I recently had the very good fortune to meet a lovely family. This family comprises of three children; the mother is a stay at home Mum and Dad works as an engineer. The two elder children have some learning issues and it has been a huge struggle for the parents to get some 'real' help to assist with their children. The middle girl, is 7 and she has had numerous assessments by psychologists, ST & OTs and while they all elude to a possible 'Autism' diagnosis, none will commit to this diagnosis. This poor Mum is at her wit's end. She also had an IQ assessment (WISC IV) and was given quite a low score and the psychologist basically told Mum to go home and 'just love' this girl as she probably will not be able to achieve alot. Honestly, when I heard this I just wanted to cry. Is this what we tell parents ... really?
First of all, a WISC IV assessment is one assessment, done on one day when the child may have had a bad day; felt ill; couldn't be bothered; or felt bored and possibly insulted by the whole process....we just don't know and second, if this child does have autism (which all the other tests suggest), an IQ test can hardly be accurate for this student. Yet, interestingly the psychologist had more faith in her IQ test, than providing an autism diagnosis? Why is that?
I'm frustrated and saddened, so I can only try to imagine what it is like for parents. The latest from the psychologist is that while &%$# may have autism, we need to wait two more years as girls tend to show more symptoms by then. So what are the parents supposed to do in the mean time? It's a crying shame and to me a most untenable situation. Surely it is better that we work with the facts we have - not to label this child - but to give the parents some foundation to work with....instead parents are sent away with nothing but despair and fear.
I believe we need a complete overhaul of the medical process of getting a diagnosis for these kids; would we sit and wait to see if we had a 'cancer' diagnosis? I know cancer is potentially life threatening, but honestly undiagnosed 'autism' is soul destroying; relationship endangering; and in many ways neglectful to the children. If we think about the sensory issues alone; it is imperative that we know what the student's sensory issues are so that we can provide the appropriate sensory diet and preventions.
Parents need time to prepare; they need time to adjust; they need time to move forward so that the family can live in the most positive way possible. As professionals, we need to help parents to achieve this. Also, we should no longer give parents a 'no hope' diagnosis.....every situation has hope; every child has potential; every single child has the right for us to give them a recipe for success measured by their own potential and ability.
It is my long term goal in life to eliminate ridiculous single testing as a way to assess so called ability and intelligence, as this kind of testing does NOT look at the child from a holistic perspective. And it is from a holistic perspective we MUST assess each and every child; we need to look at tests, behaviour, talents, specific achievements, creativity, language, memory etc. Then we find what each child is GOOD at; what their specific TALENT is, this becomes the platform from which we teach them. The deficit model of teaching is no longer relevant in the 21st century when we have so much technology to assist in learning and education. Some people baulk at technology stunting children's learning, when I am convinced technology is a true gift, especially to kids who have differing abilities.
We wouldn't turn our back on the latest machinery to wash our clothes, or wash our dishes; instead insisting that we wash everything by hand. So, we shouldn't turn our back on anything that can improve all children's education.
So, what of the lovely family I met? All I can do is offer this family hope and belief that we work with the facts at hand, look at the children individually and uniquely and provide strategies and ideas to assist the entire family to achieve success. This is the most valuable gift we can offer families in a tenuous situation. Hope is the thing we can cling onto when everything else seems so dark. Hope shines a light for the future.