Sunday 21 October 2012

Students First

Nathan's been having a rough time at school this year.  His friends from last year are in the French Immersion program while he's in the English program.  He's in a JK/SK split and is having a hard time adjusting to seeing the younger kids play while he has to work.

Watching his teacher try and find the right balance between accomodation and demands, I've been struck by something.  Most of the material given to teachers to help them deal with children with autism emphasizes accomodation.  If the child can't do something, they're told to keep making accomodations until the child does it.  It sounds good in theory but it supposes that all children are eager to complete the task at hand.

There's nothing about what they should do if the child simply isn't interested in the task.  And, let's be honest, how many five year olds would rather sit down and do desk work than play with toys? 

This is a problem I've seen with Alex in the past.  The emphasis becomes so much on making him comfortable that he ends up having almost no demands on him.  And being a smart little cookie, he's well aware how to manipulate the system.

A child with autism may not have the social urge to please a teacher, particularly if they don't have a good connection with him or her.  They may not feel the social competition to outperform the other children.  They also might not be upset at being isolated from the class.  These are the standard motivators which get ordinary children to buckle down and perform. 

I can't help but feel the system fails when a child with autism is treated solely according to their autism.  The goal of education should be primary with the autism as a consideration in pursuit of that goal.  Teachers should never assume a child is incapable of doing what they ask, not without a great deal of effort to prove the case.  As my husband put it, having autism may make it impossible to just run up the metaphorical stairs, but it doesn't mean they can't find ramps or elevators to get them to the same place.

I'm hoping we can find a good solution for Nathan to get him enthusiastic about school again.  I don't want him to end up labeled as unable to do any better.  Maybe this is parental blindness, but I believe in him.

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