Taking Action ~ Presuming Competence

A full transcript of Richard’s Blog Talk Radio Show is now available for any who want it by clicking ‘Blog Talk Radio Transcript‘.  I am trying to add it to Facebook, but have run into problems as the file is too large to add to “notes” and I can’t add it even when changing it to either a txt file or an .htm file.  So unless someone knows how to attach a large file, (12,540 word count) I am not sure how to get this on Facebook.  I may need to break it into several smaller segments, which would be too bad.  Please advise!

Lots of people have been asking questions about “presuming competence” and how that applies to either their child or someone they are working with.  So I am adding links to a couple terrific articles that I’ve found helpful.

Kathie Snow, entitled: PRESUME COMPETENCE:  Challenging Conventional Wisdom About People with Disabilities.

An interview with Douglas Biklen, winner of the UNESCO/Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Prize to promote Quality Education for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and Dean of the School of Education at Syracuse University.

Presume Competence – a PDF from the Peal Center

Presuming Competence ~ By Douglas Biklen and Jamie Burke (Jamie, who we met this past March, just graduated from college and types independently! Yay Jamie and congratulations!!)

I am just beginning on this road of “presuming competence”.  There are others who are far ahead of me, many of whom have been kind enough to email me privately with their experience, strength, wisdom and encouragement.  There are many of you who are directly affected by society’s inability to “presume competence” and all that means to you and your life.  Many of you I know, others I am just getting to know, some I don’t know, but hope to know, but all of you are living with the consequences of a society that does not believe in a basic right we should all have granted to us – a presumption of competence.

What follows is a list of things I try not to forget that have helped me presume competence, please add your own thoughts, as I am well aware many of you are further along than I am.  I am still learning!

*I hesitated publishing this post because I do not want anyone to take this as a lecture or that I think I have all the answers.  I don’t and it isn’t.  I made the decision to publish this because many people have contacted me privately asking for help in presuming competence.  These are the things I do and continue to do, tools really, that I’ve personally found helpful.

In order to presume competence I have to:

1)  Presuming Competence is a “practice”.  Much like anything I want to get really good at, I must practice this.  It is very much an action.

2)  Examine my preconceived notions about autism and what that means to my child.  For me I made a list.  Everything that comes to mind, no matter how awful I may feel about myself for thinking such things, I must “out” myself so that I can come face to face with ingrained beliefs, prejudices, things I assumed, but couldn’t know, fears… a full inventory of all that I once believed and may still believe about autism and Autistic people.  It is helpful to share this list privately with another trustworthy human being who will not judge or condemn.  By the way, this is not something I will ever share publicly.  None need see it as it would be hurtful to many and judged by others.  But for my progress it is important that I be able to admit these things so that I may change.

Once I have my list and I’ve confided in someone I trust, I must be willing to examine and dismantle any remaining destructive beliefs.

To do this I must ask myself:
How is this belief continuing to serve me?
What am I afraid of?
What do I think will happen if I let go of this thought?

I have to be willing to face my fears.  I have to be willing to honestly and without judgment acknowledge my own thinking.

3) Question everything.  Literally, question everything.  Do not take my word for any of this, try it yourself.

4)  Be curious, ask questions, seek advise from those who are ahead of you.  This has been key as there are many people who have been doing this much longer than I have.  Talk to them.  Many people are living with the results of being presumed incompetent.  Read what they are writing.  Listen to them, learn from them.

5)  When in doubt ask.  When in doubt don’t act.  Doing nothing is often far better than doing something or saying something that I’ll later regret.  If I am not sure how to proceed, it may be the least dangerous option to not continue until I can figure out how best to approach the situation.

6) We all make mistakes.  It’s okay.  It’s part of the human condition, no matter what our neurology.  I make mistakes all the time, so do my children.  It’s okay.  Keep moving forward.

7) If my daughter isn’t communicating in a way that I’m able to understand, I need to try a different method of communication.  All human beings seek connection.

8) I cannot and do not speak for either of my children, nor do I own them.  They are not extensions of me.  They are their own people, with their own unique personalities.  It is my job as their parent to encourage them and find the best ways to support them so they can flourish.  Any embarrassment, shame, fear or assumptions about who they should or shouldn’t be are mine.  They have little to do with my children as much as I may believe otherwise.  These are things I am responsible for working through privately.

9) Realize I don’t know.  There is just a great deal I don’t understand.  The only way I can hope to understand is by admitting that I don’t.  I don’t have all the answers.  I am learning.  My daughter is my best teacher.

10) Listen.  I have to be willing to listen to her.  I don’t mean just verbal language, I mean “listen” in a more holistic way.  Listen to every aspect of her.  What is she trying to tell me?  Often I will not immediately be able to understand.  Sometimes it may take years before I will, but it is more important that I continue to try even when I don’t understand than deciding she isn’t trying to tell me anything.

11) Patience.  This is one of the single most difficult things for me to practice.  I am, by my very nature, incredibly impatient.  Impatience serves me in some ways, but in approaching my children, impatience almost always hurts them and me more than it helps.  I have to “check my impatience at the door” as a friend of mine once said.  If I am unable to do that, it’s probably best if I take a break and come back when I’m able to.

This list is not complete… there are many more things to add… but they will have to wait for another day…

Soma Mukhopadhyay's First RPM session with Emma ~ 2013

Soma Mukhopadhyay’s First RPM session with Emma ~ 2013

16 responses to “Taking Action ~ Presuming Competence

  1. #8 (x 1,000)!!!!!!!
    If that was at the core of every baby book, every ‘parenting class’, every junk article about ‘milestones’ and ‘what to expect when…’ we would have happier children adults alike.

    • Richard and I had almost this exact conversation about parenting before I was pregnant with our son. It was because we both felt the same and agreed that we did not have “ownership” of our children that we have managed to get through many disagreements about other, less important things!

  2. So yeah, I had an approaching 40 moment and mixed my days up – I thought our PPT was today, and it is tomorrow – all to the better, as I have extra time to sort things out. Things have been a little chaotic at our house….
    I have been wondering if there might be a place we could all share info without clogging up your comment section – just a thought – maybe a private FB page/group, or something like that…?

    As to the PPT, I had printed out a few posts from you and another person to give to his SpEd teacher, so she’s adequately forewarned that I’m going to be pushing for something radically different. We’ve decided to keep him in 5th another year, though. Our reasons are mostly centered on wanting to bring him up to grade-level teaching, and that the middle school is not ready for him. They may never be, and we are hoping a year might give us time to find someplace to move to if things don’t change.

    One disturbing factoid I discovered is that the director of pupil services has been threatening the SpEd teacher and parents of kids who have transitioned to the middle school – not to speak or contact one another anymore – the teacher’s job being primarily at threat. This is problematic, doubtful legality (which I can’t affect since we are not directly experiencing this), and does not sit well with me at all.

    Anxiety is the jabberwock that I find myself dealing with right now…I need to make a canvas with the words that one of my instructors used to say during officer candidate school – “We create conditions of chaos and uncertainty. You provide the stress.” – meaning, of course, we choose our reactions. Or like Yoda says, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” – as school winds down and I’m trying to tame the churning thoughts to finish book #3…breathing…..

  3. Ib Grace in a mood

    Sarcasm alert: note in the pic (Figure 1) above how obviously Soma is controlling Emma right there. You can see all the mass quantities of wires, and her hands all over her, and she’s staring her down to enhance their psychic connection (how is this science again?) etc. Yeah.

  4. You’re right a presumption of competence should be a basic right granted to all of us a lot of people see my wheelchair and presume i’m incompetent they don’t know that God used me to build a well in Kenya.

  5. At the risk of sounding hokey: don’t forget to presume competence of yourself, too. Sometimes this is as difficult as presuming competence of our kids.

    • I have joked with Ibby before that because she presumed competence in me, I was able to make some pretty significant changes in my thinking! On a serious note, your point about self is a really good one that I hadn’t thought much about…

  6. Ashamed to say that I still struggle with the embarrassment, shame, fear part of #8 myself. I hate being judged, and I really really need to learn to let go of that. Although, on the other side of that coin, I am equally uncomfortable with praise for “what a great job I’ve done”. I didn’t do the work, he did! Sure, I created him, but that job was pretty much done when he left the womb.

    • Your comment reminded me of just how incredulous I was while pregnant, that this little being was growing inside me, but that I had made no preliminary sketches of!

  7. Thank you (again) for this. As I have said before, a message which needs to be heard. Thank you too, for the links.

    I am also new to this (presuming competence), but I find it astonishing how even a small change in attitude or perspective on my part can make such a huge difference not only to my perception of my son but also on his behaviour. He changes and develops so quickly and I have to use all my newly acquired knowledge to keep up, constantly questioning my own habits, assumptions and expectations. It is a refreshing attitude to take and I find our relationship is evolving positively because of it.

    • I just love hearing your experience, which so resonates because it is what I have found too. Just amazing how a little shift in my beliefs and the way I approached and interacted could have such beneficial results.

  8. Pingback: Having THE Conversation & Parenting | Emma's Hope Book

  9. Pingback: Presuming Competence – Revised | Emma's Hope Book

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