“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The focus of skill development

In the design of educational programs for students with cognitive disabilities, Dr. Lou Brown at the University of Madison, Wisconsin stated in a 1979 article that education should provide
chronologically age appropriate
functional skills
in natural environments

It is wise to consider these aspects in designing church programs for individuals with cognitive disabilities.

Briefly, chronological age appropriate means you interact with these people on the basis of their chronological age, not their supposed "mental age." Treat adults like adults in all ways possible. Treat 10 year olds like 10 year olds. To treat them otherwise will only further stigmatize people who are already experiencing some degree of stigmatization on the basis of their disability. I have mentioned in this blog that I am a buddy to a young man in a Sunday School program. One day, he brought a purple teddy bear to church. Now if he were a preteen girl, that would probably be fine. However, as a preteen boy that would only bring negative attention to himself. I pulled him aside and asked him if any of the other boys in the class had brought their teddy bear to church. He replied "No." "Well, maybe you shouldn't bring yours either" I replied. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a young boy carrying his teddy bear, however, I know how that young boy will appear to his peers, so I will encourage him not to bring the bear to reduce the stigmatization.

Functional skills can be defined as skills having a high probability of being required of someone. For me, profesional writing is a functional skill. However, professional writing was not a functional skill for my father who was a tool and die maker. For him measurement to thousanths of an inch was a functional skill. For me it isn't even on the radar screen. There are skills which are functional for successful functioning of adults with cognitive disabilities and those which are not. It is useful for the Sunday school teacher to consider these. I remember a lesson provided to a group of adults with mental retardation about the conflicts between David and Saul. The take home lesson was that David could have killed Saul but he didn't, so wasn't he a great guy because he didn't kill him. You or I might be able to make a connection between this conclusion and our lives (having the ability to get revenge or do evil to another but not doing it because we want to do what's right, etc.) but this was hardly functional for those for whom the lesson was designed. In contrast, there was a lesson about walking away when someone is abusive to you. I think that to this day, if Gary (a guy in the class when the lesson was taught) if he saw me would say, "Jeff, do you know what I am going to do if someone calls me a fat pig (the insult of choice for that lesson), I am going to walk away." In this man's life, such verbal abuses were common, so that the remedy of walking away was a functional response. We need to consider the functionality of what we are teaching when we teach any Biblical lesson to any group for that matter.

Natural environments means that we teach the skills in the environment in which they will need to be evidenced. This is more difficult, particularly with behavioral issues, however, we can still do what we can to facilitate the generalization of the skills to the natural environment.

Overall, Brown's emphasis is to look at the kinds of skills that adults need to be successful and teach them to students with an eye toward the longitudinal development of skills. If Sally needs to be able to interact socially with other adults in a workplace as an adult, what can I do to help her to move toward that outcome as she stands before me as a 10 year old. The same might apply in regards to spiritual development, personal disciplines of the Christian faith, quiet times, etc. We think of the behaviors which make for successful followers of Christ in adults and develop them in the persons who come to us, whatever their age.


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