenspan and Greenspan propose that "intelligence is the progressive transformation of our emotions to produce more mature thinking abilities.  Said another way, each transformation builds higher levels of thinking and intelligence into a view of the world where each sense and emotion is strongly developed and integrated with the rest.  With this information, therapists and parents can help a child with learning problems."  By understanding this developmental process, we are better able to address social/emotional barriers to participation and learning that may exist as we are able to target and teach strategies or provide supports at an appropriate developmental level.  The steps in this process are (1) attention, (2) engagement and trust, (3) interactions and communication, (4) problem solving, (5) meaningful use of ideas, (6) logical thinking, (7) multi-casual thinking, (8) comparative and grey area thinking, and (9) reflective thinking.  This speaks to the importance of attention, engagement and trust in order for students to use the thinking skills that will allow them access to learning

Sensory/perceptual barriers include barriers linked to (1) processing sounds, (2) processing visual/spatial information, (3) processing motor sequences, and (4) regulation of sensations.  It is important for us to be aware of the physiological barriers that may exist so that "impairments" do not turn in to "disabilities" because we set up the curriculum (environment, materials, methods and assessment) in a way that inhibits learning.  For example, students who have print-based "disabilities" are not able to access information in textbook if it is provided only in a hard copy.  If it is provided digitally, they are able to use software to listen to the text rather than read it.  This allows them access to learning

Opportunity Barriers

There are also barriers that cannot be eliminated simply by providing a service, support or intervention that targets a physiological difference in a student.  We need to also consider opportunity barriers.  These are the barriers that are imposed by the people in the educational environment and/or system.  This idea is summarized in the book Index for Inclusion: Developing Learning and Participation in Schools:
Learning and participation are impeded when children encounter 'barriers'.  These can occur in an interaction with any aspect of a school: its buildings and physical arrangements; school organization, cultures and policies; the relationship between and amongst children and adults; and approaches to teaching and learning. Barriers may be found, too, outside the boundaries of the school within families and communities, and within national and international events and policies. But we may have to resist the temptation to see barriers to learning and participation only in places that lie outside our responsibility, where we have little power to act. While we should be concerned about all barriers, our attempts to remove school barriers should focus on those that staff, children and their families can do something about, especially when they work together.
Identifying barriers to learning and participation is not about pointing at what is wrong with a school.  Inclusion is a never-ending process which involves the progressive discovery and removal of limits to participation and learning. Uncovering barriers and devising plans to reduce them, in a spirit of open collaboration, are always positive moves. 
My writing of this blog centers mostly on student with complex learning differences and disabilities. At other times it addresses other areas of the "disability continuum".  I recognize that I do not address the bigger picture of student diversity that extends beyond disability explicitly but it is in examining these organizational barriers that we can extend the inclusion conversation to this larger picture and move towards thinking of a single education system with a continuum of supports and services  where we acknowledge, respond to and celebrate diversity. 

Organizational barriers may be tied to (1) policy and practice, (2) knowledge and skills, and/or (3) attitudes, personal history and beliefs.  A continued movement towards inclusive schooling requires intentional exploration and action around these barriers.  Alberta Education released the Indicators of Inclusive Education: Continuing the Conversation document earlier this year.  There is a tool in this document titled "Getting to the Root of the Problem".  This tool starts by identifying a challenge/problem and then thinking through the influencing factors related to that challenge by asking "why" questions until a team arrives at the systemic root of the problem.  This process would really give insight in to organizational barriers.

Policy barriers are barriers that exist due to legislated or regulated procedures, while practice barriers are ones linked to conventions that have become common beliefs.  Practice barriers are tied to "the way things have always been done".  They are practices that nobody really questions.  Perhaps the biggest policy barrier that exists in this area is the division of  "special" and "general" education and the rooting of the "special education" system in the medical model of diagnose and fix. 
"The idea that educational difficulties can be resolved by labeling children and then intervening individually has considerable limitations. Seeing the 'deficiencies' or impairments of children as the main cause of their educational difficulties, deflects us from barriers in all other aspects of settings and systems and obscures difficulties experienced by children without a label.  It encourages children to be seen through the lens of 'deficiency' rather than as whole people who may be subjected to a range of exclusionary pressures." (Source: Indicators of Inclusive Education: Continuing the Conversation)
Knowledge and skill barriers refer to a lack of information and support for a teacher on how to actually break down barriers to learning for diverse students. One could argue that this is closely tied to the division of special and general education. Traditionally, if a student was unable to do the work as it was laid out in the general education classroom with minimal disruption to the planning and delivery process or other students, they were removed so that curriculum delivery could be tailored to what was perceived to be either a need for a different curriculum all together or, at the very least, a different way of presenting that curriculum. This results in general and special education teachers having two different skill sets and is perpetuated by post secondary institutions that have separate degree programs for special and general education teachers. More important than the reason is having the professional learning and collaborative teaching structures that will serve to break down current knowledge and skill barriers.  It requires acknowledging the fact that addressing diversity in today's classroom should not be done in isolation.

Finally, we need to look within ourselves and consider what aspects of our personal history, beliefs and attitudes create barriers to student learning.  We need to analyze if we really start from a place of presumption of competence and if we really are doing whatever it takes. Given how integrated technology is in our lives, it may be time to really unpack Dave Edyburn's concept of "naked cognition" and deeply consider the doors to learning that could be opened up for students who are currently falling prey to the "achievement gap".  Learning is not just about mastering artificially created curriculum content.  It is also about agency and each student's sense of efficacy as a learner.  A student without this sense of efficacy does not have access to learning.

As educators, we should step back from time to time and reflect on the social construct of the system we work within. Is it possible that we have defined cognition and learning in the middle of trying to creating an education system that will work for the adults teaching in it but actually serves to make some students believe they are not, and will never be, learners?  Is it worth considering that the people who create and design education are the people who have been successful in the system as it stands now?  Is it worth going a step further and thinking about this in reference to the entire human service system (see the article The Human Service System: Pyramid or Circle, Emma van der Klift and Norman Kunc on this)? Is it worth considering that much of the educational research that we base "best practices" on excludes specific populations of students?  And if that is the case, what impact does that have on the student both now and in the future? 


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Monday, August 5, 2013

Ramblings about Blueberries and Starfish

 
This video has made it's rounds and it seems that there are people who love it and there are people who hate it, pick it apart, and criticize it. For me it speaks to the difference between working with people and working with products. The process of providing an education to a child is complex while the process of making ice cream might be either simple or complicated.  I don't know which one as I don't know enough about ice cream making but either way, an assembly line is set up with balances and checks and at the end out comes a consistent uniform finished product that gets shipped off for consumption. 
 
In education, we cannot reduce our students to the raw materials that we send along an assembly line with the goal of having a uniform product in the end.  We can't assume that the "raw materials" that come to us at the beginning are going to come having met some pre-determined man-made quality standard. It's not about quality control, raw materials, assembly lines, products or consumers.  We are more than assembly line workers when we see every child that walks through the door not as a high or low-quality raw material but as a child who we are going to have to meet where ever they happen to be on their personalized learning journey.    
 
Sadly, some of the structures that exist in education make it difficult not to fall back on running our schools like assembly line businesses. Within those structures, it can be hard not to be lured by the idea of creating a product rather than engaging in a process. Conformity seems to offers us the promise of simplicity... of being able to reduce the complexity of educating a child to a one-size-fits-all assembly line process. We are supposed to have them meet curriculum goals based solely on the year that they were born and testing, or quality control, is done to ensure that happens. Sadly, all too often our  "quality control" mechanisms have then been used to remove the students who are not meeting standards and are disrupting the way that the assembly line is supposed to work.  Rather than questioning or rethinking the assembly line process, we seem to have gotten stuck in creating different assembly lines for different "raw products" (aka special and general education, fully streamed courses, or setting inflexible criteria in general). 


The structures that exist around us push us towards concentrating on the end product that we are to produce rather then engaging in a more adhocratic process that would foster a growth mindset.  How do we frame education?  What do we value at the end of it?  How do we ensure that what we value fits in to our structures?  How can we re-design in a way that breaks down the barriers to learning that currently exist for some students?  Are we truly "taking them all" in the system as it stands now?  Can we do more to blur to the lines between "special education" and "general education" students and teachers?  Are there advantages to doing this? 
Roland Barth (1991) wrote "Are teachers and administrators willing to accept the fact that they are part of the problem? God didn't create self-contained classrooms, 50 minute periods and subjects taught in isolation. We did because we find working alone safer and preferable to working together." 
Can we actually "take them all"?  Can we actually "teach them all"?  Is that goal too idealistic?  Should we just be okay with "throwing one starfish back in to the ocean"? 

 
What if it isn't about us coming to the rescue or "saving" them - picking up the starfish and just throwing it back in to the water?  Isn't the tide that washed up the starfish in the first place still there?  What have we done to make sure it won't get washed up again?  What if it's about creating the environment, providing the appropriate supports and facilitating learning of the skills, strategies and competencies that will allow them to grow, learn and thrive in what should be their natural environment? What if our job is more about swimming along the edge of the beach, watching for those students who are getting washed up by the tide and then supporting them either to become more powerful than the tide or to be able to use tools that will allow them to be more powerful than the tide so they can get back out in to the ocean? 

Is our system set up to wash some students up on the beach? Is the beach really such a bad place to be?  It's sunny and warm and the ocean is big and harsh.  What about tide pools?  Is it okay to decide that students should just exist in tide pools rather than the ocean? Perhaps nature gives us the answer to that as there are very few organisms that can actually live and thrive in the limiting environment of a tide pool. There isn't much room to swim or many places to explore.

But... are we getting stuck in assembly line, one-size-fits-all thinking even in wondering about the ocean, beach and tide pools?  Rather than grouping and segregating, how do we recognize the individuality of each?  How do we facilitate and respond to a whole learning ecosystem?

 

Is it possible that it is actually the fact that we could even imagine comparing education to an assembly line business that has created a system that is disabling to some students?  Have we actually created some "disabilities" for the purpose of continuing to perpetuate our education system? 


If it seems in the middle of these questions that I have no hope, that is not the case at all.  I think the fact that we can ask these questions speaks to the fact that we are moving there.  There are a lot of great things happening in education and it is a time ripe to ensure that we are thinking about ALL students as we continue to move forward.  We are more than assembly line workers when we believe it can be done... even if we don't yet know how... and then we approach it from starting looking to break down barriers from a standpoint of ability, possibility and opportunity rather than from a standpoint of deficit and disability. 
 
 
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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Worth Thinking About - Deficit or Strength?

 
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Reminded me of Thomas Armstrong's writing 
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I post a new "Worth Thinking About" question each Sunday. 
In reality, I see them more as "and" statements rather than "or" statements. It is about finding the right balance so that we are being effective in supporting student learning. 
 
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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Behaviour Support Plans or Person Centered Planning


The first step in creating a Behaviour Support Plan (BSP) should be to do a Functional Behaviour Assessment (FBA).  The purpose of an FBA is to figure out why a student is displaying a specific behaviour.  The idea is that if we know the purpose of the behaviour we can plan and implement interventions to help the student display "more acceptable behaviours". 

I belong to a group on Facebook called the Autism Discussion Page.  The page is packed full of information on what we can do as parents and teachers to ensure that children with autism feel safe, accepted and competent.  Recently, there was a post about Autism and PTSD that read as follows...
It has amazed me how long it has taken for the field to accept sensory processing dysfunctioning in autism spectrum disorder. For years, the field of psychology practically ignored the sensory issues. Applied Behavior Analysis ignored it while forcing children to obey and stay in situations that were overwhelming for them. If the children “acted out”, we made them “stick it out...”;so their acting out behavior was not reinforced by escaping the unwanted situation. Over twenty years ago when I first started incorporating sensory processing strategies into my “behavior plans”, the psychologists all looked down on it because you could not observe it and measure it. Agencies would try and stop me from using the strategies because they were not “evidenced based.” Sensory processing problems were not “real.” They were in the business of “changing behavior”. Treating autism was nothing more than “changing their behavior.” The child’s internal experiences were not recognized, considered, nor valued. The ends (changing behavior) justified the means (extinction, punishment, forcing compliance).” Sensory processing issues were not “real.” Even though adults on the spectrum were writing extensively about these traumatizing experiences, the psychologists still claimed they were not real. 
Sensory dysfunction in autism is being recognized now. Finally after many years of people on the spectrum speaking out and demanding to be listened to, this experience is being taken serious. However, another topic not mentioned much in autism spectrum disorder is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since most PTSD is caused by extreme sexual or physical abuse, and war time emotional trauma, it is not often suspected in ASD. However, I see evidence of it, and many of the self reports of adults on the spectrum relate experiences that seem very similar to post traumatic stress. Post traumatic stress occurs when there is severe insult to the nervous system. It results in changes in both brain chemistry and suspected structural changes in the brain. The person exhibits generalized anxiety, depression and isolation. panic attacks for no apparent reason, and sometime rages.   
My guess is PTSD can come from one of more emotional traumas, or long term distress from severe sensory processing dysfunction. Many of the nonverbal people on the spectrum, who also experience severe sensory defensiveness, are often experiencing intense physical and emotional trauma from the overwhelming sensory insult to their nervous system. Since the child never knows when the “sensory bombardment” is going to occur, it often attacks without warning, leaving the child helpless in defending against it. The constant “fight or flight”, panic reaction has long term effects on the nervous system; leaving the individuals battling stress and anxiety for many years. Each time the nervous system experiences intense sensory bombardment, the “stimulus characteristics” of the event becomes associated with the severe “panic response.” At other times in the future, when these common stimuli occur again it can produce an immediate “panic reaction” that was originally associated with the traumatic event. For these individuals, immediate panic occurs, for “no apparent reason. Neither the person, or those around him, may understand why the “panic reaction” occurs. This response can occur when a given sound, color, or smell occurs that was originally associated with the traumatic event. Our sensory memories are very intense. When your sensory experiences are very intense and inconsistent, like those experienced for people with sensory processing disorders, such overwhelming emotion can be associated with, and set off easily, by simple sensory memories.

So, when working with severely impaired individuals on the spectrum, tread very lightly. Be very respectful of their comfort zones. Be very careful of how you touch them, talk to them, and press them. Their nervous systems are very vulnerable and easily traumatized. Their reactions can be very guarded, and intense. They can be very emotionally reactive, and need you to be very calm, gentle, and compassionate. Always be looking for “defensive reactions” and immediately pull back when you see it. Never press the child into situations they are scared off. Guide them, but let them pace their actions. Let them feel “in control” so they can immediately end any situation of “panic.” Learn what touch, words, actions, and stimulation helps them feel safe and secure. Always listen and understand first, before intervening and redirecting their actions. Always assume that underlying their defensive reactions is intense emotional upheaval. Be respectful and compassionate, allow them to pull back, escape and rebound. Teach them coping skills for dealing with these intense experiences, but most importantly teach them to feel safe in your presence, and to trust following our lead.
Generally, an FBA involves data collection using an A-B-C chart.  We track the antecedent (A), the behaviour that occurred (B) and the consequence (C) or what happened after the behaviour.  By looking at the data, particularly the consequence, we can come to understand what the student "gets out of the behaviour" - the function of the behaviour.  For example, if the student consistently throws things and the response is that he/she needs to pick up what he/she threw before moving on to the next task, the function of the behaviour might be to get the opportunity to move or to avoid doing the work. What we believe about the function of the behaviour then gets moved in to our BSP.  If we believe it is about movement, we might create opportunities for movement throughout the day or look at things like alternate seating that allows the student to move while doing work.  If we believe it is about avoiding work we would look at whether the work is too hard and make a plan around scaffolding the work with either extra supports or modifications/adaptations.  In the end, we will have fixed the throwing problem in this one context and we can move on to the "next most pressing behaviour". 

What appears to be missing in the process is actually communicating with the student about what is going on.  But does this model actually work?  We need to consider what else we extinguish when we focus on extinguishing behaviours.  Pulling from the quote above, how do we ensure that the student's internal experiences are recognized, considered, and valued?  We can not and should not be aiming to change a person's internal state.  How do we ensure that we are not sending the message that a person's internal state is "wrong" and must be extinguished?  How do we ensure that we are building the skill of self-understanding and communication that will turn in to personal empowerment and the ability to self-advocate? 

According to the MyMarilee blog "person-centered planning is a set of approaches to help increase the independence and self-determination of individuals who have historically been disempowered."  She goes on to explain how this contrasts with traditional planning methods:
I often contrast the term person-centered with system or service-centered. Person-centered means we listen, respond to, and create a life plan based on an individual’s hopes, dreams, and goals. In contrast is creating a life plan based on what’s available through a system or service delivery model.
The goal of person centered planning is to increase a person's quality of life - both now and in the future.  Quality of life indicators are many and may include such things as choice, opportunities, participation, inclusion, safety, self-determination, relationships, fun, variety, access to belongings, access to learning, developing abilities, being treated with dignity and respect, being listened to, feelings of control over own life, knowing there are possibilities...etc.  Increasing quality of life sits at the center of person centered planning.  It may be argued that increasing a person's quality of life could be a by product of a BSP but I think it is worth stepping back and thinking about the underlying ableist message in that statement.  Does conformity to what someone from outside decides as "appropriate behaviour" really increase a person's quality of life in the long run? Has any understanding of self and how we influence the world been established through that process? Are we, in essence, starting from the point of not giving a student their voice? 

Part of the BSP should be related to proactive strategies like creating structure to space and routines, using visual schedules, having communication supports available,  implementing a consistent sensory diets, using social stories, scripting or behaviour mapping to facilitate understanding of the social world, working with a student to come up with strategies for emotion regulation...etc. Part of the BSP is also a plan for how we should be interacting with a student to assist with managing stressor and to ensure that we are de-escalating potential crisis situations.  Finally, the BSP has a "crisis management" that seems to get interpreted as the meat of the BSP all too often.  This is the piece that many see as the "consequence" that sits in the middle of traditional beliefs about behaviour.  Which brings one back to the question... does this model actually work?  Maybe instead of increasing the intensity of the "consequence", we should be increasing opportunities for the student to explore what they are feeling and why they are feeling it and then coming up with a way to increase supports and strategies tied to what we have discovered.  Maybe instead of tracking forms we need safe spaces to build self-understanding, communication skills and trust. 

Do we really believe that we can make others do good by making them feel bad? 

In the post Deconstructing Daniel: Autism and Respectful Relationships - Why it Matters, William Stillman speaks of a different way to approach finding the function of behaviours when working with people with Autism.  Rather than looking at specific situations and trying to come up with what is happening in that one situation, he thinks more broadly about quality of life indicators. 

The question then becomes what can we do to increase quality of life indicators?  It forces us to think more broadly.  If a child is pushing other children on the playground, rather than thinking about what is happening in that one situation where the pushing is happening, we think about quality of life indicators associated with recess.  It is a time rich with opportunities to build relationships and engage in personally satisfying activities.  Given the resources that are already there, what can we do to increase quality of life indicators during recess rather than how we stop them from hitting. 

It requires thinking about the A-B-C chart differently.  It requires thinking about the situation and all the people in that situation rather than the student and the targeted "behaviour".  The consequence actually becomes the behaviour by thinking about it this way. 
  • Antecedent - Describe the actual situation as it stands now. In this case it is recess. What does it currently look like?  What activities are going on? Of those activities, which ones are appealing to the student or which ones might provide a ramp to something that is appealing to the student? Who is present? Of those people, who might have a common interest or an established bond?  Who is participating in activities that are appealing to the student? Who might be looking for something new to do or someone new to hang out with? 
  • Behaviour - Look at what is currently happening.  How is the person feeling (ask them)? How does it make the person act?  How is the activity structured (or not structured)? How is growth, learning, interaction, choice...etc. currently supported?
  • C - What happens as a result of the situation as it stands now? How does the person act? How does the person feel?  

From here, rather than thinking about a "replacement behaviour" we think about how to create the circumstance that will allow the student to develop the skills needed to increase their quality of life. Maybe at first we need to find a small group of students who have a common interest and structure activities and facilitate interactions for them. Maybe we need to create a more effective and efficient means of communication. Maybe we need to write some social stories related to something specific the student wants to learn how to do during recess.  Either way, we are taking a proactive approach that has potential to transfer beyond just a single incident.  We are focusing on building relationships and communication skills as well as developing personal interests rather than finding a single alternative to hitting in a specific situation. 
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