Monday, July 12, 2010


OK, so I posted all those fabulous ponderable quotes last week.  Did you all talk amongst yourselves?  Don't you just love, love, love Alfie Kohn?

What I really like about Punished By Rewards is how Kohn thoroughly examines, explains and analyzes behaviorist theory, research and practice.  And that brings me to yet another bee in my bonnet.  (Yes, my bonnet is quite a-buzz with so many annoyances!)

Why have we become so absolutely dependent on research based practice to the exclusion of good sense, following our gut, doing what we know to be right for certain kids?  Don't get me wrong.  I love all the research being done now.  All the new brain stuff is fascinating and has certainly opened some of the kinks in Superman's hose, however, if we had not even bothered to consider other approaches, Superman would still be lining up his toys.

What we have to be more diligent about is the analyzing of the data, really thinking about the research, how it was conducted, when, where and on what population?  There are many, many variables in any research about learning, kids, the brain.  We have to be careful not to overgeneralize and especially not to throw out what we know works because we cannot find any research about it.

Back to Kohn.  He points out that behaviorist research was done on pigeons and rats... and then generalized to human behavior... and then we all bought it!  We all started applying this stuff to humans in all sorts of environments and stuck to it (even when it was obvious it was not working) all because it was 'research based'.  And then when newer research is done calling into question the effectiveness of the earlier theories and findings we ignore it all.

We humans can really be dumb.  And lazy in our thinking.

So back to Superman.  When I started my obsessive search for treatments and therapies for him right after he was diagnosed ( well, not really right after... I went into a three month period of denial where the 'A' word could not be used in my presence...)  I kept bumping into the ABA (Lovaas)  approach as it was 'research based'  Note here that ABA methods are all based in behaviorist theory.  No thank you.  I don't want my kid looking me in the eye or saying hello because there is an M&M in it for him.  I wanted him to discover relationships.  So I dug deeper and once I sifted through it all I found some really good stuff that made sense.  That felt right.  That treated kids with Autism as people, not trainable animals.

We completely abandoned ABA methods.  We joined Superman in his preferred activities.  We wholly embraced and accepted him as he was and respected that he was doing certain things as a way to cope with the world because his sensory and perceptive wiring was all tangled up.

And oh my, did we get questioned.  A certain ABA group in our fair state pressured me (no, harassed me) with menacing phone calls trying to guilt me into doing what was right for my kid.  After all, research showed their approach worked, netted great results.  Right?  My gut said not.  We had difficulty getting any funding for the therapies we felt best for Superman.  It was a real struggle.  And we aren't talking about all those strange fringe therapies that include pulling metals out of our kid and other such biomedical approaches.  We are talking about Greenspan's Floor Time and The Autism Treatment Center's Son Rise approach.

What about the results, the very real results those approaches were getting?  Oh I forgot, no 'real' research has been done on those approaches.  You want to know why?  Because you can't set that research up in such a way that allows for traditional data collection.  Well, why not?  Because we are dealing with HUMAN BEINGS here!  Because we are counting on, relying on, human connection. Because it is the respectful  relationship that makes progress possible, probable.

Sometimes we just don't have time for research to be done.  Sometimes we need to act.  Sometimes we need to rely more on what we know to be good and true and effective.  Sometimes we really do know what we are doing...

So, I am very nervous about how much we are following, following, following.  We do less and less higher level thinking and reflecting on what we have done and what we should do next.  We rely less and less on relationships to show us the way.  We just keep doing what doesn't work without wondering why,  We blame the kids for not changing when it is the methods we are using that need to change.  We come down harder and harder on the kids.  The hammer just gets bigger and harder when we should be trying a different tool altogether.

And all that behaviorist research has a place.  Just not in a special education classroom where kids are doing the best they can with what they have.  We are making things worse.  Kids are being left way behind all because they can't be manipulated by the lure of a tub of junk toys.  If there is a prize in the box they want, they may do the one thing they must do to get it.  But it won't be quality work.  It won't be generalized to the next request.  And it certainly won't be done from the place within that needs to be opened up so they can lead a productive life, hold a job and enjoy loving relationships.

Let's not be so scared to wander away from the research that has been done if it just isn't working in our situation.  

And we all know from graduate school that any findings, numbers, statistics can be skewed....

1 comment:

  1. Have you considered beekeeping? Your bonnet would be very happy, and your garden full of pollinators. Well, that's the environmentalist in me talking. The economist would say you can sell honey, too. My inner quack would then add "Honey cures autism!" which of course couldn't be proven, but would sure be fun to publish and watch the fallout.


Although I am dangerously opinionated, I am a flexible thinker and welcome your thoughts.