“Presume competence:” these two powerful words challenge educators to make a fundamental shift in their thinking. Once a child with disabilities was viewed in terms of what he or she can’t do. We now are charged to assume and expect that the child can and will learn, communicate, participate, and develop, and it is our responsibility to facilitate this by finding ways to eliminate or reduce the barriers that would otherwise be limiting to the child. This is absolutely right and essential, but it isn’t always easy.
The Internet abounds with references and resources, but for SLPs and special educators who are seeking information that they can immediately put into practice, I strongly recommend starting at PrAACticalAAC.org. Here you will find an amazing amount of information on presuming competence and a gazillion other topics, delivered in bite-sized, highly readable posts.
For IEP teams and individuals who would benefit from a pep talk on presuming competence, there can be no better speaker on the topic than Megan Bomgaars. The “Don’t Limit Me!” video delivers a powerful message from a special young lady who refuses to be defined by her disability label.
A young man who also defies labels and has benefited from a rich, inclusive education is Tim Harris, owner of Tim’s Place Restaurant in Albuquerque, NM. I had the delightful experience of meeting Tim twice and dining at “the World’s Friendliest Restaurant.” You can read about my visit with Tim in my post “Take a Tip or Two From Tim.” Then visit Tim’s website to see videos of Tim in action, learn about Tim’s Big Heart Foundation to help individuals with intellectual disabilities start their own businesses and achieve their dreams, and even book Tim for a guest speaker gig.
I’ve done a lot of team trainings over the years on presuming competence, maximizing participation, and facilitating independence in students who have multiple disabilities. Some of what I share in my trainings involves changing well-intentioned but ultimately limiting behavior in educators and caregivers, and is mentioned in my post “How to Get to ‘I DID IT!'”
For a chilling account of what happens when caregivers only see profound disability and have no expectations of understanding or ability, I recommend the autobiography by Martin Pistorius, GHOST BOY, which I reviewed on this blog. Spoiler alert: you’ll also see the dramatic, life-changing results when someone does, finally, presume competence.
Here’s another spoiler alert: If you and your school teams make every effort to presume and facilitate competence in your students who have disabilities, you’ll witness, first-hand, some pretty amazing results, too.