Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Which I Offend A Client

In one of the classes I teach, I have a student named Tim. When 2 year old Tim started coming to my class last spring, he was quite a handful. He always needed to hold something in each hand, was unaware of his physical space (causing parents of small children to recoil when he came bouncing by), showed his enthusiasm or displeasure at too much stimulation equally, by shrieking and occasionally barking, and although he wanted to be there very much, was unable to participate in any activity for more than 30 seconds (most activities in my class are approximately one to three minutes long)
About three weeks after meeting them, his mom came to class one day and told me that Tim had just received a PDD-NOS diagnosis. She seemed relieved. I asked her if she was getting ABA and she looked surprised that I would ask.
"No, not yet! But we are trying to get him set up with some aides - we are just starting the process. How do you know about ABA?"
I told her about Bubbles' speech delay (not knowing yet that it was apraxia) and how his behavior had been so over the top as his frustration with language manifested itself, and how ABA was a life saver for our family - he was beginning to respond at that point, to learning compliance, and therefore able to move forward to real articulation exercises.
"It was very hard at first, but now we are converts," I told her. "Push through that 'worse before better' stage and you will be so glad you did!" I added.
She was grateful.
Tim took the summer off and came back to class three weeks ago.
I could not believe the change.
Nobody could.
Tim is the child that wanted to be; the child that was wanting to be heard, played with, danced with, sung to, singing, shaking, participating.
And he is.
I sat next to his mom today in class, and I was teary as I told her how proud I was of Tim and of her, and how incredibly proud she must be of him.
"Isn't it great to be able discover who Tim really can be?" I asked her, as he shared instruments with another child in the circle, excited and grinning and bopping to the song.
"You have no idea," she said, and then her voice broke.
We left it at that and a quick hug.

After class, Tim had scurried off with his mom and his (fabulous) aide, and a little girl picked up a bowl of goldfish crackers. A few mothers from class were lingering, and one of them, an extremely well educated mother I have known for nine years (since she brought her first child, now 11, to my class), mentioned that those crackers were 'Tim's puppy treats'.
This mom, I will call EM (for European Mom), I believed to have a background in special education, but I am not 100% sure. Especially after today.
I was more than a little surprised that she would make such a remark in front of three other mothers, but I replied mildly with, "Those are his motivators."
She continued, "I guess you could call them that. It seems like animal training to me."
I looked at her carefully, and gave her what I believed to be a signal for 'don't go there with me, woman; seriously, just don't!', and apparently I need to perfect that look, because well...she continued...
"I just hate to see children treated like dogs."

{{ ** ZOMG ** }}

(( repeat ))

( x3 )

"Well, EM," I started out gently, "I don't think it is fair to compare Tim to a dog. You were in our class last year and you can see for yourself how different a child he is."
"I agree, but I still think there are other ways of achieving this result. I think it is degrading."
"Degrading? Really?"
"Yes. I think there are other ways." She continued, bravely.
(A part of me wanted so badly to offer my child to her for six months to try her 'other ways', but demand that when she return him, he is speaking perfectly!)
Instead, I replied,
"There may be other ways of achieving this, EM, but let me tell you something: Assimilating into the world of 'typical children' is not inherent to some children. For some, it is a learned behavior. I never had a kid like this before. My son needs to learn to articulate the words which will not come to his mouth, and the very words which he has told his speech therapist lately, are 'stuck'. But, because of a neurological disorder, he needs thousands of repetitions of each sound and each word he learns in order to have a chance to heal or connect those neuropathways while he is still young and his brain is still malleable. In order to get him to practice articulation and communication skills, he has to be compliant - we have to know that he will say something we ask him to say, and through play, can learn these skills. And in order to be compliant at such a young age, he needs motivators. Hugs or crackers, he needs them. Otherwise, this critical period is lost. So for us, ABA has been the pathway to his progress with language. You must remember Tim when he came to us last year - don't you see the change in him?"
She agreed, "Yes of course there is an improvement, I am just saying there are other ways of getting there."

( breathe )

And, reply:
"Well, Tim is learning the social skills that are not inherent to his internal cues - he is learning them and becoming successful in navigating his environment. I think you should be very careful about this subject, as I think it may offend some."

"Of course I agree with you. I am careful, and I don't mean to judge."


"Well, I think that if this conversation was occurring privately, I would not say that you were. But you are."

The End.

(But seriously, there were three other mamas there!)


Rachael said...

Doesn't everyone act and learn based on motivators? The only real difference seems to me to be that some motivators are obvious, and others subtle.
kudos on being an advocate, and for taking the opportunity to try to educate someone who clearly knows less about this topic than you do.

RoseRedHoofbeats said...

*bashes head into desk* I hate people who think that "training" is a bad word. Guess what. That is what you are doing. That is what ANY teacher does. Get over it.

The way some people talk you'd think you were using a cattle prod and a buggy whip.

InTheFastLane said...

I agree w/ rachael...and don't most parents use some form of "motivator" for potty training, chore completion, ect...?

Anonymous said...

don't you HATE when you have to painstakinly explain things that are obvious to grown adults like that?


"the sky is blue, and this is why....."

I would not have been able to answer with your grace and patience. I would have shouted at her, or unable to articulate under angry pressure, would have made strangled noises, sworn, and left the room.

no lie...i witnessed a grown american man asking "what is slave labor" on a tour of a free-trade chocolate factory the other day.

HEADDESK x 12309413920493419234101234993

RuthWells said...

Holy frick.

Good for you for not letting her idiocy go unchallenged.

MaryP said...

I'm curious to know what her magical "other ways" are. And I'd be astonished if they didn't involve motivators of some sort. Is she suggesting there should be no motivators (which is insane) or that the only valid kind are intangible? (Which is merely ridiculous.)

I have some very physical, tangible motivators: If I get those damned dishes done, I can sit down with a cup of tea. Who doesn't do that?

Ironically, I have a post queued up for this afternoon that talks about how dealing with toddlers is very much like training puppies.(I recently acquired a dog, and the parallels are striking!)

As a daycare provider, I absolutely see myself as being in the business of training children. As rosered commented, what else do you think you're doing? Hello!

I guess she'd find that offense, too, huh?

Mama Deb said...

Argh! As though us parents of kids with special needs don't already feel judged enough...then you throw idiots into the mix like this. Thanks for sticking up for them.

Squid said...


I wish there was a fierce, articulate little Gwendomama sitting on the shoulder of every parent asked to justify their children's need for structured therapy of any kind.

Jennyalice and I were part of an "appreciating our differences" panel at a typical elementary school (not in our district) last night. Parents asked what they should do to help kids to whom social skills don't come naturally. I threw out and described the facilitated playdate model, and said it could be applied to any kid, and included the fact that it gets faded out in time as social skills solidify.

While many parents were eager to learn about anything that could help their kids, a lot of others wanted nothing to do with a proven method to help their child gain real skills. Because kids can all learn naturally, right? Structure will just kill their spirits.


Tracey said...

Dude, you were way nicer than I would have been. EVERYONE uses "puppy treats" for their kids: BRIBES, anyone? If you behave in the store, we can watch your special tv show? If you act nicely to your sister, we can play your favorite game? Etc. etc.

Jerri Ann said...

Good for you! VERY VERY GOOD!

Gretchen W. said...

You go girl!!!! I love your blog! My Cooper was just diagnosed with apraxia a few weeks ago - after I spent several years convincing early intervention folks that HE WASN'T AUTISTIC!!! The motivators I have found been a blessing! My kid's definitely overloaded on cookies and fruit snacks, and he's probably learned a dozen new words while muching on them.

Lunasea said...

You offended her? I don't think so. You explained that beautifully.

wrongshoes said...

This is a very interesting topic. I read a blog written by an adult autistic woman who has a name for parents who want to "train" their children to act normal - she calls them "curebies." It is quite fascinating to read her point of view, as an autistic person, that she never wanted anyone to "cure" her, since she already felt whole and wished to be accepted as she was.

Gretchen said...


Way to keep your cool. You did much better than I could ever have.

jennifergg said...

gah. it always shocks/surprises me when people who are so-called experts completely miss the boat.

whatever works, works. that's whay i say, anyway, and of course, i'm no expet...


HeatherMarie said...

I wonder what her "other ways" could be if they are _not_ positive reinforcement? Because, isn't that what the crackers are? Positive reinforcement? Does she crack the children on the head? Give them 2-hour lectures about the nature of right and wrong? I applaud your response!

Rachel Inbar said...

My mom who has a doctorate in Social Work and has been AAMFT certified for 25 years says that that's reality - don't our bosses 'bribe' us to work by offering money?