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Checklists Enhance Learning

Article: Effects of a Self-Monitoring Checklist as a Component of the Self-Directed IEP. By Diegelmann and Test, in Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 2018, 53(1).

Even though this study focused on individuals with intellectual disabilities (not a population I work with a lot), I had heard of this idea of giving students more responsibility for the running of the IEP meetings as a way to promote self-determination (i.e., I can affect my present and future). People with a stronger sense of self-determination tend to have better lives, according to research. Some kids learn how to run these IEP meetings with little or no trouble, but others struggle and thus do not benefit from the training in skills that help to develop self-determination. This study found that adding checklists to the learning and practice process can greatly increase the chances that students with intellectual disabilities master this process of participating in their IEP meetings. You can read the actual article for more details on what sorts of checklists work, and a discussion about why they might work so well.

There is a lot here that is relevant to my practice and thus, to my clients. I'll go through a couple thoughts I had.

Checklists are generally good for everyone, in my opinion. I highly recommend you use checklists to manage lots of interactions and meetings, such as going to see your doctor, or having a challenging discussion with your spouse. I have found checklists a great way to promote high-quality interactions through making sure your primary points get addressed, and also freeing up a lot of cognitive space (because you have less to remember) and thus promoting flexibility and finesse in the interaction.

Most kids I see in therapy have no idea how to effectively use the therapy hour. This, for many of them, becomes the first thing they learn in therapy. I do use a modified checklist system, but perhaps I need to formalize the process even more for some of my clients.

Finally, self-determination is a spectrum. I work with plenty of people who are very low on self- determination. Interestingly, these clients are usually brought to therapy with me by someone with a strong sense of self-determination, and the key with these clients is to prove to them that they have some influence on their lives that they are not exercising. On the other end, however, I have met people who feel like they should have more control over their lives than they do. They tend to fail to acknowledge the limits of their abilities and the complexity of reality. Things do not work out for them and they have no explanation for their situation. Neither is ideal, of course.

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