When You See Regression

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Why some individuals can be making great progress, then be unable to recover from what seems to be one, small slip.
1. We start with whatever is the person’s natural level of ability. At this spontaneous level they may be secure, but unfocused towards any progressive goal. They function at their own natural level.2. We train the individual to enhance their natural level of ability. They acquire a few additional skills that are steps towards a progressive goal that we may perceive to be eventually within their reach.

3. They become secure and relatively independent in the second stage of learning and we raise the bar. The expectations for performance without (or with less) support are increased as the individual becomes practiced and familiar at performing at a higher level.

4. By now the person has made so much progress that anyone who wasn’t in the program from the beginning will be unaware of just how far the individual has come. Their original level of dependent functioning seems to be a matter of “ancient history” that they have now progressed beyond. They are doing things that no one who knew them at the beginning could have ever imagined being within their grasp.

The critical points (at 4 and 6) come when the individual’s independent progress so far exceeds their starting point that they “lose touch” with their spontaneous level of ability. They lose their ground. They can see the goals they wish to achieve and they simply “get ahead” of themselves. It is “too much too soon” for them to continue with confidence. They are able, but inconsistent and need more support to consolidate their earlier learning.

5. The individual has now progressed so far that they don’t even, themselves remember how dependent they used to be. They seem to be ready for much more challenge and often are eager to do as much as they can. This, frequently is when they run into some sort of obstacle that they can not, independently overcome. But at this point they themselves expect that they should be able to overcome problems by themselves. They try to cope, but it wasn’t within their original coping repertoire, and suddenly they regress and are unable to sustain what they were able to do, just a short while ago.

Caregivers sometimes push too fast. Some individuals push themselves too fast. When they are “smarter than they can be” they try to accomplish without assistance, what they may only be able to accomplish with continuous assistance or structure.

6. The individual drops back a level or two and we approach them with encouragement and support to do what they “knew what to do yesterday”.

This misses the point. Once the individual who was initially dependent becomes insecure they may be unable to make the connection between where they were at level 4 to where they were at level 5. It may be necessary to go back to level one, with very intense, dependent levels of support to assist them to regain their confidence. Then they often can rapidly re-attain a level of ability where, with support, they can grow again in a more independent fashion.

Approaching them “from above” to reach back up to where they have been experiencing failure and distress may be too overwhelming. It is much better to approach and support them “from below” to ensure that they are being encouraged to express their original, natural level of ability. Confidence at this level is certain.

Go back to the beginning, just to rehearse familiar territory and success without assistance. Rebuild your efforts with a person who has had a set-back from a place where they are naturally confident and certain of their ability to meet expectations.
This is the meaning of “support from below”.

Nathan E. Ory, M.A.
Registered Psychologist
Challenging Behavior Analysis and Consultation
Copyright 2001 challengingbehavior@shaw.ca

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