Values and methods for teaching mastery of essential skills

by Nathan E. Ory, M.A. Registered Psychologist (B.C.)

Challenging Behavior Analysis and Consultation
These values and methods apply equally well to any area of concern. Teaching gross and fine motor skills such as piano, guitar, golf, yoga, squash, swimming. Teaching verbal skills such as English as a second language. Teaching any unknown skill such as horseback riding, car repair, wall papering, etc. Teaching RRSP investment strategies, or any educational content to an uncertain or confused, new learner.

The same principles apply to teaching social or life skills to a person with developmental disability.

Imagine yourself “coaching perfection” in each area of concern. In each area of deficiency, “fill in the blanks” with and for person who does not or can not make the connection for or by themselves. Break the subject down into smaller and smaller parts. Teach the learner “tricks” which allow them to self-cue (visual imaging, lists, metaphors.)

Developing “independence” in persons who are functionally dependent.

“Insist”, persist, and assist!

Children with autism will often only respond to “imperatives” or “absolutes”. If the intent for their action is not made clearly enough they may be unable to focus on what is expected of them. How to do this without creating a sense of “pressure”, initiating a “power struggle”, or triggering explosive resistance?

When a child is very resistant to participating, often it is easier for a caregiver to simply do it yourself for the child. Independence will never be developed unless an opportunity is given for independence to occur. However, this needs to be done in a manner which will “set up” the learner to be successful.

1. First, “come alongside” the child by becoming involved with whatever they are doing at the time. “Tune in” to the child’s point of view. Get them interacting with you on their own terms. Then, engage the child in watching you do the task. Perhaps they can become involved in helping you. Remove any sense of pressure to perform.

2. “Insist” that the task be accomplished in an exact manner, with whatever level of participation that can be maintained. “Insist” by being explict, clear, precise, and black/white about the way things need to be done. Be structured in your approach, one step at a time. Follow through until you and the learner are successful in doing the activity together. Expect success.

Insisting without persisting will not lead to development of skill or independence. Once you determine that a particular skill is worth developing, carry on as long as necessary until a level of independent competency is developed.

3. Persist in your expectation that the person will eventually develop a level of at least partial independence. Repeat your expectation as often as necessary. Persist, even if at best this is to have the child passively “tolerate” the caregiver doing the task for or with them. Where life has been full of explosive, resistant behavior “peaceful coexistence” is a worth while goal to achieve.

Persisting without assisting will not lead to development of skill or independence. Simply telling the person what to do, each step of the way will only make the person dependent upon you to be able to function.

4. Assist as necessary. The value statement to guide our actions is to “Give as little help as is possible, but give as much as is necessary” for the person to be successful in accomplishing whatever you are attempting.

Nathan Ory, M.A.

Registered Psychologist

Island Mental Health Support Team, November, 1999

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