The Importance of Proper Representation in Education

there is only one way to look at things

If you have been following our twitter feed lately you may have noticed that we have been asking our followers about the best ways to gauge the progress of individuals with ASC in a mainstream educational setting.

Over the past year we have had the opportunity to work with service users in High Schools, Colleges and Universities. We have also been lucky enough to work with some brilliant teachers and administrative staff.

Teaching staff and administrators of educational institutions are important members of society and, as mentioned in an earlier post, educating these people about ASC is essential in empowering them to build upon and best utilise their skills.

Unfortunately, not all institutions and individuals are as open to learning about ASC. Instead it is believed that the best ways to gauge how the student is settling are based on markers of Neurotypical norms (Socialising, maintaining eye contact, sitting with other class members etc.) and direct questioning. Thereby treating the individuals as they would everyone else. Which sounds fine in theory; we’re all human and we should relate to eachother as such. But ignoring difference, or worse; struggling against difference, is damaging.

So we took to Twitter and asked what you all thought: Twitter user @ShellSpectrum rightly pointed out that “if we [people with ASC/ASD] are ” different” and we are then that should mean teaching would follow suit “different” methods…[sic]”and further that “wording is very important. What an NT may shrug off May play on mind [sic] for many hours of someone with ASD”.

In addition to this, observation, trusted peers, putting questions into writing and frequent parental involvement were all suggested.

But why?

Regular “active” observation can help staff get to know the student’s normal behaviours and the behaviours of class members. While the individual with AS may be sat working with a group of their classmates, are their classmates being supportive or, at the very least, friendly? It also helps the staff to establish what the dynamics of the group are.

Trusted peers can inform staff of any difficulties that the student might be having, perhaps the student with ASC is struggling because of a sensory issue (such as the lights being too bright in one classroom) which is disrupting their ability to focus in class. Perhaps one teacher uses metaphors or speaks in colloquialisms that don’t make sense to the student, perhaps the student in question is helping others with their work when they themselves are overwhelmed and so on. It is also important to remember that trusted peers do not always have to be school members, in some cases it may be more beneficial if they are not. Siblings, friends and mentors outside of school can also act as trusted peers and can, with the co-operation of the educational institution, liaise with members of staff to ensure that the student has the best learning experience possible in that setting.

Parents can also act as trusted peers and their involvement is key in ensuring the happiness of the student with ASC. By working with parents, teachers can gain a greater understanding of their students/pupils with ASC. For example, some homework will not be suitable and some class exercises may be more taxing than the teacher realises. As it stands parents often find themselves fighting to get the educational institution to listen, in one case a young girl with ASC was repeatedly held in detention for not eating fruit, specifically the free orange that each pupil was given at breaktime. She couldn’t stand the texture, the sharpness of citrus fruits caused her physical pain, but the teacher chose not to inform the girl’s parents who were aware that she could not tolerate citrus fruit. Instead, at an end-of-year parent’s evening, the teacher told the young girl’s parents that their child, was the only one she couldn’t force to eat fruit. It transpired that if the pupils did not eat their fruit they were not allowed outside during break time.

Too much verbal information can be overwhelming, by putting things in writing you give the student time to consider the question and respond appropriately. Twitter user @Dr_dinoctopus explained that “writing/typing can be easier; it allows for more time to consider what you want to say, so it can be conveyed more precisely.” and that “talking about such things is often difficult because of the stresses and emotions often associated with school/college things”.  (Scroll down to see all of the tweets).

In working with individuals with ASC or any learning differences, educational institutions must work to cater to them. Which in turn means that greater value must be placed on learning and teaching.

Teaching staff and Administrative staff that choose to ignore difference and wait for the individual with learning differences to conform to their perception of “normal” and then applaud that behaviour are doing a disservice to their students and themselves. Ignoring differences doesn’t mean that you are all-accepting. It means that you choose to see the world through one perspective. It is discriminatory to assume that everyone is the same, by doing so not only do you limit yourself but you limit others.

What do you think? What are your tips for monitoring how a student or pupil with ASC is settling into their education environment? How can mainstream education better cater for ASC students/pupils?

Thanks @ShellSpectrum, @MargoComeau, @Meanwhilefl, @Aspie101, @Dr_Dinoctopus

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