Presume Competence: A Hippocratic Oath for Education

“To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world. Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators.”

Never assume that the ability to speak equals intelligence. There are plenty of autistic people who have trouble speaking but who have glorious creative worlds inside them seeking avenues of expression. Never assume that an autistic person who can’t speak isn’t listening closely to every word you say, or isn’t feeling the emotional impact of your words. I’ve interviewed many autistic people who said they could hear and understand everything around them while people called them “idiots” or described them as “out of it” to their faces. Ultimately, presuming competence is the ability to imagine that the person in front of you is just as human as you are, even if they seem to be very impaired. If you understand that the autistic students in your class are just as complex and nuanced and intensely emotional and hopeful as you are, you’ll do everything in your power to help them lead happier and more engaged lives.

Source: A Q&A about autism with Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes

Presume competence. Begin any new learning adventure from a point of aspiration rather than deficit. Children know when you don’t believe in them and it affects their progress. Instead, assume they’re capable; they’ll usually surprise you. If you’re concerned, start small and build toward a goal.

Source: A parent’s advice to a teacher of autistic kids

Presume competence means – assume your child is aware and able to understand even though they may not show this to you in a way that you are able to recognize or understand.

To presume competence means to assume your child or the other person does and can understand when they are being spoken of and to.

Presume competence means talk to your child or the other person as you would a same age non-Autistic child or person.

Presumptions of competence means treating the other person with respect and as an equal without pity or infantilization.

It does not mean that we will carry expectations that if not met will cause us to admonish, scold or assume the person is being manipulative or just needs to “try harder”.

To presume competence does not mean we assume there is a “neurotypical” person “trapped” or “imprisoned” under an Autistic “shell”.

Presuming competence is not an act of kindness.

Presuming competence is not something we do because we are a “good” person.

We do not get to pat ourselves on the back because we have presumed competence. If we believe we deserve a pat on the back and/or acknowledgement, then we are not presuming competence, we are more likely being condescending.

Source: “Presume Competence” – What Does That Mean Exactly? | Emma’s Hope Book

What you will need is the awareness and patience to embrace people with autism as different, not less; the willingness to presume that people with autism are competent – even if evidence may be not be available at first; and the understanding that behavior is not random, but is instead motivated by necessity, frustration, sensory differences, or the need to communicate a request or thought.

People with autism may experience the world in ways that are unfamiliar to us, but they need us to remember that what we see on the outside may not be an accurate reflection of what exists within. The ability to communicate or regulate social interaction should not be confused with the ability to think or the capacity to love. Rather than labeling individuals as “low functioning” or “high functioning,” we should recognize that people with autism vary in their ability to demonstrate competence. Our responsibility is then to presume, find, and strengthen that competence.

Just because a child may not be able to speak doesn’t mean that he has nothing to say. Just because a person may be overwhelmed in social situations doesn’t mean that she doesn’t long for friendship. Just because someone has difficulty initiating movement doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to participate.

Researchers in applied psychology often use the term “child efficacy” to describe the belief that a child is capable of learning and improving. Likewise, the term “self-efficacy” is used to describe our own beliefs that we as parents or teachers are capable of helping a child to improve. It’s critical not only to recognize that a child can learn, understand, and improve, but that we have the ability to help.

The beliefs that parents and teachers have about their own abilities have an important effect on later outcomes for children with autism and other challenges. Greater parent efficacy results in more positive interactions with children, decreased coercive discipline, improved classroom behavior, reduced behavior problems, lower family stress, reduced parental vulnerability to stress and depression, and increased satisfaction with family life. These outcomes have been reported even after controlling for a wide variety of other factors.

Our beliefs that we are capable of helping are more than just happy feelings – they affect the amount of time we engage with people with autism, the quality of our teaching efforts, how frequently we offer them learning opportunities, and how patient we are in resolving difficulties. In a longitudinal study of children with disabilities and behavior problems, parental optimism/pessimism was the single best predictor of which children would have more severe problems years later.

Source: Presume Competence: A guide to successful, evidence-based principles for supporting and engaging individuals with autism

As a result of long-standing mythical and erroneous perceptions, when we encounter a person with a disability, positive presumptions and attitudes may be instantly replaced by negative stereotypes and prejudice (yes, we pre- judge), and the person with a disability is Presumed Incompetent. The guilt-by-association mentality may also kick in, so the person’s parents may also be Presumed Incompetent. (I was once told that my family was dysfunctional, our daughter was dysfunctional, and my husband and I were dysfunctional because of our son’s disability!)

Traditionally, we’ve Presumed Incompetence and forced a person with a disability to prove she’s competent before allowing her to be in a general ed classroom, participate in community activities, be employed in a real job, live in the home of her choice, etc. It’s easy to see that our actions put people with disabilities in a no-win situation: because we presume they’re incompetent, we don’t give them opportunities to demonstrate their competence, and this, in turn, is taken as “proof ” that they are, indeed, incompetent. The vicious cycle of the self-fullling prophecy is realized.

Source: Presume Competence

And here is a skeptical counterpoint. Don’t use “Presume Competence” or any other phrase as a substitute for thinking critically and responding to data. Don’t wrap discredited methods in “Presume Competence”. Growth Mindset has some good qualities, but the implementation is usually busywork for deficit model bikeshedders. Mind the implementation.

“Presume competence” appears to be the rallying cry for full inclusion advocates, but also is used to defend pseudoscientific and invalidated interventions like facilitated communication and rapid prompting method. The notion seems largely supported by professionals aligned with a postmodern epistemology and may have been a strategic tactic by proponents like Douglas Biklen. Is “presuming competence” different from “presuming capable” and, regardless of the position, should we refrain from skepticism of people like Carly Fleischmann, Ido Kedar, and Sue Rubin to implicitly endorse the notion, or suspend belief until compelling evidence to substantiate their communicative competence is presented?

Source: Is “presume competence” a propaganda phrase for fully inclusive education? – ResearchGate

Presuming competence is not idealism. Idealism ignores that there are challenges or barriers to overcome. The very definition is that the ideals are often “unrealistic.

Presuming competence is a philosophical difference. It’s a belief in socializing students for courage instead of compliance.

It is more than an ideology because when you start from the mindset that someone is capable and can grow, your actions start to reflect that. There are concrete, evidence-based ways that you can presume competence.

Presuming competence is more than believing that a child is competent of thoughts, ideas, and learning. It is also the practice of making sure people – ALL people – have the right to talk about what THEY want, even if it’s not the topic we planned.

Presuming competence isn’t about belief in students in the absence of evidence. It is a belief in their right to access the communication to demonstrate their abilities as humans. You’ll never gather evidence without providing opportunity. So when you’re marking down minuses on data sheets, ask yourself, “Is it possible that there isn’t an adequate way for them to show me that they know this?” When you do that, and acknowledge that there are a range of variables between a plus and a minus, you start to problem solve for your student(s) instead of testing them.

Presuming competence is giving students the opportunity to learn literacy, math, science, and history regardless of their disability.

It is providing the chance to build relationships. It’s exposing students with CCN to leisure activities and allowing them to decide if it’s something they enjoy.

Presuming competence gives children a chance to explore and make mistakes without penalty. It gives them time to learn with support rather than testing or criticism.  When you presume competence, you give the child a safe place to fail and the ability to learn from those small failures and try again. It’s how we grow. That growth and the confidence students gain from overcoming challenges gives them the courage to keep moving forward and develop skills to demonstrate their competence.

Source: Presuming Competence in Practice

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