Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Bunch of Considerations on People Centered Language - A literal stream of consciousness

(NOTE: it is quite early for me, and I really just want to get these thoughts down. This is why I have put stream of consciousness into the title, although it is somewhat ironic to the subject matter...)
     Since I have come into contact with individuals with exceptionalities, I have always spoken with people centered language, or people first, language. That is to say, rather than the "glasses wearing man," one ought to say the "man wearing glasses." It is interesting to think of the former statement in this way, because, in language, we would never think to say "the glasses wearing man." However, it is fairly common, and doesn't evoke the same pause in speaking, to say the disabled child.

     I won't take too long to philosophize on this point more than to make a few notes on why saying "autistic child," vs. "glasses wearing man" probably rolls off of the tongue easier for a few reasons. First, how spoken language is traditionally set up and syntax. It is inherently description/action before individual. Let's think to the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The description of the animals comes before the animals themselves. When we think about the language, the pangram still would work, but we would need to add a few more words to make it creature centric, such as "the fox, who is quick and brown, jumps over the dog who is lazy." Honestly, the reformatted sentence makes the dog sound lazier than the original, but at least we are remembering he is a dog before he is lazy.

     Secondly, because autism is a diagnosis. We do not speak of the man wearing glasses because he may have astigmatism, may be near- or far-sighted, etc. because when we think of glasses, and simply know he has something that requires them. We do not think about, and may not even care!,as to why he has glasses.

     Lastly, up until about a decade ago, many may not have even considered labeling a child an "autistic child" or a "child with autism," they would be, to use a terribly archaic phrasing, mentally retarded.  In this instance, however, it is interesting that one would not say that "mentally retarded" child so easily as they may say "the child with mental retardation." I am sure the former has happened, but in briefly thinking on it, the latter always seems more prevalent to me.

     There are less units of language required to say "disabled child" than "child with a disability," but it is an important distinction that respects the child first. 

     Which gets me to the main point of this post. I am thinking on people centric language. That is, language that puts the person before the description. For example, again, saying the child with autism (people centric) vs. the autistic child (diagnosis centric). I behave this way all the time. I always put the individual first when speaking about individuals with exceptionalities, always. So, when I was recently tasked with writing an essay on exceptionality, I became distraught at the fact that I kept writing "non-disabled peer." I thought, why am I so sensitive to putting the child before the disability, and throw to the wayside the child without when writing comparisons of the two. Needless to say, I have thought on it, and am going to change my wording from "non-disabled child/peer/counterpart," to say "child without similar barriers." I know it's a mouthful, but I think it is important.

     Change of topic. I wonder if it is better to refer to a child with autism/Downs/Noonian, or better to have one, singular term that we usually apply, such as exceptionalities/developmental delay. Should we focus on lumping all exceptionality into one boat, or refer to the child's specific, or prominent, diagnosis? Which is more respectful and dignified? I tend to think that referring to the specific diagnosis is better, but then are we placing too much emphasis on it? But, then, if we group it all together, are we ignoring the individual difference and similarity? I'll need to think more on this...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hierarchy Amongst Educational Professionals

     To me, there seems to be a systemic problem of embedded hierarchy and perceived abilities contributing to a disconnect amongst educational professionals, similar to that of business people.

     Some teachers do not respect their paraprofessionals opinions because they are not certified, or do not hold a Masters degree. Administrators do not respect the teachers under them because they do not hold the same level of certification. Behavior analysts do not see themselves on the same playing field as the therapists that work WITH and under them.

     Interestingly, I do not necessarily see these issues arise in other aspects of education because, simply, you need a certain level of terminal education to work in these roles. For instance, you cannot formally practice social work in the schools without a MSW and certification to work in schools.

    That been said, I find it ridiculous that an educator at any level look down upon any other professional with whom they may or may not work. Being a professional in education requires teamwork. Not just as they interact directly, on a day to day basis, but also in the general field.

     As educators, we always speak about meaningful experiences and hidden curriculum and educating the whole child. So why is it, then, that when we become certified educators, we care about how much direct experience in education someone has, or their credentialing? It's absurd. As if hash-marks of service mean you are effective. Or that having a Masters degree makes you any more capable of reading and applying research.

     This problem may be an evolutionary trait, but it's one that needs to stop. Do not tell your paraprofessional they cannot attend a professional development seminar because it's not appropriate given their responsibilities. Once they attend that seminar, they are more informed on the topic. The individuals who "outrank" others should be MORE inclined to recommend, share, and create opportunities for their "subordinates" to learn and grow and develop their skill set. After all, it would better benefit that superior to have others who can bear some of their daily responsibilities.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Upcoming Conference

Just received confirmation for my registration at a two-day seminar with Mark Sundberg, this May 3rd and 4th in Arlington Heights, IL.

Designing and Implementing a Language and Social Skills Intervention Program Based on the VB-MAPP

Should be fun and informative.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year and Visual Schedules

     First off, Happy New Year! Welcome to 2012. I know I am committed to engaging in positive behaviors and putting the punishment on all of those suboptimal ones!

     If it has been recommended to you that your child be using a visual schedule in the home to help with transitions or anxiety levels, commit to using it consistently starting that first day back at school. As many of us know, our learners make leaps and bounds when they have structure and predictable things going on in their lives.

     If you're just beginning to get a schedule set up and put in place, think about a few things:

     A) How much notice does my child need that they are going into a different activity? Can it be a schedule of the day, or by the minute, using timers? In that same thought, how much notice can my child handle without becoming too overanxious about the day?;

     B) What type of visuals work best for my child? In an inclusion setting, the best would be to have a schedule of the child's day, typed out by period (maybe with the times included), and let it be that. But, for our learners who are young and cannot read, or even older and struggle with reading, icons and symbols may be the answer. Having them on a board, where they can take off what they finished, and put on what's next. Or a "First --> Then," schedule system. The main point being, pick a schedule that is respectful to where the learner is at, but also dignified;

     C) How is this schedule going to be referenced? Is it something they will carry around all day, or stay at their desk? If it's going to move with them, there needs to be a reasonable way of carrying it. I've seen binders, flip charts that fit into pockets, or, as noted above, a simple piece of paper folded over and carried around. Let's keep in mind that the thing may need to be transported;

     D) If you've tried visual schedules with your child in the past, and they've been highly unsuccessful, you may consider making modifications by shortening the schedule's intervals (ie. if it was an all day schedule, making it a 3 period schedule, and at the end of the third period, time is taken to set it up for the following 3 periods), customizing/personalizing it (ie. with pictures of their favorite TV character, or of them), and being sure to reinforce every appropriate use of the schedule, even if not always accurate in the beginning. If your learner doesn't want to carry it, then carry it for them to the next class, they then need to carry it back to class. Shape up the appropriate behavior of being responsible for and carrying the schedule until they do it on their own.

     Visual schedules can help ease a lot of anxieties and help to proactively skirt negative behaviors that may be resulting from unknowns in schedules (even if they do it everyday!). There are a million ways to make them, and they can save you a lot of grief.

     Again, enjoy your 2012 -- enjoy your families and each other, and enjoy learning and thriving.