Always Presume Competence

goethepreseumedcompetanceAlways Presume Competence is our mantra while we raise our Autistic little boy.

A is for Apple
B is for banana
C is for carriage
M is for map
M is for maple leaf
A is for strawberry

Above is what year ago Johnny started doing on his own with the fridge magnets and the magnetic letters.  He would spontaneously take an apple magnet and put the letter “A” with it and so on and so on.

I followed his lead and showed Johnny some more. What was challenging at the time was  Johnny was still learning to articulate specific sounds i.e. “F” “S” “T”
We found that it was often challenging for him to learn via phonological awareness but the point was he was trying.  It is not stopping him.  He knew what the sounds were but the Apraxia was holding him back from reading out loud and sounding out words.

When we had the parent teacher conference last February his teacher in Senior Kindergarten wanted to concentrate on reading and specifically reading via the rote method.  She felt his enthusiasm for reading was something to build on.  We agreed but we didn’t want to NOT tackle spelling. We knew he had fine motor printing challenges but why couldn’t he use magnetic letters or an iPad or keyboard keyboard? Instead of learning to spell and print 30 words why not 5 then build slowly from there? She was worried about overwhelming him because he is learning so much etc already. She liked to teach reading by using the “tracking with finger” method where the student touches every word as they say it. She insisted in order to show that he is reading that finger tracking was everything even though he has motor skill challenges. Her solution was to send home large pieces of paper instead and write words in it so that he can learn to touch each word more easily and learn finger tracking.

We started realizing that the Kindergarten teacher was not sending home the same homework as the rest of the children were getting and Johnny noticed. We had to advocate very hard for the teacher to send everything home and we would see what he could learn and try.  We strongly urged that we should follow his lead and help him try to do everything.  We wanted to capitalize on his eagerness to learn not to frustrate him and make him feel less then who he is.

At times I felt like we were home schooling Johnny.  It was left up to us to figure out ways to teach Johnny the material. I’m not a teacher so I was having to just go by my instincts and modify.  I started using the iPad and scanning all of Johnny’s flashcards, word cards and articulation cards and putting them on an app for him. Johnny’s Education Assistant is a gem and is awesome.  She works closely with him and knows how smart he is so she is going over words daily with him regarding reading and articulation.

As we finished our parent/teacher meeting last February the Kindergarten teacher smiled and said,

“I only introduce various concepts and the Grade One teacher will review everything and take over.”

Now Johnny is in Grade 1 and his Grade 1 teacher and Intensive Support Teacher have reviewed everything and are always looking for new ways to teach Johnny the material so he can learn the way he learns. They know they are dealing with a smart boy. We were at an IPRC Progress Meeting ( Individual Placement Review Committee) regarding Johnny and we brought up our concerns on his reading and wanted to know more information regarding other programs that might be available within the school board to help him move forward.  Johnny’s Dad and I were concerned when we kept hearing “we don’t want to overwhelm him and the programming we have in place will work.” They seemed to be stuck on the method of Johnny memorizing whole words even though the Autism Room teacher presented a report from himself and the Grade 1 teacher that Johnny was learning to read phonologically and was sounding out words. I made a point that he is still quite young for an assumption that he only learns “one way” and I argued that he actually benefits from a Multi-faceted approach of sounding out words, memorizing whole words and looking at words with pictures.

My mantra now and forever as we move forward in grade school is always presume competence and find a way to teach him so he can learn and show us what he can do. After all, autism is NOT an intellectual disability but a neurological disorder and it is always a better choice to take the least dangerous assumption.

For more reading on Presumed Competence and the less dangerous assumption then follow these links:






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