Function. Higher-Lower-Communication

The Reason Why We Need To Use Better Words when Describing People with Autism

Sometimes saying and describing things and people just requires more sentences.  Here is what’s wrong with Function.  It’s a statement about good enough.  Just enough.  Minimal ability to get over a hump.

But let’s face it..all humps are not the same.  If I remove my client from their current environment and , let’s say, take them some place else…the hump may be different in size-steep-climb.  So function here…does not mean functional there.

Why when it comes to people with disabilities, the word functional is acceptable to describe being able to navigate independently in this world?

There is a great quote that says “If All My Possessions were Taking From Me and I Could Keep One, I would Choose Communication…it’s the mode that allows me to get-attain all the rest”.  With this quote, Functional has never been mentioned.  In no other industry or description of a neurotypical child, is the word functional acceptable.  Can you imagine having a seven year old who can say his name and being told his ability to do that is functional…meanwhile, you see all the other seven year olds holding conversations (protesting, negotiating).  Whoever sold us the bill of goods that functional is a word to describe people…get a refund.

I recently called into an IEP meeting and let out a big sigh.  Why?  Because the SLP stated that it was okay for a child to speak in single words because it’s functional. It was further stated that making a goal for more words-extended sentences…would need further data to decide if it should be a goal.  What the What??  Always bear in mind…the extent of your child’s program may often times be based in the belief system about what people with disabilities can achieve and/or about that practitioner’s breadth of knowledge.  If a practitioner believes that a child with severe speech apraxia should only use single words, that will be the focus of the program.  If a practitioner, believes that teaching a nonverbal child to read is out of the question; you’ll never see that goal manifest.

Here is what you (parent-provider) should think about wherever or whatever the future holds for your child:  You want them to be able to:

  1. Tell you who did it and what happened.  (Agent + Action)
  2. Tell you who did it and a descriptor (Agent + Attribute)
  3. Tell you who did it, what happened, and how it made them feel (Agent + Action + Feeling State)
  4. Tell you where it hurts (Noun -body part + feeling)
  5. Tell you what happened, why it happened, and predictions (should they participate in this activity again (action, because statement, and yes/no)
  6. Answer accurately yes/no (things happening in front of them)
  7. Answer accurately yes/no (things they need to recall).

You also need to know that being literate, does not completely mean reading-decoding.  It’s about being able to engage in print, read for safety, and think.

Therapy MUST make you better. It no longer has a choice or time to be wasted.  Children, especially, children with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable citizens.

In whatever language they speak…we must teach beyond function.  Because functional will change.

Why?  Because the world changes.

It IS our collective responsibility to make sure that we move away from what we deem functional and TEACH THEM TO SPEAK.

And if your team is not working…get a new one.  All children grow up fast.  And for children with disabilities…no time should be wasted.

If you have been waiting on the right time to enroll your child in private therapy.  Stop it.  Pick up the phone and get them registered.

If you have been on a waiting list since forever.  Stop waiting.  Find someone else.

If you are trying to figure out how to get your child to therapy.  Stop waiting and figure it out.

If you are dissatisfied with your provider or want to know how-what they are doing…get involved, ask better questions (about data), and communicate with that provider.

In other words, time waits for no one.  Function and Functional will not be good enough…ever.


~Landria Seals Green, MA., CCC-SLP, BCBA

Executive Director and Founder

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