Presume Competence

“Rather than labeling individuals as “low functioning” or “high functioning,” we should recognize that people with autism vary in their ability to demonstrate competence. Our responsibility is then to presume, find, and strengthen that competence. “ John P Hussman, Hussman Institute for Autism.

One of the first and most important steps in preserving dignity and improving the lives of autistic individuals begins with presuming competence. This means understanding that everyone has the ability to think, feel and grow, even if not immediately obvious on the outside. Behavior is communication. Behavior does not just happen randomly.

Presuming competence means that we respect that behavior is motivated by a number of factors, including a physiological need, physical discomfort, frustration, the need to communicate, sensory needs, etc. Behaviors that are observable to us may be communicating a more covert event taking place for the individual.

Allowing constant unrestricted access to communication systems (i.e. AAC, PECS etc.) is imperative. Presuming competence means that we assume the person is attempting to communicate through their behavior, and offer a mode of communication with the necessary assistance to help meet their need. A lack of verbal language does not necessarily equate to low intelligence. Language delays or difficulties may not always stem from cognitive deficits.

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