December 1, 2012

“Presuming Competence”….and “The Least Dangerous Assumption”….

Posted in Assistive Technology, Autism, Presuming Competence at 11:16 AM by kellyvansingel

December 1, 2012

This morning I was enjoying a post called “How do you know?”  by Stephanie Ekis, MS, CCC-SLP on Sometimes knowing when and how a user should be a candidate for communication technology can be a tough question to answer.  Depending on who you ask– you may get a variety of answers.  There are two concepts that can help along the journey of finding the answer: ‘presuming competence’ and the ‘least dangerous assumption.’

What is Presuming Competence? (excerpt from source: Douglas Biklen: “Begin by presuming competence”).

Can you explain the concept of “presuming competence” and how it relates to inclusive education?

When Anne Sullivan first worked with Helen Keller, she approached her with the presumption that she was competent, that Helen’s problem emanated from her not having an effective means of communication.   Even before Anne began to work with Helen, there was evidence of her desire to communicate—she used pantomime to show her interest in making ice cream or wanting toast with butter.  But it was Anne’s introduction of spelling and words that proved liberating for Helen.

The principle of “presuming competence,” is simply to act as Anne Sullivan did.  Assume that a child has intellectual ability, provide opportunities to be exposed to learning, assume the child wants to learn and assert him or herself in the world. To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world.  Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators. It is a framework that says, approach each child as wanting to be fully included, wanting acceptance and appreciation, wanting to learn, wanting to be heard, wanting to contribute.  By presuming competence, educators place the burden on themselves to come up with ever more creative, innovative ways for individuals to learn.  The question is no longer who can be included or who can learn, but how can we achieve inclusive education.  We begin by presuming competence.

What is The Least Dangerous Assumption? (excerpt from source: Kate Ahern: Living the Least Dangerous Assumption).

We live in a land of prerequisites and accountability, which leaves little room for “The Least Dangerous Assumption”  as pioneered by Anne Donnellan  and clarified by Rossetti and Tashie (2002).  The least dangerous assumption is, of course, the premise that (in the absence of evidence) we believe we not yet found a way to make it so a child or adult with a disability “can” instead of believing he or she “can’t”.

The issue, sadly, sometimes becomes that making the least dangerous assumption and thus presuming competence uses resources (time, money, energy).  We must come to understand that refusing to presume competence is, in the long run, more costly than making that least dangerous assumption.

A New Paradigm (excerpt source from Stephanie Ekis: How do you know?)

In an article written by C. Jorgensen (2005), she proposes a new paradigm in the area of disability and competence.  She found that often times if the child’s support team wasn’t sure what the child was capable of, it was presumed that the child could not (and never would be able to) learn to communicate.  Jorgensen advocates that setting high expectations should be the basis for decision making regarding educational programming.  In addition, Jorgensen believes that decisions made based on high expectations will lead to a higher quality of life in both school and beyond.

Check out this presentation entitled “The Least Dangerous Assumption”, Cheryl Jorgenson, Ph.D.:

Aim high with those expectations. Presume competence in those who are differently-abled.  A paradigm shift can make all the difference in long term outcomes.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.

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