I recently wrote a post where I discussed the significance of the term “It Appears That.” This is such an important concept to me that I’d like to expound on it a bit.
I mentioned that even when looking at “formal” research, I question and challenge the results. Although the researchers may feel that their study has proven whatever it is that their conclusion states, we still must understand that it still doesn’t necessarily make it true. Researchers, practitioners and developers alike become vested in their hypotheses, methodologies, and products. My experience is that an individual or group will discover something that worked for someone or a few “someones,” then apply it to a few more similar “someones” whom it may help. By this time they are vested, and also perhaps have invested, in the idea or product and are perhaps “sold” on their “baby,” so to speak. Then they start using their thing with a broader and broader population and look at results through rose-colored glasses. The placebo effect would tell us that about 30% of people who use something will see, or believe they see, benefits. For those who create, develop, invest in, and make their living from this product or service, this placebo effect feedback can be sufficient to keep them believing in and promoting what they are doing. For the user the more expensive and the more difficult the product or service is to acquire, the more invested they become and the more likely they are to see benefits. One would hope that time would bring out the truth; but the reality is that once a tipping point has been reached and a significant number of people have used it or sufficient time has passed, many of these things become “true” based on their longevity. “If it has been around for this long and used by this many people, is must be true and it must be right.” (Bloodletting was used for 2,000 years–it must be good.) The list of things I have seen that have followed this pattern is very long, but the bottom line is: buyer beware. Whether it is a product for sale, a new or “time tested” medication, or a “proven” scientific paradigm, we must look at whatever is presented to us in this light and not be naïve about what we accept as truth.
Another reason we have to be careful about such programs, products, and ideas is that what may be true for one individual isn’t necessarily true for the next. One of my greater challenges has been simply describing what we do at NACD. People endlessly ask, “What is your program?” to which we respond, “We don’t have ‘a’ program.” We have as many programs as we do individuals with whom we work. We utilize over three thousand different methods and techniques, which we continually modify or replace. Our task is to understand the individual and pull from our reservoir of experience and resources to determine what is going to give us the most bang for our buck for this individual, in this family today. How can we best utilize time and resources? What are the best specific tools to use with this individual today, understanding that next week or next month it will be different? People have a difficult time understanding this because the world is full of specific programs, which may be tweaked a bit, but which are essentially the same for everyone. Unfortunately–or fortunately–no two of us are alike. Those recommending medications, diets, and “programs” for developmental issues, however, tend to treat us as though we all are.
My decades of work have taught me one incredibly important lesson: Each of us is unique. Our strength likes in our individuality and uniqueness. The more we can approach our treatment and our relationships from this perspective, the more effective and successful we will be. It would appear that as educators or providers, as individuals or as parents, we had better understand that we need to be constantly questioning, looking at the results, and determining if what we are doing is working and working well. I always believe that we can and need to continually do it better.