I'm participating in a blog hop over at With a Little Moxie (http://www.withalittlemoxie.com/) this week about Early Intervention programs...check it out, because there are some really fantastic posts.
1. Therapy for Our Child with Down Syndrome - Meriah Nichols of With a Little Moxie
2. What happens at a 2 year Early Intervention Evaluation?
3. Melanie's Mania: My son IS the Sport!!
4. Birdie and the Child Find Committee. . . via Riding the Crazy Train: Diary of a Delirious Mom
5. Life is Beautiful: What is an IFSP?
I'll update this post as more blogs join the blog hop.
A Common Theme: Negative Feelings About Deficit-Based Assessment
I've never worked with children with disabilities below the age of 3, so I know very little about Early Intervention teams, the methodologies that they use, or eligibility criteria. Reading these posts was, in that sense, very educational for me. I'm always curious about how things operate in areas of the sector in which I haven't worked, even if the information pertains to places in which I haven't lived or worked.
I kept coming across a theme in the posts that I relate to both professionally and personally, though: experiences of deficit-based assessment. It's difficult to deal with having your child constantly assessed, and keep hearing from therapists in meetings and in reports about how delayed your child is, especially in relation to other children. This sort of deficit-based assessment for services wears on anyone after a while, and it's a part of the support systems with which I've always had trouble.
Why I Dislike Deficit-Based Assessment
Even though some Ontario funding applications have a space to talk about the individual's strengths, the bottom line is that supports are allocated by how "disabled" the person is and how well the person's support system assists with managing the challenges associated with those disabilities. Deficit-based assessment is exactly what it sounds like: Focusing on a person's deficits to determine their eligibility for services, and not their strengths. In the age groups with which I've worked, deficit-based assessment is a relatively direct way of obtaining information, especially as services have started to require forms and reports designed to facilitate easy sharing between agencies or team members. A question such as, "Does the individual require assistance with bathing? Yes, No, Reminders only", with checkboxes, lets the individual give specific information that an agency may require to assist that individual to set and reach goals.
Deficit-Based Assessment Feels...Is "Dehumanizing" The Right Word?
However, when I assisted individuals and families to read reports or to fill out intake forms and applications for funding, I found myself constantly apologizing:
"I'm sorry that this is so intrusive. If we get all this information once, then we never have to go through another intake form."
"I'm sorry that we're focussing so much on the negative. We just need to let them know what it is specifically that your child and your family need assistance with and what you'll use the funding for."
"You may read some difficult things in this report, but you have to remember that this is your child at one point in her life. There have been improvements since the last report and there's no reason to believe that there won't continue to be improvements if you continue with the plan you discussed with the therapist."
I think I'm especially sensitive to deficit-based assessment because of my experience of applying for Ontario Disability Support Program income supports after I had my stroke. Although I've since had many positive experiences with ODSP since, both as a person receiving supports and as a professional, I cried after my first phone call with them - I told Dad that they made me feel "handicapped".
It seems to me that applying for supports should be more of a strengths-focused process, but I struggle with how to make it so. I do suggest that people try to keep the focus on the person's strengths as much as possible, within the framework of how supports are currently allocated and evaluated. For example, at a meeting with therapists, perhaps the parent could suggest that the meeting start by everyone at the table stating what they think the child's greatest strength is.
How do you think we can keep reminding ourselves and support people of the strengths of the people with disabilities in our lives?