Sunday, October 25, 2009

Accommodations and Scaffolding

I’m going to share some of the issues I’ve been working through as we implement workboxes at our house with a child who has an autism spectrum disorder. Here's one of the pieces I've been considering:

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As I contemplate what is next in homeschooling for my daughter who has an ASD diagnosis, I am thinking about accommodations (compensations), and scaffolding.

I like the definition of scaffolding that I found here. Vygotsky identified what is called the “zone of proximal development.” According to Vygotsky, every learner’s developmental level has two parts: the “actual development level” and the “potential developmental level.” The zone of proximal development is the “distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978).

Here’s an excerpt from "How Can My Kid Succeed in School? What Parents and Teachers Can Do to Conquer Learning Problems," by Craig Pohlman, Ph.D., page 59: "5. Be aware of two kinds of learning strategies. The first kind is designed to build up a weakness or skill; these building strategies are sometimes called interventions. The second kind is a tactic for bypassing a weakness in some way; these strategies are often referred to as accommodations or modifications. Some strategies can both build and bypass at the same time; others swing between the categories depending on what the goal is. Most students need a combination of strategies -- building strategies so they can make improvements, bypassing strategies so they can experience success without being hindered by their weaknesses."

Think about an individual who is paralyzed from the waist down. That individual will never walk. An accommodation is a wheelchair or scooter. Another example is Little Person who will never grow to average height. If you've ever watched the reality TV show, "Little People Big World," Matt and Amy Roloff had their kitchen counters and appliances lowered. That’s an accommodation.

Sometimes, the same item can be a long-term compensation or a short-term compensation. An example of a permanent or long-term accommodation is a wheelchair for an individual who is paralyzed and is never expected to stand or walk. An example of a short-term compensation is a wheelchair for a person who is recuperating from an accident and needs a short term help while recovering, healing, or during remediation.

Developmental interventions designed to remediate deficits like RDI(r) have parents looking closely at the difference between a long-term compensation, a short-term compensation, and a scaffold within a developmental ladder of learning and growth.

When my daughter was still in public school, I tried to convince the staff to develop some developmental goals that would grow my daughter's ability to sense non-verbal cues and clues that would allow her the ability to transition more easily. Instead, one of the staff members implied that my daughter would probably always need a visual schedule and that once she got into 4th grade, we could hide her visual schedule inside the planners that all the students get, and she wouldn't look so different. I got the impression from them that visual schedules are expected to be permanent accommodations for most students on the autism spectrum.

RDI(r) gave me a clear direction on what developmental steps we need to help my daughter take in order to begin to better manage herSELF and her day, steps that include non-verbal interaction and reciprocity, attention shifting, gaze shifting, attention sharing, emotion sharing, turn taking, joining, co-regulating.

But the school wanted to skip all of those (or work on them haphazardly, without real intention)-- I think they didn't think she was capable of growing in those functional areas and the visual schedule, to them, is an acceptable long-term or even permanent compensation.

Parents of typically developing children put in short term compensations for a LACK of a skill that we KNOW our kid will reach at some point. At the same time, we are scaffolding all the little steps in between where they are and that skill they lack.

In autism, a lot of professionals believe individuals w/ autism are like Little People who will never grow to average height. They believe that autistic kids will never develop perspective taking or joint attention or attention shifting or gaze shifting or self regulation and self control.

So, they introduce a long-term or permanent compensation, or a bunch of long-term compensations, much like a wheelchair, for a child who is not expected to walk.

Workboxes were introduced to my child in a public school autism program BECAUSE none of the children had enough reciprocity, attention shifting, attention sharing, joint attention etc to manage themselves in a "regular" classroom. Workb0xes became a way to work around all of those deficits by removing the need to shift attention, share attention, engage with peers and teachers, etc, and summarize all of that onto a visual schedule and Picture Exchange Communication.

Long term compensations are not all bad or negative in terms of students on the autism spectrum. We need them. My problem is using them without a developmental plan in place where you know why, when, and how you will approach learning so that eventually, you can remove the long-term compensations.

So, as I think about what things my daughter needs to be doing independently, I think about functions of reciprocity, turn taking, reciprocity, and perspective taking. I want her to manage herSELF as a co-regulator and self-regulator. I want her to gather her own cue and clues from her environment so that she better "rolls with the flow". I want her to grow into a "communicating partner", an "active participant", not a passive follower of a schedule or prompt. The goal isn’t to get work done, or “get” her to work “for me” – it’s to give her the experience of working *with* me, because that’s how we make discoveries about ourselves, and then, as she is ready for more responsibility for herSELF and her own learning, to gently hand that responsibility to her.

I am thinking through what parts of the workbox concept that we will use as short term accommodations, which parts will be scaffolds to a higher developmental level, and I'm asking myself, are there long term accommodations that will be beneficial, and do I have a plan for building foundations so that the long term accommodations aren't needed so much at some point.

Sue Patrick has given me so much food for thought.

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So, as my thoughts return to Sue Patrick's Workbox System, I am pondering how we'll use them and why. Will they be an accommodation and if so, for what skill or function? Can I use them in ways that help me scaffold development? If so, how? That all depends on my assumptions about all things autism and on our goals for my child.

1 comment:

argsmommy said...

LOL, on my "to do" list for this week was to send a post to the HS-RDI yahoo group on whether the workbox system can be used in a RDI-friendly manner. So thank you for reading my mind! I look forward to hearing more about this from you.


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