Ockham’s Rule

“All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”

Now there’s some good advice!  I know it’s something that I had to learn over time, but now that I have, I really try to remember this adage rather than spinning my wheels unnecessarily.

Before my son got a diagnosis of autism, he was diagnosed with “expressive and receptive language disorder.”  He was only three when we started speech therapy in the homey Mama Lere House of the Bill Wilkerson Speech and Language Center and met his first SLP, Mary Ann McIntyre.  This woman was a gem and the first person who seemed to really understand what we were dealing with.  She was also forthcoming with lots and lots of helpful advice along the way.

I remember one incident in particular when I was frustrated because Josh wouldn’t stay out of my kitchen cabinets.  Rather than play with his toys, he much preferred pulling out every cooking utensil he could find within his reach.  Even when I gave him a few pots and pans to bang on, it was never enough to satisfy him; he always had to clean out the whole cabinet.  This happened multiple times a day.  When I mentioned it to Mary Ann and asked her why she thought he was doing this, she replied, “Rather than worry about why he’s doing it, why don’t you just move the items to another cabinet he can’t reach.”  Okay, I know that sounds super obvious now, but it honestly did not occur to me then, probably because I just wasn’t thinking logically at the time.  Of course, she was right.  That was the simplest course of action to take to stop the unwanted behavior.

Another lesson learned came from one of the therapists at the Regional Intervention Program (RIP) where we spent almost a year working on behavior interventions.  This one was not quite as obvious but was equally effective.  The therapist was trying to get Josh to attend to some testing she was trying to administer, and he was all over the place.  Finally, she hit upon a plan.  She observed that he was most still during snack time, so that’s when she worked with him on the testing.  It went so much easier when he was otherwise engaged and did turn out to be the “simplest solution.”

I finally started to get the hang of this concept myself when I came up with my own simple solution.  Josh was a climber when he was little, the higher the better.  We had a wooden play set in the backyard for him to swing and slide on, but he infinitely preferred to climb up the side of the apparatus and sit on the ladder going across the very top.  He had absolutely no fear of heights (or anything else it seemed!) and was very careful, but I was deathly afraid he would take a tumble and hurt himself.  No matter how many times I pulled him off of the play set, as soon as I would turn my back, he was back up there.  I realized I was either going to have to  dismantle the set or find a way to keep him safe and keep my heart out of my mouth.  What was the easiest, most simple solution here?  Since he wasn’t using the swings anyway, I took those down and hooked up our hammock to the sides of the set about two feet off the ground.  That way I knew that the hammock would catch him if he fell.  He might break something, but he wouldn’t kill himself!  Problem solved.

During our IEP meeting for Josh’s transition from kindergarten to first grade, I discovered another option in our school.  They had a class called Pre-First, which was for kids who were either academically, physically, or psychologically not quite ready for first grade and basically just needed another year to mature and develop more social skills.  It sounded perfect for Josh, and I requested that he be placed there based on the goals we were trying to achieve.  Much to my surprise, we were denied!  When I asked why, I was told that that particular class wasn’t for kids who had an IEP and were already getting services but rather for kids without an IEP and who did not have a formal diagnosis.

Obviously, this made no sense, and I told them that I didn’t see how you could “punish” a child just because he already had a diagnosis.  We went back and forth over this issue with the school personnel coming up with additional supports and behavior plans they planned to implement in his first grade classroom.  Frustrated that they were overlooking the obvious, simplest solution, I offered a compromise.  Let’s try him in the Pre-First environment for the first marking period and see how he does.  If it’s not a good fit, we can then move him into a regular first grade classroom.  They finally agreed to try.  Before the first marking period was over, everyone on our team agreed that he was making remarkable progress and that he should stay in Mrs. Olzak’s Pre-First classroom for the remainder of the year.

Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees, especially when you are emotionally involved, frustrated, and just tired of arguing.  But I have to think William of Ockham knew what he was talking about when he uttered those famous words.  Taking a step back, looking over the situation objectively, and then trying to find the simplest solution to a problem will often yield the best results.



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