Monday, November 28, 2011

Toy Bags Again

Banishing toy bags from home visits is both symbolic and meaningful. I have written about this issue before: Here's a summary:

Working from a toy bag implies that the home visitor’s interaction with the child for 1 hour a week is intervention.
The hour is better spent working with the parents, because adults can benefit from 1-hour, weekly sessions.
The toy bag implies that what the family has is inadequate.
The home visit should be, in part, about reassuring families’ of their competence.
If the toys are so important, why are they removed at the end of the visit?
The home visit should prepare the family to intervene during all the many hours between home visits.
Toy bag ladies (and gentlemen) spend 80% of the home visit on something that consumes 5-15% of a child’s time: adult-child-toy play.
Home visits should provide consultation to families on interventions that can happen in all naturally occurring routines.
Toy bag play tends to be adult-directed.
Intervention is most effective when it follows a child’ interest.

How Cognitive is Engagement?

In the early days of engagement research, engagement was measured as happening or not happening in planned activities. Our research, first with Carl Dunst and then with Don Bailey, and much since both of them, has emphasized the fact that engagement is not dichotomous variable. It is instead one that ranges from nonengagement (same as the dichotomous way of looking at it) to sophisticated behavior--a pot into which we put encoded, constructive, persistent, and symbolic). We usually array these codes in a developmental sequence, acknowledging that there is a "cognitive" component to the construct. Our studies have shown that Battelle scores were somewhat correlated with engagement levels.

In a study currently under review, conducted by the brilliant young Portuguese researcher, Cecilia Aguiar, sophisticated-engagement levels in classrooms were associated with sophisticated-engagement levels in homes. Does this mean children are carrying around their engagement trait from one setting to another?

Aguiar found that sophisticated engagement was correlated with age: Older children have more of it. Because children obviously carry around their age from one setting to another, ipso facto, engagement will look like a trait.

Engagement and developmental age are not exactly correlated, however, so we recognize that there is something of a developmental or "cognitive" dimension to engagement. But don't discount the environment. Within children who spend quite a lot of time engaged in a sophisticated manner, those in interesting environments are more likely to spend time in sophisticated engagement. Even more important, perhaps, children who spend much time nonengaged are more likely to be nonengaged in uninteresting settings.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Functionality in School-Aged Children

Question from Ireland: What in your opinion are the critical functional outcomes that apply generally to school-age children and their families?  

For children and youth with disabilities, I believe the core outcomes of engagement, independence, and social relationships (EISR) still apply—as well as quality of life for their families. My so-called expertise is limited to young children but I am the father of a person with disabilities, and other outcomes people mention for older children and adults (e.g., self-determination, feelings of belonging or membership, quality of life) in my experience are all tied to the big three. Of course, that might just be me, seeing everything through that lens.

For school-aged children, academic success is also important, but I see EISR as precursors to the ability to learn academic content. It’s just that we can’t stop at EISR. We have to ask what they will be useful for—self-fulfilment, becoming an interesting person and therefore having friends, getting a job, and so on.

I do think that self-determined satisfaction with one’s life is huge, within reason. You and I might share some common ideas about what should be a satisfactory life, based on our shared ability level and possibly some shared interests, but that doesn’t qualify us to determine what a satisfactory life is for someone else. On the other hand, we might have a responsibility to protect people. If a person likes sitting in front of a video game hour after hour, we might think this is a shallow, empty existence. The individual might think it’s a rich, interesting, exciting existence. If the person’s hours in front of the video game are during recreation time, that’s one thing. If the person doesn’t hold down a job, because of his or her obsession with video gaming, that’s another thing. We would presumably try to protect the person from penury by teaching him or her that that the decision to forego employment in favor of the video game is a bad one. A tricky issue. But the point I began with is that the variety of ways people with disabilities define their quality of life might be even bigger than the variety of definitions held by people without disabilities.