Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Presume competence

There has been a bit of back-and-forth in the comment section of my last post.  The gist of it goes something like this:

"Hey, look at this great thing Bud did."

"Actually, that might just be a deficit masquerading as a strength."

"Really, I gotta say, I think it's a strength."

"Perhaps.  On the other hand, it could just be a well-developed deficit."

I'm not going to volley back, because ultimately, any response I have will sound at best like I'm being defensive and at worst like I'm in denial.

But it does make me have to ask:

Why is it that when it comes to autism, so many of us are so quick to view behavior through the lens of deficit and so slow to view it through the lens of strength?

The lens through which we view our children matters.  The way we frame their behavior shapes our response, and the way we respond shapes their behavior.  It's a dynamic cycle.

Presume competence, folks.  Presume competence.

9 comments:

JBop said...

I agree!!! I also don't think it's an autism thing completely. I think many parents today view their children through deficit glasses, as they compare them to the neighbors, the kids at school and everyone else. As a parent of a child with autism, medical issues due to extreme premature birth (24 weeks 4 days gestation), I have heard constantly from friends, family, doctors and total strangers how behind he is, how bad they feel, how horrible things are and how he will "always" be like ____________, just accept it.

I refuse to believe that. I am not in denial, I know better than anyone the many many things that others view "wrong" with Jake. He sees things differently. He learns differently. He has some different medical problems. That doesn't mean he deserves pity or that he needs to be fixed. It means that he is UNIQUE.

Jacob continues to beat the odds. From a 10% chance to live the first 6 weeks of his life. To doctors saying he'd never speak. To therapists who said he would always be 4-5 years behind children his age. He is doing it all in his own time and amazing all those naysayers along the way.

I applaud this post and your whole blog. Our children are not different or someone to be fixed or pushed to "catch up". They are unique and special. Work on the challenges and focus on the successes and positives, I believe this helps our children learn that with hard work comes success. I believe that we set them up for that. Because if you come at it as though it is a deficit or something "wrong", it sets them up for failure and you, as a parent, will always be disappointed in them.

Anonymous said...

I left this on the other post but I wanted to make sure you see it.

I think much of this argument can be reduced to many adults not understanding the difference between 'feeling' empathy and expressing it. There is cognitive empathy - the internal understanding of someone else's emotions, that they are feeling them, that they may be different than mine - and then there is affective empathy - an outward expression that I understand someone else's feelings and that it concerns me. Expressive communication deficit is a symptom of autism. Lacking empathy is actually not. So, when a mother says her autistic child lacks empathy, she is simply stating her observation of the absence of affective empathy, which does not unequivocally mean the person who cannot express empathy cannot experience it.

Bud has clearly developed better ways of expressing himself and that is something to celebrate.

Kal said...

Sigh. I KNOW my kids have empathy. I see it every time John puts his arm around Sam or when Sam sobs because he's afraid he hurt a friend's feelings. If anything there's an excess of empathy in my little family. Always presume competence. Always presume we are more alike than different.

bailzebub said...

I lose--and later find--my keys about 3x a week. I simply have some mental glitch when it comes to remembering where I put them. My husband never refers to it as a deficit. My sister gets lost even on the shortest drives. No one says she has a deficit. My husband can be staring straight at something and not see it. I don't say, "Honey, your deficit is acting up again." So, yes, I do think this deficit lens is more prevalent in the spectrum world. And it's a problem because as a parent when you hear it enough, there are time when you are looking at your kid through your "deficit" glasses. Taking those things off and just seeing is really hard. In fact, that's the real deficit.

quirky granola girl said...

My son adores the Love Bugs pop up book. So he walks around scripting, "Will YOU be my love bug?" and "I love you SO much..." sometimes followed by the next line in the book. For the first few days I told myself that it was sweet...but he's scripting. But now he does it after we do a hug and a kiss. And sometimes he gets creative with the book phrases. Instead of, "Being in love means lots of hugs, especially for kissing bugs." He says, "Being in love means lots of hugs...especially for nose to nose," (his favorite affection). And we remind him of this script when he's on the phone with grandparents or when he's saying goodbye to a favorite home therapist. And he really is that sweet all of the time. The book just helped him find the words to match his sweetness. I'm grateful now.

Today he was joyfully rolling on the grimy bathroom floor with 30+ toy figures and his blankets and chewing on the toilet paper roll holder. I was about to correct him and he asked me to be his love bug. Yes, I will be his love bug. And he can roll around the dirty floor, too. I can replace the TP roll holder, but I can't replace that moment of pure mom joy.

Just another mum said...

Hi from Sydney, Australia! I am a mum of a 5 year old boy who diagnosed with PDD-NOS at 2 years old. I just wanted to build on your topic of people being quick to judge behaviours as deficits, by saying that I believe that once there is an autism diagnosis every challenging behaviour is blamed on the diagnosis when some of it is just "being a kid". Just this morning, I dropped my little boy off at his autism specific preschool and he refused to go inside. He is usually pretty good with transitions but I had been talking about taking his sister swimming while he was at school and he told me in the car that he wanted to go swimming too. When we got to the school, he was whinging and whining and clinging to me. Everyone saw it as a autism-related behaviour no matter how much I told them that in this particular case it wasn't! They couldn't believe that it was such a "normal" response. Apparently, he was fine once he went inside. What can I say but parents know more about their child than anyone else can.... If you say that Bud showed empathy, well then, he did! Xx ps love love love the blog!

Barbara Carson said...

Yay! I love this perspective. See the amazing things my kid can do. See how he plays the drums, right on the beat every time. See how he meets pretty girls, more easily than his highly-verbal older brother. Your child is blessed with an insightful parent, because you see him, not his labels.
Thanks, please keep it up!

http://www.barbaracarson.com

Miz Kizzle said...

You know your child better than anyone. Don't let commenters who have never met him tell you what Bud is thinking.
I used to teach teenage boys at a private school. All the boys were artistic and all of them were individuals. Like teens everywhere, some of them were shy, some were exploding with energy and some of them were downright pains in the butt. If I looked at them through the lens of "The're like that because they're artistic" I would have severely misjudged them.
I was an only child, and growing up during the Baby Boom, being a simpleton was more of an oddity than it is today. I used to hate it when adults judged me through a lens that saw only children as spoiled and selfish. There are many kinds of only children, just as there are many kinds of children on the spectrum. Lumping them all together does them a disservice. Of course people with artist have empathy; the degree of empathy they feel/display varies, depending on the individual, just as it does in all of us who like to think of ourselves as normal, whatever that is.

Miz Kizzle said...

Ha! I meant singleton, not simpleton. Autospell is mocking me.