Presuming Competence

When he was in 5th grade, the school had my non-verbal son focusing on “identifying numbers 1-5”.  He was also trying to identify shapes and colors. He was 11 years old and yet he was essentially functioning at a preschool level based on a psychological evaluation administered from an “expert” from our school district. That same school year he catapulted his Ipad so many times it was eventually destroyed.   He pinched, scratched, grabbed, pulled hair and threw furniture. He made many holes in the walls of our house and we had to remove all the wall hangings in his room because they became flying weapons. I was tired, scared and looked like a battered women.   I cried a lot during this time. Our lives were very dark.

In the 1950’s Dr. Ivar Lovaas researched and designed a technique known as ABA or, Applied Behavior Analysis. This was the technique used for people with autism to learn language. Of course, we started this therapy with my son when he was 2 years old and just diagnosed. Everyone swore that it was the best way to help our kids.   Jack was using this same technique in school up until he learned to type.   Unfortunately, he was presumed to be intellectually impaired when he was actually quite smart. What Dr. Lovaas failed to research or understand, is that kids with autism cannot control their bodies despite how hard they try. So, when jack was asked to “touch the number 5” he couldn’t do it because his body wouldn’t allow him. Therefore, they continued to teach him the number 5 over and over and over again because they made the drastic mistake of assuming that he had control over his body and that he was just “acting out” to avoid doing work. Now I get why he beat the crap out of everyone in his path. He was a very smart kid being ordered to do very dumb things; he was unbelievably frustrated and this made him downright angry.

As a last ditch effort to try “one more” therapy to help him, in November of 2013 we found Soma and RPM (Rapid Prompting Method).   With sound technique and the vital presumption competence, Jack quickly learned to type to communicate.  Today he is learning and succeeding (aka kicking ass) in general education classes. We just received his statewide assessment scores and he scored above average for students in our school, our district and the entire state of Maryland.   Since he learned to type his behaviors have disappeared.

I thank God, Prozac and wine for getting me where I am today. I work on not being bitter that we spent our entire life savings on private ABA therapy but on the fact that we needed to go there to get here.   Today, when I received Jack’s assessment scores I was overwhelmed.   He did it.   We did it. We proved that autism isn’t an impairment that requires electric shock therapy. It’s just a different operating system of learning and functioning and today…people are starting to presume my son’s competence and now, we have proof.


Keep going Jack man…. the best is yet to come.



8 comments… add one

  • Jessica Dry September 22, 2016, 8:26 pm

    Wow Amy. Just wow. You’re amazing. And I’ve heard so many great things from Kris about you and Jack. I hope to meet you someday.

  • Barbara September 23, 2016, 8:19 am

    Jack and family fought a long, hard fighting and are trailblazing the way for so many of our students who are in programs where “presume competence” is limited to things like learning to ask for bathroom or identifying pictures and objects without context or meaning. I am so impressed and proud of this family and what they have helped other families realize. Autism is a different operating system and Moro differences and difficulties are the core. Keep trailblazing Jack!

  • Melissa Egan September 23, 2016, 8:56 am

    Amy, your family changed my family’s life and perspective 360 degrees. Thank you for being so open with your family’s story, so that many others can imagine other outcomes for our kiddos. God bless you and your family for showing us what can be!

  • Doreen Davis September 23, 2016, 9:44 am

    This is so inspiring and I’m sure that your trials and successes help others thanks to your openness. Jack sounds like an amazing kid!

  • Virginia McGraw September 23, 2016, 11:10 am

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story and your perseverance may God bless you and your family.

  • Diane Shuster September 23, 2016, 12:24 pm

    Thank you for this view into a very difficult time and the awesome break through for all of you. Praying blessings for your entire family…..Love you all!

  • Anita Espersen September 23, 2016, 1:16 pm

    Amy, What a wonderful accomplishment! I worked with very young autistic children, and I always felt like I could help them more, if only I knew what they were trying to communicate. It really is a challenge to find what is right for each child. I am so happy for Jack and all of you.

  • Brooke Potthast September 24, 2016, 8:36 am

    Jack is a rockstar! And you my friend are a huge gift to those of us who get to share life with you
    (even if autism is part of it)!! Love you guys


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