Tag Archives: blog talk radio

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

The Magic of Connection

At a certain point during Richard’s radio show  the other night, where he was featuring Moms, he asked me about those years when we were determined to find a cure for our daughter.  I didn’t want to take up time on the show to talk about all of that because there was so much to cover, but also because it makes me really sad to talk about it and I also know it is hard for many of my Autistic friends to hear, two of whom were guests on the show and many more who I knew were listening!  I try hard not to live in regret, but I’ve done things that I really DO regret.  Things I really do wish I could go back and erase and do again differently.  More than anything, all those therapies and bio medical treatments we did, fall into that folder labeled “Things I wish I could do over.”

My reluctance to talk about all of this the other night on the radio wasn’t because I don’t think it’s important as much as it’s really painful to talk about and I know, for many of my friends, people I love dearly who happen to also be Autistic, it is very painful for them to hear me talk about those years, all those years when I was so intent on curing my daughter.  It may remind them of their own upbringing.  It may bring up all those devastating feelings of being unworthy or that they were somehow damaged or diseased, or any of the other hurtful words people use when discussing autism, that hurt them.   So to my Autistic friends, please skip down to the final paragraph.  The last thing I want to do is cause more pain and suffering to those I love.

At the time, after Emma’s diagnosis was given, I believed autism was something that could be “treated” the way one treats a disease.  Only it isn’t a disease.  But at the time I thought things like vitamin supplements , homeopathic remedies, therapies like ABA and diets could actually remove the “autism”, that these things would somehow transform her brain from an Autistic brain to a non Autistic brain.  I know it may sound over the top, even ridiculous to many, but at the time, I wanted to believe and so I bought into the idea that autism could be ‘removed’.  The concept of someone being pressured into learning to “pass” as non Autistic and the massive emotional and physical toll that inevitably takes, was not something I knew about at the time.  It never occurred to me to wonder what the fallout might be or how my own child’s self-esteem might suffer as a direct result of what I was doing and saying.

Over time, as I kept trying different things, which culminated in going to Central America for stem cell treatments, I continued to believe, being the very best mother I could be, meant doing everything I could to “remove” her autism.  I believed all those words that are used to describe autism: disease, affliction, epidemic and crisis.  Autism was BAD.  Autism meant all kinds of things and none of them were positive or beneficial.  So that’s what I pursued – a cure.  And I pursued a cure with the same dogged persistence I now apply to changing how autism is viewed by others.  Where I once was determined to change my daughter, I am now determined to change society’s views of autism and, it must be added, society’s views of Autistic people.

You cannot talk about autism without talking about Autistic people.  Yet people do all the time.  They talk about autism as though their words will have no affect on those who are Autistic.  But you can’t do that. When we talk about autism we ARE talking about our Autistic children.  We ARE talking about our Autistic friends.  We ARE talking about Autistic people.  What we say, how autism is depicted, DOES impact those who are Autistic .  It does directly affect how others then treat them.  To pretend that all the derogatory language used has no direct effect on Autistic people is ignoring that fact.  And this is where all of this no longer is just about my daughter and the risks I took and the impact my actions have had on her.  This is about something far bigger than any one person.  This is about a segment of the population who are Autistic and the fallout they must cope with from all of us talking about them as though it wasn’t about THEM, but instead was about a word – that word being – Autism.

Toward the end of the radio show, Lauri Swann spoke of how her son, Henry developed a relationship with his mentor Tracy Thresher and how transformative that was for him.  I reflected on how magical it was for Richard, Emma and me to visit Lauri and her family during the screening of Wretches and Jabberers this past April.  We reminisced about the evening before the screening, when we all went back to Lauri and Russ’s home and everyone sat around their dining room table typing to one another.  The only word I could come up with to describe that visit was “magical“.  And it was, because like the Autcom conference last fall and the Syracuse conference this past winter, being in an atmosphere of inclusion, where every single person is treated with the same respect as anyone else, where all are treated equal, is magical.  How did we move so far from those words in the Declaration of Independence ~ “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”?  How did we get to this other place, where an evening like the one I’ve just described is considered out of the ordinary?

Now, sitting here writing this post, I am thinking about two more magical days and evenings when Ib came to New York City and stayed with us.  Ib is like family.  My children adore her.  My husband adores her.  I feel honored to know her, let alone call her my friend.  I don’t know how to talk about all of this when lines are drawn, when words are used that separate and divide.  I can’t do that and I don’t want to live in a society that does.  What people do not understand fully, or cannot completely appreciate, is this – when we stop dividing people into categories of us and them – we open ourselves up to the experience of being united, of really feeling that indescribable magic of connection.   The beauty of belonging.  The joy of interacting with our fellow human beings and rejoicing in our diversity.  There IS magic in that.  This is what I wish all human beings have the opportunity to experience.  This is what I hope I will live long enough to see occur on a grand scale.

Henry & Tracy during our magical visit with Lauri’s family

Henri & Tracy

Adrianna, Amy Sequenzia, Em & Me
Adrianna, Amy, Em and Me

Nic & Ib on the High Line

Nic & Ib