Friday, June 29, 2012

Developmental Readiness and Learning

     I am not the parent of or an individual with developmental differences. Albeit, I did have fairly interfering ADHD as a child, and still have unmistakable ADD. It interfered with a lot of learning, and I am probably what would be considered a "late bloomer." I may be all the better for it, and I wouldn't change anything. Enough about me.

     I have recently been really into reading blogs authored by individuals with an ASD and parents of children with different abilities. Their stories are always heartwarming and, not surprisingly, always as "human" and empathetic as any of the other blogs I frequent. There is, however, a common stream I have been coming across about "patience" and "developmental readiness." The quality of patience and the understanding of developmental readiness is key for professionals who help treat children, especially young learners, with barriers. However, there is an additional argument that typically accompanies these opinions about avoiding early intervention. I cannot disagree more.

     The argument goes something like this, we need to respect developmental readiness and be patient and not try to "rush" along progress. Here is the enormous problem with this argument. Learners who present with developmental delays typically also have atypical learning histories. And the longer they "practice" the wrong thing, the harder it is to teach the right things. Forget teaching replacement, more socially valid behaviors to counteract, when we do not intervene early to teach these learners how to learn, we risk profound issues in the future.

     When we look at developmental milestones, there are definite learner readiness and listener responding skills that should be acquired by a certain age. When we do not directly teach them to individuals who lack them, a whole array of other barriers arise. If I present a learner with three toy hammers -- one red, one blue, and one yellow -- and ask "Give me the yellow hammer," and the learner hands me all of the hammers, this is a problem of discrimination that carriers over across environments, and social and academic tasks. When a 4 year old is still in diapers, his preschool-mates are going to notice the abnormality, and may avoid that child, thereby risking socialization issues. Additionally, social differences are already going to be present, so why exacerbate the issue by not teaching potty training, and getting the child out of diapers. There are multiple efficacious protocols for potty training -- some by way of aversive over-corrective, others positive practice, some both. Why does the child who is already clearly "different" need to be more ostracized by their peers? What service is it to respect their developmental readiness at a young age and risk their developmental inappropriateness later in life? What good is it to be patient while they are young, and risk not only abnormal, but deficient learning repertoires? And when that happens, some may ask, "Why isn't my child's school doing more to educate my child?" Unfortunately, sometimes, the answer is because the child does not know how to learn. I worked extensively with a high school Sophomore who was able to sit at a desk for <.1% of his academic day. And I did the math on this; frequency tally of out of seat and engaging in maladaptive behavior / amount of hours in IEP for academic instruction * 60 [minutes in an hour] = __%. It didn't matter how fully we accommodated and modified, how powerful the extrinsic motivators were, this learner did not know how to learn, because he did not know how to sit at a desk. And this is because he did not want to and because no one had taught him how to sit an receive instruction.

     We always want to meet learners where they're at. But as they fall behind crucial developmental milestones, we need to teach these skills in isolation. We are the adults and we need to make it better for them to be engaging with peers than hand-flapping. It needs to be more awesome to be on a swing with friends than spinning in a corner.

     The most motivating note I have to offer on all of this, is that we can teach skills to overcome barriers and deficiencies, and we have 40+ years of empirical evidence to prove that. Patience and respect for development is absolutely important, but it is hazardous to be cautious or hold back or think that we are "rushing" a child who has developmental and learning-based barriers, when we are actually creating future opportunities for a better, more positive development. 

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