To assent is defined as to acknowledge something, agree to something or surrender to something.
Synonyms for assent
Assent means there is CHOICE!
What is the difference between consent and assent? Consent may only be given by individuals who have reached the legal age of consent (in the U.S. this is typically 18 years old). Assent is the agreement of someone not able to give legal consent to participate in the activity. For mental health and behavioral health services, this age of consent varies by state. The standard is 18 years old, however there are states where the age is as low as 12 years old.
This is a really big topic in the world of behavior and education right now, as it should be! We have ignored this for far too long (in my opinion). We seem to think that children and neurodivergent individuals shouldn’t get a say and they should just “do as we say” or comply without question…but that is SO DANGEROUS.
This is a dangerous thing to teach ANYONE. We ALL need to know we have a voice and a choice. We all need to know how to and that we CAN say “no” (vocally or with our behavior) and it will at least be acknowledged and validated.
I read a nauseating and heart-breaking statistic in an training recently that said:
Unpublished Justice Department data suggest that individuals with intellectual and learning disabilities are at least seven times more likely to experience sexual assault than their neurotypical peers, and that 86% of these assaults are committed by a non-stranger (Shapiro, Anderson, Benincasa, & Van Woerkom, 2018).
We MUST STOP working on blind compliance. We MUST FOCUS ON teaching self-advocacy, body autonomy and respect individual preferences!
How do we do this?
Acknowledge, validate and respect what they are telling us!
Disney cruise with my (then) 2 year old who was TERRIFIED of “mascots”, as she called them. Anything in costume was earth shattering. I was truly worried about how this cruise would go. So we decided to give her some control of the situation. We made her a red stop sign that said STOP please stay away. I laminated it and we hole punched it so it could go on her lanyard when we boarded the ship. We practiced with her using it and explained to her how they won’t come to her if she held that up. We acknowledged her fear and worries and came up with a plan. We gave her control of something scary. Guess what happened? She used it the first day-covered her face, ducked down and held it up over her head and the characters stayed away! Once she saw that she could control it and we would support her, it really took the fear away. We have her the option to say “no”, so withdraw assent. The second day she wore it, but didn’t duck and cover, she just held it up when characters were around and by the end of that second day, she was wanting us to hold her to go get photos with the characters (no touching still) and by the third day she was giving high-5’s and taking photos by herself and eventually she was running up to them and giving hugs and all smiles.
That could have gone much differently though…if we had forced her on our timeline, it would likely have been very stressful and possibly traumatic! OR we could have avoided the whole situation and not ever have gone on that cruise-we would have missed out on a fun family experience!
Let me ask you this: pretend you have to do a training for work, you have two options:
A training that is a video of undetermined amount of time that you have to complete at 5am tomorrow morning and once you start you have no way of pausing it.
A training that you can work through at your own pace and can pause and return as needed.
Which would you prefer?
I know I would rather have that control and that CHOICE, right? So maybe I’m doing something I don’t necessarily want to do, but I know I need to and it’s nice to have that choice in there, right?
Is it ever ok to not get assent? (Yes, sometimes. Situations of imminent danger or immediate threat are an appropriate time to forego assent).
Example: a child may not WANT to move out of the street, but they must in order to remain safe. A child who engages in fecal smearing may not want to get cleaned up in shower, bath or with a wash cloth, but for their well-being and the safety of others in the environment, they must. We must be very aware though that if we don’t have assent…we are not providing basic human rights and we better have a very good reason-not just “because I said so”. We should also always consider if there is a kinder, more compassionate way of creating safety. Please remember, we will not always be able to use force, so we really just shouldn’t do it to begin with.
So when we are talking about identifying whether an individual is assenting to services and/or support…how do we know?
Observe! Know your child or learner. If they are coming over for work without coercion, if they are engaged-these all (likely) imply assent. If they are crying, trying to leave, screaming, engaging in challenging behaviors…those behaviors are telling us they are not ok with what is happening.
We need to pay attention. We need to prioritize THEIR wants and not just move forward with things because we think it’s what needs to happen. Maybe it does, but remember…we teach and people learn from a place of HRE (happy, relaxed and engaged), not escalated behavior that creates stress and trauma.
I’ll leave you with this-
What happens if you yank and pull and try to FORCE a knot out of a thread, string or hair?
-It gets worse, right?
On the other hand, what happens if you pause and try to patiently and gently work through the knot?
-Probably make headway faster, less pain, not making it worse!
Join my private FB group here, Empowered Parents, so you have an opportunity to be included in the conversation! I specialize in coaching neurodiverse families with assent-based, neurodivergent-affirming support. We focus on making sure your child's needs are met while building/strengthening the parent-child bond and caregiver well-being. I use my background as a BCBA and special education teacher to collaborate with you and empower you! I run the group and interact with members to answer questions and offer support!
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