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Why I hate the C-word

advocacy autism parenting education therapies Sep 15, 2020
autism behavioral choice c-word

As I was reviewing my son's IEP goals today, my heart stopped when I saw the C-word.

No, not THAT C-word.

The special needs C-word.


MAN OH MAN OH MAN do I hate it when parents, educators and therapists use choice to describe behavior. 

Yes, I hear the argument that by using the word choice, adults are putting control into the child's hand. 

I just don't believe it.

Instead, I think the C-word is used to shame children into compliance. It also takes adults off the hook for failing to effectively understand a child's attempts to communicate and teach them to use assistive methods.

It also completely dismisses the reality that these are kids with impaired nervous systems, and the health of the nervous system determines behavioral response. This isn't just an autism thing, anyone can be overstimulated to the point of losing control of their behavior. 

Think of the last time you lost it on your kids. Since we've all been locked up together for six months, I'm guessing the most recent time was pretty dang recent.

Did you stop, consider your choices and purposely decide to yell and scream anyway? Or did you just react to an overwhelming situation?

How would you feel if your spouse lectured you about the "bad choice" you made? And then, they reminded you that if you want your snack, you need to use your words.

I'm guessing some aggression might follow.

It's cruel that parents, educators and therapists fail to presume competency when it comes to the ability to excel at academics; yet, these same folks presume competency when it comes to the ability to control behavioral response.

They've got it backwards.

My son's educational team is made up of fine, caring people who have done a wonderful job of presuming his competence. They believe in him and have allowed me to use adaptive curriculum and multiple communication modalities to advance him far beyond his peers.

And yet, these awesome, enlightened people still use the C-word.

When I teach Tosh about the rules of society, I do it just like that: I explain the rules. The reason he can't be aggressive in class isn't because failing to do so is a moral failure. Instead, he must develop the ability to control his emotions because the rules of society require it. 

Tosh has to work harder than everyone else to follow those rules. It's not fair.

But then again, everybody has to work hard to achieve things they find difficult because they weren't born with natural ability. 

Consider running a marathon. You might really want to run a marathon, but if you went out today to run 26.2 miles, you probably couldn't do it.

Did you choose to only run 2 miles? No way! You just couldn't physically do it. Not yet.

However, if you train for several months, you probably could run a marathon. At some point, finishing the race might be a choice. Mental fortitude is required to achieve hard things.

But there is more to development than choice. I think choice should be discontinued as a behavioral management strategy.

Not only is it ineffective, it's morally wrong.


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