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Opinion & Essays - Aug, 1997 Issue #47

By Lon Woodbury 

....is the preferred way educational consultants work with families who have a child with behavioral/emotional problems. In fact, many would say that is the ONLY way those children’s needs can be met. At first glance, this would seem to be just plain common sense. After all, most of our lives are made up in dealing with one person at a time. We pay for groceries to one clerk at a time, we are married to one person at a time (most of us 8:] ), most conversations are to one person at a time, and our clients come to us one at a time. Of course, we participate in a lot of group activities too, but it still is the uniquely individual experiences we carry from those activities that remain the next day. 

Children need frequent attention from a significant adult to grow up properly, and the best quality time for a child is a parent or significant adult giving frequent undivided attention to that child. Cause and effect, accountability, and responsibility are primarily individual concerns, more than relating to groups. So, isn’t this the way things work in our late 20th century? 

Actually, NO! The “One child at a time” perspective seems almost the exception anymore, especially in professional and scientific circles. 

For example, when a person applies for insurance, the premium is based on which “group” or “category” the applicant is in, with little or no consideration given to individual and personal attributes. For example the safest driver in the world will still have a high premium if he is male and under age 25 (modified slightly if qualified for the “honor student” sub-group of course). Or take legislation and the law, which has expanded into virtually every area of our lives. All law must be written for categories or groups of people with specified common characteristics, and cannot be written to apply to specific individuals except in a few special exceptions. (This perspective had something to do with the arbitrariness of King George III and his government officials). This applies to government agencies and programs, and government employees also since their prime directive is to objectively apply the law. 

Environmental research demonstrates how in this century we have moved from a focus on specific cause and effect (the individual’s view of the world), to conclusions based on research on categories (the professional’s view of the world). For example, research never did establish that if a person smokes, certain health consequences will happen to him/her. What it did establish is if you compare a group of smokers with a group of non-smokers who otherwise were the equivalent, there will be a higher percentage of negative health consequences in the group of smokers. Thus, the analysis was accepted that smokers are considered to be at higher risk for negative health consequences. It also accepts that there are individual exceptions in both directions contrary to the main underlying trend. 

We hear a lot about the dangers of environmental hazards, foods, pollutants, etc. These dangers were also established in this way, that is by analyzing and comparing groups, and observing and interpreting the differences between the groups Professionals were not able to justify these conclusions on a study of individual situations because there were too many exceptions, but analysis by group or category did allow specific conclusions. 

Public education has often been referred to as mass education. Throughout this century, for the resources and numbers of teachers available, the number of children has seemed to be too overwhelming for it to be possible to meet individual needs, so decisions were made by categories. According to law, if you are in the category of ages 6 to 16, you must go to school. Never mind if any individual child was ready earlier, or not developmentally ready yet, or needed to go a different speed, a way must be found to conform to the norm of the category they were placed in. Students usually move through school with their age group category (with minor modifications as responses to specific problems). Essentially, students are provided pre-determined solutions to pre-conceived problems. 

The use of diagnosis (called a label by some) in the medical profession comes from the early 20th century realization that similar symptoms were caused by the same germ, thus creating categories of diseases. The transfer of this to mental and emotional problems gave us “ADD kids,” and “Conduct Disorder kids,” and “Learning Disabled kids,” etc., new categories unknown even just a few years ago. Especially in the last few decades, professionals and experts in all areas have learned to think in terms of categories because it has been accepted as a valuable tool for understanding the world around us. So does that mean “One Child at a Time” is an outmoded and a rapidly disappearing approach for professionals working with the public, and especially working with children? I doubt it! 

A very common complaint I hear from parents about other child professionals the parents have worked with is something like, “I don’t know how they could decide what should be done about him/her since they knew very little about us or our child.” Obviously, with these parents, theories and category thinking got in the way of the professionals focusing on the unique dynamics of the child and parents sitting in front of them. Most parents who have sought me out and asked my advice have had negative feelings about other professionals “not listening to them.” 

Observers say we are increasingly becoming a consumer driven society, where sophisticated consumers know what they want and will accept nothing less. 

What parents want is help in meeting the individual needs of their child. As time goes by, I expect more parents will demand professionals who can reassure the parents the individual needs of the child is the real focus. The successful professionals will be the ones who can learn from the latest research, but translate that to individual children, one at a time, in a way parents judge is responsive to the individual needs of their child. 

Educational consultants who work with families with children having behavioral/emotional problems are already doing this, as are the network of emotional growth (character) schools and programs. Perhaps they are on the cutting edge of the 21st century standards, that is, a standard of meeting the needs of...

...One Child at a Time. 

Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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