Often I find that with a diagnosis there comes a lot of assumptions and preconceived ideas of what that child can achieve and what they are capable of doing. I have found that children are placed into a box based on their diagnosis and due to this initial assumption their therapy goals, communication goals and school goals are decided for them, often because another child with the same diagnosis completed the same goals. However as we know everyone is different, within a diagnosis there is a scale; everyone presents differently and is unique. Therefore their goals and therapy approach should also be tailored.
Why do these assumptions occur? Too often not enough questions are asked, too often not enough methods are trialled and too often we are setting children up to fail because they aren’t supported correctly or given enough pre-teaching. I often see an approach chosen because it is easiest as it fits in with the classroom or therapy environment. However does this necessarily mean just because it is easiest it is the best approach for that child?
It is important as a therapist, but also for everyone who works with or cares for one of these remarkable children that we assume ability. If I met an adult who had never played an instrument before and I made the assumption of “you could never play a guitar” I would be met with annoyance, anger and in some cases a decision to prove me wrong. It is not ok in this instance to assume what the adult can do, but it is often deemed ok to assume a child cannot learn a new concept, or a child cannot use a certain communication device, based on preconceived ideas around their diagnosis.
Similar to someone learning to play a guitar, I wouldn’t just hand you a guitar and say “ok prove me wrong, play this song.” I would start by teaching you the parts of a guitar, how to hold the guitar and how to play each note before expecting you to achieve a song. It is the same with a child, if you want them to learn a new concept; how to count, how to use an AAC device, how to bounce a ball, we must first start with support. Provide scaffolds and a step by step approach until you reach the final goal. On no occasion should we say “they can’t do this”, “they aren’t capable” or “they won’t use it”. Instead we need to be saying “how can I adapt this?” “how can I support them?” in order for them to achieve the goal. Yes it may take time, it may require a breakdown of tasks into smaller goals, but surely the end result is worth it? The brain is plastic and therefore everyone is capable of learning, but in order to allow them to succeed we first need to allow for them to have ago.