An Interview with Dr. Lou Brown

The "pre means never" guidepost or why not just call it what it is?

Produced in 1987 (Run time 4:08)


Dr. Lou Brown: Now other people had, in parallel movements, had been developing their versions of these concepts. And then the third one was…?

Ed Skarnulis: Pre means never.

Dr. Lou Brown: Pre means never, yeah. This is… This is… You see, when we first started doing education for these kids, much of it came out of the people doing language development, Bill Bricker and Joe (unintelligible) at Kansas and those people. And people had this view that we're going to start… These kids are younger. They have big bodies but small minds. And they're going to… You have to treat them as children and then get them through the steps, you know, like some kind of version of a general patterning orientation.

So we said, "Okay, that makes sense. Golly, that makes sense." To this day, that makes sense to everybody. That's one of the easiest things to sell anybody. Let's start where these people are and take them to the next step, and take them to the next step, and take them to the next step. Right? Now, in those days, we didn't have the perspective we have now. And so we would think that you take two or three really important concepts and then apply them to people through a person's life, and because they sound good and feel good, do it, and it's going to be okay.

So we took that one: Let's start where they are. So we started thinking well, we can't call what they're doing language, right? So we'll call it pre-language and let's get them to language. We spent all this time putting them through what normal people do as they develop language skills. So we'll start with what 6-month-old kids do this and 12-month-old kids to this. And we'd study what normal people do and we'd read about what normal people do, and then we started to get these people with severe disabilities, these kids with severe disabilities to do what normal kids did.

And they said, "Now it's not really reading that they're doing. We'll call it pre-reading. And they're not really doing the high jump, it's sort of like the pre-high jump. That's not really motor, it's pre-motor." And so we spent our time.

We've got teachers trained. We had money. We had everything you needed to take these people through these sequences from start where they are, get them to the next step and the next step and the next step. And your frame of reference for the next step was what do normal people do? If this person scores at 6 months old and you assess them at 6 months old and then we're going to get him to be 7 months old and then 8 months old and 9 months old, you see?

Now, so we tried that for a long period of time. And what happened was… See that's… that's one way of organizing a developmental experience for a person with a disability. But that's putting all your eggs in one basket because that's not considering other phenomena that we all know about these people, right?

Another thing we know that's very telling here is that it takes longer to teach people with severe disabilities than others. No one has ever said in the history of the world, "The more retarded you are, the quicker you learn." Right? No one's ever said that. In fact, everybody says the opposite. But we didn't think about that. We just put all our eggs in this getting them through the normal sequences, see?

So now when you think of that and you put that into the pile, you've got two things to think about. One is we're going to start them where they are and get them to the next step and the next step. And the next step is defined as how normal people develop.

Then, we've got this problem over here, though, that keeps nagging at us. It takes longer to teach these people. And when you put them together, what you do is you're spending a lot of time teaching a 5-year-old with a disability to act like a 2-year-old normal person. And you spend a lot of time at it and a lot of time at it, and, lo, and behold, pretty soon the kid's eight chronologically and developmentally two. But he gets there. Now we're going to get him to be developmentally three. Well, you spend five, six years and now he's 13 and 14 and he's developmentally three.

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