What is a “good day” in the life of your child?
This is an important question, because we frequently get reports from teachers, therapists, and other care providers as to whether our children have had good days or bad days. Unfortunately, the answers to this question are loaded with subjective assumptions. It seems that no matter how clearly you try to express your expectations, the people who work with your child are going to develop their own subjective interpretation of what a “good day” looks like.
On one hand, we need to be flexible. Our children’s behaviors differ across environments and so do the behaviors they are required to perform in order to succeed. On the other hand, the feedback you receive reflects their subjective assumptions, not your own, so you may be getting a faulty impression of your child’s success in a certain program or environment.
As I’ve discussed, Ben has been struggling in school. I went in for a visit to see if I could pinpoint the source of a recurring problem. Except, according to school staff, my son was having a good day. So, I observed, for about an hour, this “good day.”
Considering the problematic behaviors I’d been hearing about, I suppose it was a good day. Ben stuck to his routine. There was very little in the way of resistance behaviors. There were no pinching or other outbursts.
Considering reasonable school expectations, even for a child with autism, I can’t see how this could be a “good day.” School progress requires concentration and application. It’s about learning, not just managing sensory needs and managing explosive behaviors.
All things considered, after this long and troublesome year, I suppose, perhaps, it’s reasonable to call what I saw a “good day.” The problem, however, is that Ben can do so much better than what I observed. He’s capable of focus. He can apply himself to his work. He can have his needs met and meet scholastic and behavioral expectations. I’ve seen it happen. His on-going, at-home therapist can get this kind of “good day” out of him consistently. Sure, even she has bad days with him, but these expectations aren’t out of reach.
No matter what we do, not every day is going to be a good day. But a good day shouldn’t be “getting by” by managing behaviors and needs. A good day involves meeting reasonable expectations. Reasonable expectations have to be adjusted to the child’s needs and abilities; that’s a big part of what special education is all about. However, those adjustments shouldn’t lower expectations to the point that “getting by” and managing behaviors is a “good day.” Our children can do better.