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Child Psychologist 'Gets Physical'

Child developmental psychologist Dr. Michael Weiss told an audience of Fairfield County parents they either were going to love him or hate him by the end of his recent talk at the Wilton Library.

The talk became controversy when Weiss, who treats children with social disorders, said a disability shouldn’t be an excuse for disruptive conduct and that parents and teachers shouldn’t shrink from using force to correct the child. Weiss, who is an adjunct professor at Fairfield University , spoke last week on the topic “Constructing a Developmental Support Plan.”

Parent Gerri Fleming of Greenwich disagreed about the use of physical force. An advocate for special needs children whose son was born with autism, Fleming said she witnessed an incident where a child was held down by aides until the child completed an assignment.

“It should be a last resort when the kid is really in danger,” she said. Weiss agreed saying force should be used only if a child might harm himself or someone else.

Both agreed there was a line between appropriate and inappropriate physical force, and that teachers need to be trained to know how to use force correctly. Fleming said there have to be parameters, such as getting the parent’s permission and communicating with the parent about what is taking place.

To prove that his method works, Weiss showed a video where he helps teachers deal with an autistic girl who would plop to the ground and fight to get her way. Weiss helped the teachers develop a plan to mix work and play throughout the day to help the girl learn how to transition, and after four months there were fewer fights and less physical force.

Weiss also discussed reward-based techniques parents can use to help a child overcome his or her disability and become more functional.  For example, the child would be permitted to play computer games for five minutes if he read for five minutes.

What do you think of Michael Weiss’s methods?  Do you agree with physical force by teachers and aides?

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