Monday, April 27, 2015

Unconditional love

In a thought-provoking column, David Brooks posits a straw-man argument, between conditional love, which he equates to a meritocracy, and unconditional love, which he equates to... love without concern for merit. Parents use behavioral principles of reinforcement to teach their children, some more effectively than others.

Whether "love" should be the reinforcer is a question--and anyway what is "love"? Attention, smiles, encouraging verbal behavior... Brooks and others need to define it in observable and measurable terms (not easy for "love"), if they claim it's the conditioning stimulus (i.e., reinforcer).

So what about unconditional love? It teaches a child that whatever he or she does is OK--or does it?
Back to the definition of love: A parent can convey the message I love you no matter what, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to consequate your behavior differentially. For example, you wanted to spend the night with your friend, but you're not going to now, because of what you did (or didn't do) today, but I still love you. In fact, I'm doing it because I love you.

Right! thinks the child. It doesn't matter what the child thinks in the moment. That's the part a lot of modern American parents don't get. They see only the short view (am I popular with my child? Does my child love me?), not the long view (Is my child turning out independent, knowing right from wrong, interested in the world, and able to get along with others?).

And there you have my opinion of the four worthwhile goals parents have for their kids.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Shortcuts With the RBI

Sorry, but no effective shortcuts for the Routines-Based Interview (RBI) have been found. It's interesting that one of the most effective practices we have--one that families like--is one where professionals balk at the 2 hours it takes. Do we live in such a rushed professional society that every encounter has to be short? This medical-model mentality simply doesn't fit a family-centered, intellectually valid approach to our work. The problem is compounded by a well-meaning legislated mandate in Part C of IDEA--to have the IFSP completed within 45 days of the referral. The policy is intended to prevent delays in serving children, but it makes fitting in a longish interview seem difficult.

The RBI has three main purposes: to establish a positive relationship with the family, to get a rich and thick description of the child and family functioning, and to obtain a family-chosen list of functional outcomes/goals. So splitting it up, which is one frequently mentioned idea, wouldn’t work. Many good minds have applied themselves to the problem of the long RBI, but no good shortcuts have been found. So I always suggest people consider what’s using up all the time in the 45 days and it usually boils down to something to do with the evaluation: scheduling evaluators, the evaluation taking a really long time and therefore needing its own meeting, and so on. Many places successfully fit in four visits: intake, eligibility evaluation, RBI, finalize the IFSP. Places that don’t or that are afraid of going over the 45 days, bunch up two of these meetings into one meeting, usually either evaluation and RBI or RBI and finalize the IFSP. If the former, I urge them to examine their evaluation practices to choose the most efficient tool and not to turn the in-or-out event into a quasi-diagnostic encounter.

Almost all RBIs require some time management, and I train people to keep up the detail of information discussed within routines, but, if necessary, skip routines to be finished within 2 hours. Actually, the interview needs to be over after 1.5 hours, because the recap, goal selection, prioritizing, and criteria discussion (something new we’ve added) will take half an hour. Experienced interviewers know not to skip dinner preparation, bath time, and bed time. 

The RBI doesn’t claim to get everything—just enough--to come up with 10-12 goals, including family ones. So, if we skipped routines but we got enough goals, we don’t have to “continue the RBI.” We never split the RBI up over two days. There’s something about the arc of a complete interview, in terms of the relationship building, that is disrupted if we break it off in mid-stream and then, later, try to continue it.

Plan for the 2 hours and enjoy it. Families will.