An Interview with Dr. Lou Brown

The "ultimate functioning" guidepost or where does this all lead?

Produced in 1987 (Run time 4:06)


Ed Skarnulis: You make that sound easy and I'm sure that there is a logical progression. It does make sense. But I know that you and your colleagues in Madison have coined a number of phrases that maybe reflect that logical progression. One of them is "pre means never." Another one is "the criterion of ultimate functioning." Another one is the term "natural proportions." Could you describe what those mean in relation to that?

Dr. Lou Brown: One of my heroes in… and to this day, is Bill Bricker, who used to be, was one of the early people, one of the first Kennedy fellows when John Kennedy took over, an Ohio State graduate and worked at Peabody in Tennessee. And he had…and I had… In the early '60s, you had Don Baer, and Bill Bricker and not a whole lot else in our field. This was when your group, the Nebraska crowd, were doing ENCOR and you were just starting.

But I didn't get to your literature. I got to the literature of Kansas and the literature of Peabody, and if you were at a southern college, it's certainly expected. And so Ed Sontag and a couple of other people put together this little group of Doug Guess and Wayne Sailor of Kansas and Bill Bricker in Tennessee and Marc Gold at Illinois and us, and we'd meet whenever we could. We'd talk, we'd share information. We tried to make these plans. And this was the foundation of what's now known as TASH, the association of people with severe handicaps.

And one day Bill Bricker and I were, he was in Madison, and we had a drink, you know, and we had another drink and we were talking and pontificating, and then we just went for a walk, you know. We just went for a walk around my house and around the block.

And he said, "You know, Where does all this lead?" "You know," he said, "if we get what we want, let's say we win and we get what we want for these people, ultimately, ultimately, where is it going to be? I mean, what, ultimately where are they going to function?" And you sort of forget. Ultimately where was just a phrase. It was 1974 at the time. I believe it was 1974.

And so I said, come back, and I said, you know, "Bill, that's the key question right now. We're just starting in this. We're challenging assumptions. We're breaking down idols. We're the new kids on the block, and that's a key question. Ultimately, where do we want these people to function?"

And so then we started talking about it and talking about it, and we decided that, well, you know, that maybe should be the guidepost. Because everybody was doing a little study in language and a little study in motor and a little this and a little demonstration project with a cottage in an institution or a little token economy system here.

And there was all these little, little splinters, but no professional that we knew, no professionals were asking that, ultimately, where do we want these people to function? Parents did, you see? Parents did. They wanted to know if they died what kind of life my child would have. We didn't. You know, we didn't think about things like that in those days. And so we put this paper together, this "ultimately where." And that became our guidepost.

So then we started saying, "Well, if we did this. If we gave this kid one-to-one instruction in school, where does it lead? Ultimately, where does it lead?" Well, it leads nowhere. If we taught this kid to sort popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners in a simulated workshop, where does it lead?

Well, it leads nowhere. So we started saying, "Well, if you keep in front of you this criterion, ultimately, where is the person going to function? What's the most decent environment a person can be in? How can the person make the best contribution? Now what do we have to do to get him there?" And you reference everything you do against that standard, it's tough. It's tough. I mean, it's right in front of your eyes all the time. And that's what happened to us.

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