Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Why I Don't Say "Stubborn"

There are some words that just really bother me. Stubborn is one of them. I often hear parents, teachers, doctors, therapists, and really anyone refer to a child with special needs as "stubborn." I personally cringe when I hear this word, especially when it's a person who has a lot of direct contact with the child.

My favorite source, Google, defines stubborn this way:
having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so; difficult to move, remove, or cure as in "removing the stubborn screws."

Does a child with special needs choose to disobey because they have a difference of opinion? Do children with special needs choose to not listen to good reasons to complete a task?

In the special needs world, it seems that people use stubborn to mean this: when a child with special needs refuses to do something that you want them to do.


This common special needs definition has an entirely different meaning than it's true definition. Kids are labeled as stubborn because they refuse to participate in therapy. A child is labeled stubborn because they refuse to pick their pencil up and begin writing. A child throws himself down because he doesn't want to leave the park and is called stubborn.


Is this a fair description for children with cognitive delays, poor language skills, and special educational needs?

I have always felt that calling a child stubborn is just an excuse for the adult to not do anything differently. Stubborn means that the problem is all on the child and not on the adult. Stubborn insinuates that the child has a behavioral issue that must be dealt with, sometimes harshly, in order to bring about the desired response. Calling a child with special needs "stubborn" sometimes leads to lazy adults. In that I mean, the adults keep approaching the same issue the same way with the idea that one day the child will submit to discipline or authority in time.

I'm not saying that there isn't a stubborn child with special needs out there. I'm just saying, I rarely label a behavior as stubborn. Instead, I describe the behavior and circumstances that I see (i.e. This child refuses to do writing activities...) and look for reasons for the behavior (...because they have large fine motor delays that make grasping a pencil hard). A few years ago, I learned the common phrase: All behavior is communication. I don't always see refusals and "stubbornness" as a behavioral issue, but I see it as the child trying to poorly communicate something he dislikes, feels, thinks, or doesn't understand.


Here are some instances of people calling Jaycee stubborn & my interpretation of the event:

-"Jaycee was stubborn and would not stack the blocks on command." Jaycee was not stubborn, but she was unable to follow 1 step directions and could not physically stack blocks at the time due to fine motor delays.

-"Jaycee is being really stubborn about taking her medications." Jaycee knows her normal medicines and realizes that there is a new medication. She doesn't understand what the new medicine is and is fearful that it will taste bad.

-"Jaycee is so stubborn. She refused to do her school work for an hour today." Jaycee hates certain subjects at school. She is not motivated to do them nor does she probably understand why she needs to do the work.

-"Jaycee wouldn't get up and move when I told her it was time to leave. She's stubborn!" Jaycee didn't want to leave. Jaycee has poor communication skills and has no way to say no or I don't want to. Her sitting and refusing to move is her way of protesting.

I'm not making excuses for bad behavior. But, I want people to look at stubborn behavior as something that signals a need for change. Does the child need more motivation? Does the child not understand? Is the work too hard or too easy? Does the child need a better way to communicate likes and dislikes? In other words, is there something the adult can do to help decrease these "stubborn" behaviors so you both get the desired result?

So, that's my thoughts on the word "stubborn." Please use this word with caution!

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