So many times we hear the words at consultations: “I wish I knew this about Paul many years ago!” or “If only we knew that Linda was struggling so” or “ We really thought Justin simply did not have the motivation to do better” There are many more and I always wonder at these statements. The information we provide is ages old developmental information from long ago studies confirmed in more recent studies. Most of the assessments we use have been around for many years and have proven themselves repeatedly in research. What is going on that families are not getting to the right place of knowledge about their child in a more rapid way?
Digging a bit deeper I found five possible reasons for this:
Most agencies, including medical insurance, are allowing less time to complete a thorough developmental assessment. This time allowance causes therapists to do “what they can do” in the time allowed.
Most therapists have a limited arsenal of assessments that they use over and over on different profiles, diagnosis, ages and stages, not really individualizing their battery for specific reasons for a variety of presenting needs.
Most authorities now are looking at the student / child’s behavior and making judgment calls on behavior, using a non-descript “eclectic” model of assessment and intervention and do not apply a developmental frame to their individual assessments.
Educational institutions want to stay “educationally relevant” and want to forget that educational relevance today is dependent on the development of yesterday. The student has to fit into their mold of thinking and not be assessed for where the student is really coming from.
Because of funding constraints, educational institutions do not refer any student out to an agency that could provide a more detailed evaluation; henceforth families trust that their educational team is doing best by them until they realize one year later they are in exactly the same boat as a year ago. If only the educational institutions would do the calculations of cost of educational support over many years, sometimes including mediation and law suits. If one intervenes early at the right place the initial cost would be higher, but the cost in the longer run would be far less.
What does not work in Linda’s favor is that she is intellectually smart and everyone expects her to learn and behave in a way commensurate to her intelligence. The problem is that our developmental pathways provide the support for us to use our intelligence and while we can apply cognitive strategies to cope, there comes a point when too much coping is simply asking too much of Linda.
The truth of the matter is that if typical development was good enough for the typically developing child, it is going to be good enough for the atypically developing child. Applying a developmental pathways model to assessment and intervention ensures getting to the most likely root causes as to why Paul is learning and behaving differently than his peers. A developmental delay means exactly that. Somewhere in the different stages of building blocks to become an organized school student, Paul’s brain had to develop around any number of processing “glitches” and was not allowed to use the “straight, narrow, and most efficient way of responding to incoming input. If we can get to the original culprit for this as far as humanly possible, then we have a better chance of intervening at the “just right place”.
What does not work in Linda’s favor is that she is intellectually smart and everyone expects her to learn and behave in a way commensurate to her intelligence. The problem is that our developmental pathways provide the support for us to use our intelligence and while we can apply cognitive strategies to cope, there comes a point when too much coping is simply asking too much of Linda. Linda might simply tune out or might act out, becoming anxious and even sometimes aggressive. Then the school or organization refers Linda for a behavior plan for behavior intervention while all this time Linda is screaming for someone to understand what she is going through.
Linda has no way of knowing that her body is receiving and interpreting information differently from her peers. She has only one body with no comparison to make an effective cognitive judgment call. She is fighting an inner battle with what her body is asking of her to compensate for, while cognitively understanding what others are expecting of her. Added to this, as Linda watches her peers, the only judgment call she can make is that she must not be “as smart” as them and the toll starts ticking against developing a strong self esteem. Educational institutions however, very rarely recognize this social-emotional toll even if a teacher is warm, embracing and wanting to support Linda the best she knows how. The problem is that you cannot “attack” what you do not know. It is important to know why Linda is not doing what she is supposed to do, not only for her to be in a better place, but also to demystify for her what she is experiencing in a learning or social environment.
One final note also is that families frequently adopt a “wait and see” approach in the face of difficulties. They want to believe that the free public education is going to pull Paul through. In some cases it does, but in other cases it may “take a village”. Families believe that because the educational institution is not referring out, their child might not need the additional support. But then, years later we will receive that distressed phone call when the parent finally realizes their child may need more support. This “wait and see” approach work against the whole notion of early intervention. Every year that the child has to work harder, they feel more “different” than their peers and their self-esteem suffers. It is important to not wait, but to gain the information you need about your child’s learning behavior as soon as possible. Make sure that your child has a comprehensive evaluation that will add to everyone’s understanding and do not wait until report cards come out in November.
Please do not read this as a “bash” against educational systems. We work wonderfully well with a number of schools in our area and there are many well meaning teachers that want to do well by kids and are bending over backwards to support their students. The problem lies in the disconnect between the educational and private sector and many students are falling through the cracks because of it. We need each other to help students thrive and be the best that they can be.
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