Gentle Teaching is the name of a book written by Dr. John McGee. Dr McGee was a psychologist at the University of Nebraska Medical School who was a pioneer in the more humane treatment of people with psychiatric and behavior disorders. In fact, Dr. McGee referred to these people as having behavior challenges instead of disorders. He was one of the first people to use the term caregiver instead of caretaker.
In 1987, MSAC (Michigan Society for Autistic Citizens, now ASM) sent three teams of parents and professionals to Omaha to learn Dr. McGee’s techniques. There were five of us in each team and each team spent a week in Omaha at the University of Nebraska Psychiatric Institute. I was the only parent in my team, along with four professionals. This trip had a great impact on me and changed the way that I related to my son.
Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, people with psychiatric and behavior challenges were warehoused in huge custodial institutions without getting much in the way of treatment. They were either abused, neglected, heavily drugged or restrained. The Community Mental Health Act was passed in 1963 and was the beginning of more humane treatment. Dr McGee gave us strategies and techniques for teaching and bonding with challenging people who had previously been abused, drugged or restrained.
Dr McGee taught us that we had to “define our posture” when relating to our people with challenging behaviors. He divided caregivers into four categories, overprotective, authoritarian, cold-mechanical, and solidarity seeking. He told us to decide which we wanted to be. We all chose solidarity seeking which meant that we would try to bond with the challenging person. This was a new way of thinking and relating.
He said that if we didn’t decide ahead of time, the challenging behaviors could cause the caregiver to lose control and become one of the postures that they didn’t want to be. There should be mutual interaction between the caregiver and the challenging person and it was the responsibility of the caregiver to establish this relationship. We were also asked to clarify our values. Do we value that person as a human being? Is that person worth our time?
He taught us about structuring the environment, environmental triggers, redirection, reward and teaching in silence. I won’t try to tell you everything that our week consisted of, but it shaped my relationship with PJ after I returned home and I still use his techniques. I don’t know if I would have lasted this long without Dr. McGee. When I left Omaha, I had a new confidence that maybe I could survive my son. I had always been living on the edge of panic, but that was slowly changing and once I became more gentle, so did PJ.
In “Inspired Bt Autism”, I listed some of my Heroes, the people that kept me going and helped me to adjust to a person handicapped by autism. I forgot to include Dr. John McGee. I owe him a great debt of thanks. One of my favorite scriptures is Romans 12:2 “Be ye transformd by the renewing of your mind”. Dr. McGee gave me part of the “how to” for the transformation. I also used some of his strategies and techniques in my classroom when I was teaching.
Along with Dr. McGee, I want to thank all the professional therapists, doctors, teachers, etc. who work with us and our children. We could not do it without you. I am thankful for the humane and caring treatment.
Until next time; May the Love of God enfold you; May the Power of God protect you.