“Why this? Why Now?,” Moving Beyond Deficit Models

We have been asked a lot lately how our model differs from other models.  It’s a complicated question because it involves some theory and some work that has existed in Disability Studies work for a long time, but has not made it to the mainstream entirely, and has yet to be even really engaged with in schools, education and clinics.  The work of FDM is grounded in the “Social Model of Disability.”  For Disability Studies scholars, this is well-worn territory, and maybe even a bit passe.  But for education and related fields, this is still an area that needs to be developed.  The Social Model of Disability is a way of thinking about disability that explains how disability is not something that is inherent in individuals, but something experienced socially, through contact with a world that is not set up for disabled people.  For example, a Deaf child is not disabled within their own home when the family unit is able to sign.  Being Deaf only becomes disabling when a Deaf person enters a world designed for hearing people.  

This is different than “deficit” or “medical” models of disability.  In a deficit model, disability lies within the individual and their relationship to the “typical.”  When a child is Deaf, in this model, they are disabled because they cannot hear, not because of society.  This model, which is prevalent in schools and therapeutic settings, is a structure that upholds the typical, and places all responsibility for struggle on the individual and their distance from the norm.  The precise areas of this lack are defined, and then the individual is “taught” to decrease distance from the norm.  

In schools and therapeutic settings, this looks like testing that compares children to a statistically-normed group of peers.  The evaluations will then identify areas of “weaknesses” and teach to those.  There is always a focus on lack, and very seldom a focus on what responsibility society has to remove barriers.  Examples of deficit models in the Autism world include ABA, which is the most egregious and obvious example, but also includes many of the “kinder, gentler” models like SonRise, DIR/Floortime and Relationship Development Intervention.  Despite having more gentler processes and aims, like symbolic play, there is always an imagined narrative of progress looking like a proximity to the norm.  

A Social Model approach takes three things for granted:  1.  Disability is a part of the human existence.  2.  Society has a responsibility to remove barriers and increase access.  3.  Human beings have a right to live in the truth of their own bodies and neurologies.  

So why FDM?  We believe in the rights of children to live in that truth, and also in schools’, clinicians’ and parents’ collective responsibility to remove barriers that children face.  Through the strategies of Foundations for Divergent Minds, we can shift the paradigm from an idea of children as incomplete or lacking, to one that emphasizes communal responsibility, access and support.  Ultimately, schools and clinics have reiterated damaging notions that disabled students are “less than” for too long, while skirting their own responsibility to facilitate inclusion.  We are here to provide the structure and education to change that.