Why It's Important to Presume Competence


If you asked me 10 years ago what presuming competence meant, I would have not had a clue. Now it’s something I think about all the time.

I have a nonverbal 12-year-old son and whether or not those around him presume competence makes a huge difference in his life. By definition, presuming competence is to assume the person you are talking to understands what you are saying, even if they don’t affirm that they do. When a person has a far higher receptive communication level than expressive, presuming competence makes all the difference. It seems like a lot of times it is assumed that a person doesn’t understand what you are saying when they don’t respond to something you have said. In our case, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We have tried different forms of expressive communication and continue to work with him on using his AAC device, on which he can use pictures for the device to speak for him. At this time he still struggles with his expressive communication, but has much more advanced receptive communication. I see it daily in little things he does that let me know he understands, and also when he joins in on a conversation I had no idea he was even listening to because he was doing something else.

We have been so blessed to have amazing teachers that presume competence and push our son to learn more. This has made all of the difference in him coming as far as he has in elementary school. Now as he moves on to middle school, my hope is that he will continue to have amazing teachers that presume competence, and he will keep progressing in amazing ways.

The great thing about presuming competence is that even if the person didn’t understand what you were saying, it never hurts to treat them as if they do. On the other hand, if you don’t presume competence and the person does understand, it can be frustrating and hurtful to them. I encourage you to always presume competence; it can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

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