Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Patty: YouTube 3
This week the YouTube Video has been transcribed by wonder niece Shannon. Out of the blue she sent an email offering to do these every now and then. This way, between she and Tessa, the content is made more accessible, I deeply thank both of them, most particularly Shannon this week.
By Dave Hingsburger
I left Victoria and moved to Ontario where I was to work in one of Canada’s largest institutions. I didn’t know it, because they had interviewed me over the telephone for the job, and when I arrived to find this absolutely enormous building where the main corridor was a kilometer long, I was absolutely astonished. So I went to work and I walked into the building and it was quite a different feeling from the institution in Victoria, because while Victoria was new and built on the side of the mountain this was – this was not new and it was – it was built on this huge flat plain and it was just this enormous, enormous building.
And I went to work on a ward for people who were deaf, and I was hired there because I had come up with a program for teaching communication to a guy with an intellectual disability that was really successful in Victoria. So when I went to work there I didn’t know any sign language so I set about doing that, and was really interested in learning sign and enjoyed the social aspect of being there and meeting new people.
The folks on the ward were a very very disparate group. Most of them were very able people: a few had physical disabilities as well, but there was one in particular whose name was Patty. And Patty was very significantly disabled -- which is to translate literally into ‘very significantly neglected’. And she was always the last to be included in...the last to be fed and the last to be considered in any of the activities that we were doing because she was so much more disabled than were the other folks that we were working with. And while they were able to demand of our time, Patty seemed to be quite comfortable in just sitting alone on her bed and really not participating or taking part.
And I remember sitting around with a bunch of the staff one evening and we were talking about various approaches to people with disabilities and so forth. And I had come out of university and studied a lot about behaviourism and had come to really believe that people with disabilities, no matter how significant their disability, could be taught something. And they made fun of me because of course I had still not completed a full year’s work with people with disabilities and was seen to be very very naive.
And I – I said “Well, take Patty for example: I betcha I could teach her something.” Well the fellow that was her primary counselor said that he had tried several different things with her and that she was just functionally too low to learn anything.
So I set about the challenge of teaching Patty.
Well, what I first did, because of course I was a born behaviourist at that point and – and I was really looking at the things that she liked – because once I knew what she liked I knew what I could use as a reinforcer – and what I noticed of course was that she liked food. And in amongst the food that she liked, she liked sweet things. And in amongst the sweet things that she liked, she liked chocolate.
So firstly we had something in common, and secondly now I had a tool to teach. So I went and I got from one of the wards for children I got these puzzles, and they were the wooden puzzles that were shaped in squares, and they had like a horse and a duck and a barn and a cow and so forth, and they were just one piece that would fit into the larger puzzle. So I thought, Well I’m gonna teach Patty how to do this puzzle, and when I showed it both to her primary counsellor and to everyone else around they just said that that was absolutely impossible to do. So I went and I got Patty who was sitting where she always sat - which was on her bed where she would be sitting for hours and hours at a time - and I brought her to a table with me and sat her down beside me and - and she looked at me with a great deal of shock. I think she just was surprised to be considered and surprised to be the only one and not one of a group.
So she sat there next to me looking at me with a bit of curiousity and I immediately knew there was somebody inside there, because there was somebody who noticed that there was a difference between sitting on a bed by yourself and sitting at a table next to someone else.
So I put the puzzle in front of her and she wasn’t particularly interested in the puzzle, she was – she was much more interested in me: who was this guy that was sitting next to her and who was this guy that was talking to her.
So I distracted her by giving her a small bit of chocolate and she was immediately happy because she had the chocolate in her mouth and, and she had somebody sitting beside her and talking to her. So I got her to take a look at the puzzle and then what I indicated for her to do was to lift one of the pieces, one of the big pieces out of the hole on the puzzle and when she did so I gave her a little bit of chocolate. Well she eventually cleared the four large pieces out of the larger board and she had by then earned four pieces of chocolate. She understood immediately what it is that was expected of her and when I put the puzzle pieces back in she immediately grabbed at them and she immediately took them out. She no longer wanted the chocolate at this point because now she was engaged: she was doing something that she could do and something that she seemed to be enjoying doing...as much as taking puzzle pieces out of a board must be much more interesting than sitting for hours on your bed.
Well, after a short period of time I wanted her now to put the puzzle pieces back in: now this would take a lot more work on her part because she would now have to orient the pieces in order to get them to fit back in to the cutout shapes. And you know what: she did it. I mean, we’re still on our very first teaching session of somebody considered profoundly disabled and somebody who had been profoundly ignored.
So I continued on with her and a few people gathered around to watch and the interesting thing was they weren’t so much excited as they were angry. And I think they were angry at me and I think they were angry at her: because how dare I, a new staff, come in and show them that somebody who they thought couldn’t learn, actually could. And I think that they were angry at her because I think that they thought that she was somehow hiding – hiding her intelligence in such a way that they hadn’t found it.
Well, we continued on and over the next several days I taught her how to put that puzzle together and she started to look at me with a great deal of anticipation, and I started to look for another job.
There was just no way that I wanted to continue working in the institution like that and there was just no way that I wanted to have...a legacy working with people who were locked away simply for the crime of difference. And I worked with Patty for a little bit longer and I couldn’t really get anybody interested in doing any of this work with her because ultimately, they said, it didn’t matter. Because doing puzzles didn’t change, as they saw it, the quality of her life and she wasn’t more able...and she wasn’t more able to tie shoes and she wasn’t more able to pull up pants and she wasn’t more able to do any of those things.
And I tried to make the argument that if she could learn to put a puzzle piece in, well then she could learn to do those other things as well. But...they didn’t think so and when it came time to leave and...pack my bags and leave from that place and go on to my next job I was...I was wondering about the ethics of what I had done because it seemed like I had gone into a place and I had awakened the humanity of another human being only to desert them: to leave them in that place and to leave them with nothing.
Because I think it’s, it’s much more difficult when you know that there is chocolate and puzzles in the world to now not have chocolate and puzzles. I think it’s difficult to have somebody who sits beside you and talks to you and then not have someone sit beside you and talk to you, and even though I had showed them up and even though I had demonstrated that behaviour therapy had the capacity to teach, I’m not so sure...that I learned the lesson that needed to be learned and that I understood what this meant to Patty and what this meant to me and what I should have done differently.