The Role of a Facilitator in Programming for a Child in Special Education
The key to a successful program for a student with a Nonverbal Learning Disability or an Executive Function Deficit in public school is an individual who is willing to oversee and facilitate each domain in his/her school environment
G. Emerson Dickman, J.D.
Many schools are experiencing significant problems with regard to a population of children with mild multiple handicaps. [You mildly twist one ankle you limp (functional impact negligible), you mildly twist two ankles you can’t walk (functional impact very significant).] We can’t afford to shoehorn children into neat little pigeonholes. This approach, referred to in the medical profession as “conservation of diagnosis”, would have us respond only to the most obvious of the child’s weaknesses and ignore any other problems until they too demand our attention.
Because of the complex nature of their neurobiological and neuropsychological profiles many children live in hostile, stressful, and anxiety producing environments. Such a child lives in an environment where goals are established that cannot be achieved and neglect, rejection, and abuse mark peer relationships.
The dynamic is such that the child has the potential of becoming unhappy, manipulative, and tyrannical, or unhappy, withdrawn, and depressed. The love that parents have for their children forces them to seek answers for their child’s unhappiness. The correlation between school and increasing unhappiness seems inescapable. Parents, often confusing cause and correlation, blame the school (the school, often confusing cause and correlation, blames the parent). The “blame game” overlooks the part the child pays in molding the environment in which he or she must perform.
“Problems associated with aspects of nonverbal learning disability include visual-motor integration difficulty, visual-spatial and sequencing weaknesses, problems with initiation and shifting and more general difficulties with adaptive and social behavior. Good verbal skills often mask some of these intrinsic difficulties and lead to unrealistic expectations or lack of understanding on the part of adults as to this complex set of special needs. Children with this neuropsychological profile can find the adaptive demands of school overwhelming, especially as they progress into middle school, which requires much more organization, productivity and self-regulation. Their anxiety can be alleviated by placement in a small, protective setting that minimizes transitions, that emphasizes closure on tasks obtained at a comfortable pace, that provides a lot o organizational help and that employs structured, systematic teaching.” (Louisa Moats, personal correspondence 6/96)
Such a child requires safety and needs to be protected from the hostility that is perceived in his environment. In order to provide a safe, comfortable, nurturing environment capable of maximizing the potential of such a child, external influences must be engaged to insure predictability and consistency in all environmental domains in which he or she participates. Everyone must be part of the effort (parents, educators, coaches, therapists, etc.)
The ideal environment must be:
- Structured (predictable).
- Consistent (everyone must be prepared to respond in a similar manner to a similar experience — both reward and punishment).
- Reasonable in its expectations (goals must be continuously assessed, based on performance, and adjusted to remain challenging but not overwhelming).
In order to accomplish a predictable yet challenging environment across domains, a single individual must assume the responsibility to facilitate and collaborate with all staff with domain specific responsibilities (gym, social studies, lunch, etc.). Such a person must assume a position at the top of the pyramid and be available, at all times, to collaborate with others and facilitate when new behaviors are encountered to insure appropriateness and consistency of response.
A facilitator is not a shadow or an aide. A facilitator should have the following characteristics:
- The respect of the teachers.
- A lifetime learner.
- A creative problem-solver.
With such a person conducting the orchestra, the sound produced in the child’s environment will be music instead of noise.