Friday, July 3, 2009
Assumption No. 10...The Visual Cliff
Last week I blogged the top 10 assumptions made of those with hearing impairments and autism. I want to elaborate more on each one. I'll start with number 10.
10) Do not assume...that behavioral techniques work well with all children.
Everywhere we go, there is a behavioral model. Be good...and you get a sticker. Do this and you get a reward. That is fine for some kids. However it is not a good model for general learning and it doesn't work at all for many children. First, a behavioral model assumes you can TEACH every skill and this is a false assumption. Children learn primarily by observing others and if a child does not reference others for information then they won't learn all they need to know. Teaching numbers, letters, and even reading is relatively easy to but to learn social skills, one must reference. This is where Guided Participation (GP) comes in for us. The autism therapy that follows this model is RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) however the term GP has been around for a long time in the psychology world. In guided participation you go back to child development. Instead of filling in splinter skills you build from the ground up.
A typical one year old will reference their mom for information. There is a facinating experiment called the Visual Cliff. The floor is set up to look as if there is a drop off when in fact it is clear glass. But a child who references will look back to their mom for information to see if it is OK to continue. This is not something you can teach. It is something that is learned. An 18 month will do this well but older kids on the spectrum and with ADHD don't do this. RDI and guided participation set up situations so that a child has to reference their partner for information. It may start out very one sided and the 'master' (mom) will guide the 'apprentice' (child) very directly but GRADUALLY over time the 'scaffolding' is removed so that the child needs to reference their guide for more information to be successful. (You can read a PDF on the visual cliff here.)
So why are behavioral models employed everywhere? Primarly because they are an easy way to herd the masses. A teacher in school with 20 to 30 students must have a way to make order. These techniques WORK...for the class...and the teacher....but they are not effective for the child to learn. They are static. I have written before about trick-or-treating. It is easy to use a behavioral model, social stories, or play therapy to teach the 'rules' of trick-or-treating. However, in the 'real world, every house is different. Some houses give you candy, some let you take it from the bowl, some leave a bowl on the porch. Some give you one candy and the elderly neighbor next door always gives you a handful. How do you role play that with each scenario? If a child is uncertain, they need to look to an 'expert' for guidance. If a child learns to follow a guide they can then do that in social circles as well. (Hopefully NOT to deviant behavior! Hopefully they will then go to expert parents to guide them. The key is for the parent and God to be the primary reference point!)
The bevhaioral model does have data on it's side. But that data has not been followed through to 'real life.' It has been said that a brilliant child can make his way all the way through Harvard and never hold down a job. Even college is very static. You study, follow the rules, do the tests, read the books, get an A. But most jobs are never that way. Even task oriented jobs require interaction with others, following the lead of co-workers or a boss, and inner-subjectivity.
So the next time you are setting up your VBS, Sunday School, or even classroom, consider that not all kids work well with the behavioral model. Parents MUST be involved to make GP successful. It can not happen when all the onus is put on the school or church classrooms. But most parents who follow this philosophy love to be involved... Talk to the parents, branch our your thinking. And above all..don't assume!