The Least Dangerous Assumption

Imagine you are about to meet for the first time a young woman who will be coming to your high school this year. Before you do, the following was shared with you about her. Kim is a 16-year-old student who has a label of severe mental retardation. The usual battery of intelligence tests and adaptive behavioral evaluations have assigned her an IQ score of 40 and a developmental age of 36 months. She has seizures and sensory impairments. Her motor movements are jerky and uncoordinated, making it difficult for her to get around in small areas, write legibly, or use a computer. She is sensitive to certain environmental stimuli such as bright lights, loud noises, and rough textures in her clothing. She has no conventional way of communicating. She uses facial expressions and random vocalizations to express emotions. When she is frustrated by a task or situation, she runs away or sometimes hits herself or others. She does not appear to be able to read.

How does this information affect her parents’ and educators’ decisions about Kim’s educational program and adult life? Should you assume that these test results, labels, and observations are accurate representations of her current abilities and future learning potential? Do you advocate for her educational program to reflect content learning from the general education curriculum or is it based on teaching functional life skills? Should she be educated alongside students with significant disabilities only or included in a general education class?

In order to answer these questions, you first need to understand the prevailing paradigm, or belief, that governs the way that most people think about intelligence and intelligence testing, the label of mental retardation, and the vision that we have for students with this label. In this article, I want to propose and add my voice to the work of other parents and educators who believe that only by creating a new paradigm, or shared belief, of high expectations based on the principle of the least dangerous assumption can anyone, parent or professional, make decisions about students’ educational programs that will lead to a quality life in school and throughout their adult lives.

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Source: Disability Solutions: A publication of Creating Solutions, A Resource for Families & Others Interested in Down Syndrome & Developmental Disabilities, Fall 2005, Volume 6, Issue 3