Today I learned the sad news, Dr. Lou Brown, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison has died. He taught us that “Pre- means never”, “functional curriculum” and testified in our court case that anything in the segregated handicapped-only school for people with severe disabilities could be portable and done in a public school. He made all the difference in our lives and helped change special education.
The first time Aaron brought home a hand-print turkey he was 3 years old and I thought it was adorable.
When Aaron was 25 years old and brought home the same hand-print turkey, I was livid.
What’s the difference? Same kid, same activity. Why is one turkey a treasure, another only fit for the garbage?
The difference is the educational and philosophical debate between “developmentally age-appropriate” and “chronologically age-appropriate” activities for people with autism and developmental disabilities.
In a previous post, I introduced Dr. Lou Brown’s ecological assessment tool the “Life Space Analysis” (click here) This planning tool for people with disabilities helps identify the when, where, who and what fills a person’s day and gives clues on a person’s quality of life–though this tool can be useful for all of us.
1970s: The Birth of Special Education
Back in the 70s when IDEA was passed and people with disabilities first got the right to go to public school, everyone was trying to figure out how people with disabilities learned? What were the appropriate activities and curriculum? If you want more information about this time period click here: Parallels in Time II.”
Dr. Lou Brown and his colleagues found adolescents and adults across the country playing with infant toys. The “what” in their Life Space Analysis consisted of meaningless activities repeated every day like coloring, stacking blocks, putting colored rings on tubes, playing with wooden puzzles, and generally keeping Fisher-Price in business. “Pre Means Never” is a short video with the main idea as only Lou can tell it.
The rationale was “these students were eternal children”. It didn’t make any difference what they did. There were no expectations. They had low IQs and were functioning at a preschool or early childhood developmental level. So teachers used materials and activities matching the student’s developmental levels. For example: If a person had an IQ of 50 and a developmental age of 5.2 (6 years and 2 months), then the person with the disability should do activities that matched what a normal 5.2 month old child would do. It didn’t matter if the “child” was actually 19 or 35, or 70 in chronological years.
2010: Adult Services
I have to admit, I thought the idea of developmental age was long dead. Aaron went to public school and had plans for his future as an adult (click here). He had a functional community-based curriculum, he had a transition plan, and he had work experience. Plus, the research in the whole field of special education and adult services, strongly supports the idea of chronologically age-appropriate activities.
So, again: What’s the Problem?
In my recent round of looking at adult daycare for people with disabilities and the elderly, I have been shocked out of my mind to find rooms with Fisher Price toys. I know the toys are indestructible, but come on. They are NOT AGE-Appropriate! If the toy package says ages 3-6, then if you are over 6 years old, it is not age-appropriate.
Schools vs. Adult Day Care
The difference between best practices in the schools and best practices in adult services is the fact that the staff and teachers are licensed. They have the training and have studied the research literature about best practices. They have done student teaching and got first-hand experiences under mentor teachers.
The people who run and work in the adult day care systems are lovely people who have high school diplomas (or GEDs) and because the job pays little more than minimum wage, they get no inservice, no vision of what CAN happen. They have the reality of too many people with disabilities, not enough help, and no training. So making preschool turkeys, or paper plate pilgrims make sense to them. The materials are cheap and the activity matches their developmental ages.
I am thankful Aaron has someplace to go during the day. (Some states have nothing and the people sit at home.)
I am thankful these kind people don’t abuse and hurt Aaron.
I am thankful they take him to the bathroom, wipe up his messes, help him eat his lunch, and do their best.
But, they send home a paper plate bunny, toilet paper firecracker, macaroni Santa… And I am not thankful.
I don’t have an answer. I have tried to send in more age-appropriate materials and resources. I have tried to show alternative activities. And they are not thankful.
What do you think? Is my age-appropriate rant just silly? What do you think I should do the next time Aaron brings home a preschool craft? Do you think the types of activities make a difference to people with disabilities?
If this makes sense and you want to spread the word, please retweet or link to Facebook. We have a whole lot of people to reach before the Christmas and holiday crafts begin.
I would be thankful.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Brown, L., Branston, M., Hamre Nietupski, S., Pumpian, I., Certo, N. & Gruenewald, L. (1979). A Strategy for Developing Chronological Age Appropriate and Functional Curricular Content For Severely Handicapped Adolescents and Young Adults. Journal of Special Education, 13(1), 81 – 90.