The "Can" Revolution

This is a Facebook post of mine from last week that I wanted to share here, as well:

I work for the @Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee, have a God son with Down syndrome, and scores of friends with kids with Down syndrome. Suffice it to say that I ADORE kids/people with Down syndrome. I feel similarly about kids/people with any kind of disability, but this post is geared towards those with some form of intellectual or developmental disability. (which obviously includes a much larger population than just folks with Down syndrome).

I have, for years, advocated for the educational rights of students with disabilities. And I have consistently throughout those years encountered folks who make dangerous assumptions about kids, especially about kids with intellectual disabilities. It happened last week (3 year old with a chromosomal abnormality "needs" to be in a special education classroom because he likely "won't be able to handle" a pre-k classroom with a mix of typical and non-typical kids) and again this week (one reason elementary-aged student with Down syndrome is having behavior is that he "obviously doesn't understand what's being taught in the classroom").

In both of these examples, there was zero data or actual evidence that either of these assumptions were correct, and in both cases, had the assumption not been challenged, it would likely have led to a negative outcome for the student. In both of those meetings, I shared with the team the concept of "least dangerous assumption," with which I recently have become acquainted. Over 30 years ago, special educator Anne McDonnellan coined this phrase by stating that in the “absence of conclusive data, educational decisions ought to be based on assumptions which, if incorrect, will have the least dangerous effect on the likelihood that students will be able to functional independently as adults.” She also argued that educators should assume a student’s “poor performance is due to instructional inadequacies rather than student deficiencies.” In other words, according to Ms. McDonnellan, we should assume competence and ability, not incompetence and inability, AND failing to do so threatens to deprive folks of the opportunities and exposures needed to lead them to living full, independent lives.

THIS, my friends, is the paradigm shift that I believe we so badly need in this world in order to move our wonderful friends with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities from the margins into the mainstream. Turning back to my examples above, I had to challenge the folks at the tables in both of those meetings -- how do we know that so-and-so won't be able to "handle" the inclusive classroom, I asked, and we have no evidence that so-and-so isn't understanding what's happening in the classroom; that's just an unsupported assumption, I stated. In both cases, I'm glad to say, there wasn't a whole lot of push back to my comments/questions, and one team member even stated at the end of the meeting that she "had learned a lot from me" during the meeting. Ha! Obviously, I take zero credit for having come up with this brilliant concept/way of describing how we should approach decision-making related to people with disabilities, but I am grateful that her ears and mind were open to hearing it.

With that, I will simply say that if each one of us can do our part in trying to shift the paradigm from what our kids and adults CAN'T do to what they CAN do, as well as to encourage others to (a) not make assumptions about what folks can/can't do; and (b) if assumptions are made, to ensure that they are the least dangerous assumptions possible, we can all contribute to making this world a much better place where our friends with different/better/amazing gifts are more fully included in every aspect of society!  #yesyoucan#yesican #yesshecan #yeshecan#thecanrevolution