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Pain in the Assessment
What is the real purpose of doing an assessment?
By Colleen Tomko
Is it to compare how a person is to the norm?
If so, where will that lead to?
What can be done with information identifying a person's weaknesses?
Can you build goals on what a person cannot do?
What is this doing for my child?
These are the questions I began to ask myself as my husband and I sat in
a three-hour session with twelve professionals telling us what our child
can not do. We live with him, love him, and have known him from birth,
but somehow they were going to tell us what he can not do? Ironically,
we had never asked them what he couldn't do, how far behind he is, or
how he compares to other children.
Numerous professionals have told us,
literally hundreds of times, what our son's deficits and differences
are. He has grown up repeatedly hearing this. And to think, some of
these very people who analyze his deficits suggest placing him in a
segregated environment to "protect" him from being teased.
The result of all these assessments and
analysis has been a negative impact on our family and child's well
being. Hearing the very people working with your child describe him
negatively and not as a whole person with abilities and needs is
extremely distressful. As I sat and listened, they described some other
child, for it certainly wasn't mine. They described a child who
"chooses" to not do the things my son's disability limits him from
doing. What I was hearing was "how he wasn't performing," rather then
"how they were meeting his needs."
For us, it does not accomplish anything
to dwell on the already well documented limitations arising from our
child's disability. We are quite aware of his disability and pretty sure
that it isn't going to suddenly go away. The continual critiquing of
what others feel are your child's faults causes you to become defensive.
Most people would not want to have themselves or their children
described by what they can not do, let alone with a professional seal.
Instead, assessing how well the
environment and others are meeting our child's needs would be more
useful and meaningful. An assessment like this, focusing on how
adequately alternative methods, adaptations and supports are being
provided would more accurately reflect things that can readily be
changed. It would provide an avenue to plan for success without
continually redocumenting that our child has a disability.
Even though we feel that the
professionals mean well and are doing what they feel is best for our
child, we wonder how they would react to being evaluated on the same
terms. What if instead of looking at what they were accomplishing, they
were described in terms of what they were not able to achieve? What if
they were viewed as choosing not to do their job when they were not
provided with the supports and materials they needed? What if every time
they needed assistance, it was described as a way to prevent some
negative outcome rather then supporting a positive outcome? What if out
of twenty to thirty pages describing them only a few strengths were
listed? How would they react to attending a meeting with twelve people
telling them these things in this way? Would they feel defensive? Would
they get emotional?
We want others to see our child as a
whole person and to treat him as they would want themselves or their
children treated. Because he has a disability does not mean he does not
have abilities. It does not matter how he compares to others or if his
abilities are less then the "norm," they are still strengths. Looking at
what he can do is important and how to build on that to help him achieve
his individual potential. What matters most to us is that our son
remains on a path in life that leads him to a sense of purpose and
meaning, and feeling fulfilled in his life. Focusing on his weaknesses
does not lead to that path. Assessments must be based on strengths to be
useful in building goals and to accurately describe an individual.
Assessments should be purposeful, not painful.
Written by Colleen F. Tomko
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