Tag Archives: education

What Can Be, What Should Be, What Needs to Be: Potential is Defined by Opportunity

Abby Amberger – Entrepreneur

by Bob Doman

This picture is from the recent wedding of Natalie Hagan, a great gal who has helped implement NACD programs with these two terrific kids—Abby and Lucas. Between these two proactive families, their schools, and caring individuals like Natalie and Debbie Hayden, the OT that referred them and has helped them implement their programs, we have a great model of what can be, what should be, and what needs to be.

Potential needs to be defined by opportunity and not by diagnosis or label. Outcomes for children with the same or similar labels can be dramatically different, with those outcomes largely being predicated on the opportunities provided.

Abby and Lucas both have wonderful families—families who have been great at getting their NACD programs implemented, advocating for their children, and looking toward their children’s futures. In both cases, the kids’ schools have learned to cooperate with and support the parents in the implementation of their NACD programs and their goals, and in addition have provided appropriate class placement and support. Both families have also successfully found help at home to assist in completing the children’s individualized NACD programs with excellent results.

I spoke of Lucas in a previous post, so now let’s talk about Abby.

Abby was referred to NACD by her occupational therapist when she was just over a year old. Abby is now an eight-year-old who will be entering the 3rd grade in a typical classroom and who is doing well academically and socially. She is involved in Girl Scouts, ballet, and she plays softball. Abby is a star, loved by classmates and everyone who is fortunate enough to know her. She is an entrepreneur. She also has Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome).

Being proactive and planning for her future, her parents have already started a business for her called, “Abby’s Mini Golden Doodles” with her own facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/doodleloveme/

Abby is actively helping with the first litter of puppies and is learning how to care for the dogs. The plan is for her to learn dog training and handling, with the goal of developing a business involving dog breeding and dog handling, as well as a companion and therapy dog program.

One of the very difficult realities that most adults with Down syndrome and many adults with other developmental issues have is that the world is often only welcoming up to a certain point. Through the years, we have seen young adults with good academic function, good social skills, and even college degrees that could not get a job even close to commensurate with their abilities and skills. Imagine a child with Down syndrome working hard, with a ton of support from their family, academically competing with their peers, getting the same high school diploma as their classmates, having in many cases more appropriate social skills than most of their peers, and then being encouraged to pack groceries or move grocery carts upon graduation by their vocational advisors. This is obviously something that must change, but until it does, families having or starting businesses for their children is a very viable alternative for proactive families.

Abby is a delightful, happy, wonderful, contributing and beautiful child with a bright future. When everyone works together–parents, caregivers, therapists, school administrators, teachers, community members and organizations–to help the family achieve their goals for their child, there should be no limits.

What can be, what should be and what needs to be.

Potential is defined by opportunity.

P.S. – Often at the conclusion of Abby’s visits with me, she stops at the door, turns around, gives me a huge Abby smile, waves, and says, “Bye, Bobby.” Gotta love this kid!

Nine-Year-Old “Autistic” Child Spurs Community to Build Inclusive Playground

Lucas Fritsche – My Hero

by Bob Doman

I needed to write this story about my nine-year-old hero, Lucas Fritsche. Lucas exemplifies what can be, what should be, and what needs to be. Lucas’s story is one of a committed and proactive family, therapists who knew this child needed more than what they could provide, a school that learned to work with and assist a family, and a community that was willing to help and to listen.

I first met Lucas and his family in 2014. Lucas came with a bit of a “rep.” In preschool he was notorious for biting someone daily. When he started with NACD, he was in first grade and had been globally regressing since the previous summer. At the age of six, he had already been diagnosed with PDD/NOS, epilepsy, complex partial seizures (for which he was being medicated), sensory dysfunction, low muscle tone, and digestive and sleep issues. His school had him classified as autistic. He also had severe behavior, social, and academic issues.

From a neurodevelopmental perspective, Lucas had some sensory issues, as well as issues with muscle tone, strength, coordination, developmental motor skills, physiology, and auditory and visual processing. In addition to all of that, he had a questionable seizure disorder. The bottom line was we had a six-and-a-half-year-old child who was neurodevelopmentally where I would have liked to have seen him at age three, going on four. He had lots of potential—nothing scary, just pieces to put together.

Lucas had been referred to us by friends who have a child with Down syndrome named Abby, who was then and still is on an NACD program. I will a write separate post about Abby and her super occupational therapist, Debbie Hayden, shortly.

Lucas’s terrific parents were obviously anxious to see their son do better—much better—and were doing all they knew how to do with the help of doctors, therapists, and the school. They needed more and needed to address the causes, not the symptoms. Under ideal situations, I would have pulled Lucas out of school, kept him home, and had the majority of the day to address his issues one on one. Lucas’s dad was a farmer, a job requiring more than full time attention; his mom worked full time in HR; and they also had Lucas’s three-year-old sister, who needed their attention as well. So, Lucas needed to be at school full-time, and we needed to elicit the help of the school, as well as find some people to help his parents with program after school.

After that initial evaluation, I discussed his issues with his parents, and we started on a plan to address his problems, including his behavioral issues. The reality of Lucas’s behavior was that we had a strong willed, rather intense, six-and-a-half-year-old in first grade who had the ability to understand, think, and communicate like a three- going on four-year-old and a neurodevelopmental problem—we had to address his particular pieces.

It would have been nice to wave a magic wand, if it were possible, and have advanced him three years in a blink. Unfortunately, it takes some time to normalize sensory dysfunction, address physiological issues, sleep, severe processing delay, catch up academically and create new patterns of behavior.

Second grade had its challenges. He entered a new school year, and on day four he bolted from a situation. When his teacher grabbed him, he punched her. Unfortunately, because of a recent surgery, she needed to go to the hospital. Lucas was suspended for three days. Not a great start. After he was allowed back to school, he got upset at lunch with another student and hit him. Following this incident, we set up a behavior strategy to coordinate things between his parents and the school, which ended the aggression. That year he spent 85% of his school day in a resource room with an aide who did his NACD program with him. The other 15% of his day, he was with his peers.

It was then decided that it would be in Lucas’s best interest to repeat second grade while we continued the catch-up path. This second time around, with coordination between parents, the school, and NACD, Lucas spent his day in the regular class with a part-time aide, with some pullout time for school-based therapies. Through that year, the time with the aide continued to diminish, and with his advancing processing skills and the opportunity to be with peers, his social interaction and social skills developed. A year following his suspension, Lucas received the school’s “Pirate to Be Proud Of” award, an award given to just one child per grade in the school each quarter. Academically, he went from failing to As and Bs. By January of that year all outside therapies were discontinued—they were no longer needed.

Third grade started well; however, a significant event occurred in September. During recess Lucas felt he was falsely blamed for an issue that had occurred. When the class returned to their classroom, there was no Lucas. Lucas, having in his first years of school been sent to the principal’s office on numerous occasions for inappropriate behavior, had not gone back to class, but had instead gone to the principal’s office. He didn’t go because he had done something wrong, but because he needed to report the misunderstanding of the situation, and he felt that because he was blamed, he needed to report there. Having gained audience with the principal, Lucas stated his case and then proceeded to inform the principal that the playground was too small, that his friend who was in a wheelchair could not access the playground, and announced that he wished to speak to the school board about the issue. At that point, I knew I was working with a really special young man.

In February Lucas finally got to address 50-60 community members, parents, teachers, and administrators and presented a plan to make the playground handicap accessible. (See the video below.)

Lucas’s mom is currently working with a local group to create an inclusive playground in the community; and Lucas, because of his initiative with the school, has been invited to participate and has become a key spokesman in the development of this 1.5-million-dollar project.

Lucas is now an A/B student and is doing great socially. This past June, he won a purple ribbon for his 4H woodworking project, which moves him to the state competition; and this September, he will be showing a steer at the local community fair.

Lucas has shed all his previous labels; his seizures are history as well as his medications, his therapists, and his aides; and he has gained a new image: bright, kind, compassionate, witty, smart, and my hero.

Lucas represents what can be, what should be, and what needs be. We need to look at children as individuals with unlimited potential and not as labels. He exemplifies how we can get everyone working together to help achieve the parents’ vision for their child and produce the desired results.

What can be, what should be, and what needs to be.

Potential is defined by opportunity.

P.S. – Lucas read an email I had sent to his parents where I told them that their boy was going to do great things. Lucas’s response was, “If Mr. Bob says I will do great things, then I will.” I’d put money on it.

Finland: Educational Principles That Work

Schools with Shorter Days, No Homework and Better Outcomes

 

I’m not a fan of Michael Moore, but I thought his video about education in Finland would get your attention.

Finland, which has ranked at or near the top of countries in international testing, has discovered principles that we at NACD have known and been implementing for almost fifty years.

Finland’s international ranking was based on the PISA test, which is the Program for International Student Assessment test. When the test was administered in 2015, the United States ranked 41st in math, 25th in reading and 26th in science internationally—not so hot! However, we have been close to the top relative to how much we spend per child.

For the past forty-plus years at NACD we have been working with families to help develop and educate their children, applying some of the same basic principles that have helped turn around the educational system in Finland.

For starters, Finland has learned that less can be more. We have always preached neuroplasticity and the associated principles of frequency, intensity and duration, acknowledging that as you increase duration, you generally decrease intensity and as such push too long and less goes in. Finland also has shorter school days. In Finland, elementary students only attend school for twenty hours a week and don’t even start school until they are seven years old. Older students go to school from about 9:00-9:30 a.m. until 2:00-2:45 p.m. and receive no homework or very minimal homework. When able to really individualize, we can generally accelerate a student at home in about half that much time. The more we can individualize, the more we can target the input and educate efficiently and effectively.

In Finland, they give students many 15- to 20-minute breaks during their school day. We encourage parents to work with their children for short periods, followed by breaks. The younger the children, the shorter the work/attention periods—starting literally from seconds and minutes.

Finland has learned to stop teaching to standardized tests. They are not following a ridged, set curriculum and then testing based on that curriculum. Their system gives teachers much more autonomy to individualize and actually teach until the students have learned something. They are also now starting to use what they call phenomenon-based learning, which means that they are exploring a more holistic approach involving students and encouraging them to explore their interests and talents. We incorporate a child-centered approach as much as possible, using the child’s interests and passions to produce more globally-associated knowledge that sticks, while still focusing on the core, accelerating reading and math. We believe in less curriculum/stuff and more in building the educational foundation and creating a more meaningful education. Establish the educational base, turn the children into readers and turn them on to learning.

Finland also has more children receiving special education services than perhaps any other country in the world. But, it is done differently. Just as we do at NACD, they believe that educational issues can and should be addressed and fixed, not labeled and used as an excuse for failure. Children receive what special services they need so that their issues can be resolved and they can move forward unencumbered.

What neither Finland or any country has learned

The real foundation that we at NACD have been building in children is the neurological foundation—short-term memory, working memory and executive function. What the world has yet to realize is that education alone is not enough. If we build the neurological foundation, we make people smarter—much smarter! And smarter is better!

And now for the rest of the story. . . 

—Bob Doman

 

What is Natural? I Thought I Knew and Still Think I Know

“Breast Feeding is Unnatural.”

That was the headline I saw the other day when perusing the news. My first reaction was, “WHAT? What is this country coming to?” An article/study in Pediatrics entitled, “Unintended Consequences of Invoking the ‘Natural’ in Breastfeeding Promotion,” written by Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill, essentially claims that “referencing the ‘natural’ in breastfeeding promotion—may inadvertently endorse a set of values about family life and gender roles which would be ethically inappropriate.” I’m sorry, but “natural” actually does fit my set of values. How extreme can the obsession with sexuality and gender get?

When I saw this headline, it immediately took me back to UCLA in the early ‘80s. I was doing an early morning news show that was being filmed at UCLA’s Child Development Center. The station brought me to UCLA so I could provide an opinion about UCLA’s daycare perspectives. We did the interview in a huge room that was full of babies, toddlers and lots of noise. The children were on mats and in various cribs and there were students interacting with some of the children, while others slept, cried or expressed varying degrees of displeasure. As we began the interview, the head of the department made a statement that literally left me in a state of shock. She said that young children being home with their mother was UNNATURAL!

To gain a bit of historic perspective, common use of daycares and preschools is really a relatively new phenomenon. Daycares actually date back to the late 1800s as facilities for working mothers. But even back in the ‘50s it was rare for a child to go to daycare. There weren’t yet preschools and the majority of children didn’t start school until they were five or six. To further put things in perspective, back in the ‘50s when we were having air-raid drills in school and were hearing “better dead than red,” we were traumatized hearing stories about Russia, where little children were put in schools as early as two or three years of age—horrifying!

Back at the time of my interview at UCLA, formal daycare was still rather rare. Working moms generally relied on family members or informal situations where stay-at-home moms would take care of another child or two.

In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson created Head Start, a program that was initiated as part of his “War on Poverty” to help meet the needs of preschool aged children from low-income families. Head Start was and is a good thing. Providing early educational opportunities for children from disadvantaged homes is a good thing. Children from disadvantaged families absolutely do better with early childhood educational opportunities.

Today, however, educational propaganda has created the distorted perspective that all children are better off in daycare and preschool and that they are, in fact, being deprived of opportunities if they do not attend. Economic reality is such that many mothers need to work when their children are under five. There are mothers who choose to have careers and need nannies, daycare and preschools, which is fine. Certainly, the better the daycares and the preschools, the more opportunities those children have. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. An involved dedicated mother, who after all knows her child better than anyone else on the planet and who can provide her child with individual attention throughout the day, is not only doing something that is quite “natural,” but is probably optimizing her child’s first critical years of development. An informed, dedicated parent given the right tools, can do absolute wonders—quite naturally.

—Bob Doman

 

 

What Do Behavior Development, Social Skills and Maturity All Have in Common?

NACD Blog Behavior, Social, Maturity & Splinter SkillsA great deal of time and effort is spent attempting to teach children, particularly children with developmental issues, skills that will assist in their daily life. Many of these attempts are actually attempts to teach splinter skills. Splinter skills are specific skills that do not generalize because they are not developmentally based. To generalize means that something taught specifically can be used and incorporated throughout overall function. If something cannot be generalized, it has very limited value and more often than not fades away. Whenever possible we want to dedicate the majority of our time and efforts to building the neurological foundation.

As children advance in their global development and function, they will generally acquire a vast array of associated skills commensurate with the advanced global/cognitive function. If we look at children from birth to five, where the development is typically the fastest, we see that the children over the course of each year acquire a broad range of new abilities that cover the full range of human function. These include the development of receptive and expressive language, gross and fine motor functions and skills, along with social interaction. In typical development, we essentially start with an infant who cannot control any part of their body and cannot interpret anything they see, hear, feel, smell or taste. In five short years, this same individual can run, jump, climb, take care of most and possibly all of their personal needs, carry on a conversation and interact socially. They have knowledge of everything from the name of an insect to the quarterback for the Rams.

Most of what the typical child has learned they were not specifically taught—they have learned what they have simply because they could. As their brains have developed—as their processing, short-term memory, working memory, and executive function have improved—their brains have simply been able to absorb more, understand more and do more.

If we are intelligently and wisely teaching a child or a young adult, whether they are two or twenty-two, we are teaching them things that are commensurate with their global neurological function or maturity. If we are attempting to teach specific skills that are not appropriate for their global function, we are actually attempting to teach splinter skills. Splinter skills are very specific situational skills that do not generalize. To some degree this can be done, but rarely well or quickly and rarely does it stick.

Many of the functions that we would love to see change, the appropriate behavior social skills we would be delighted to see emerge and the maturity that we hope for, are really reflections of what is termed executive function. If we understand executive function and how it develops and is built, we can dedicate more of our time to what works and not so much to what doesn’t.

If we are to be successful in helping a child develop and gain foundational skills including behavior, social skills, and maturity, we must first establish the neurological and cognitive foundation.

And now for the rest of the story…

—Bob

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