Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Temple Grandin on lack of mentors for autistic children

Watching a recent presentation by Temple Grandin on Youtube, I was struck by her increasing concern about the lack of mentors for school-aged children on the autistic spectrum. Rarely do such kids encounter teachers who encourage them to develop their strengths. Rather, most spend their school years attempting to remediate their weaknesses.

The result, Grandin observes, is that all too often people on the autistic spectrum end up as janitors rather than as engineers or computer programmers.

Grandin suggested that things are worse than they use to be, and I suspect that she is right. This first occurred to me a couple of years ago when I met Mr. X, a teacher at an alternative school in New Haven, CT--an eccentric engineering type whose classes had attracted large numbers of children with Aspergers. As I listened to Mr. X, who must be just a few years away from retirement, discuss the engineering projects he does with his Aspie students, I became increasingly certain that there isn't anyone like him anywhere in the Philadelphia public school system, where my children attend school.

There certainly isn't anyone like Mr. X at their specific school, where science class is all about communiating about science, and "technology" class is all about powerpoint and photoshop. And, unfortunately, this sort of science and technology curriculum--or lack thereof--appears predominate at Philadephia public schools in general. Nor do the Philadelphia charter schools appear to offer much of an alternative.

And, since current trends in math and science also permeate the training of math and science teachers--as a visit to any number of math, science, or technology "methods" classes will confirm--most Aspie-friendly eccentrics will never make it past a single week of teacher certification training.

For years I've been longing for a Mr. X in J's school--as Grandin observes, all it takes is one such person--and for years I've been increasingly concerned I'll never find one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Temple Grandin had some extraordinary mentors herself while growing up. Boston psychologist Henry Patey and his wife Adelaide Patey, a teacher, had founded the Hampshire Country School in 1948. Hampshire Country School caters to gifted children that also have additional challenges such as autism/ Asperger syndrome, nonverbal learning disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Although it is not clear in her books, through high school, Temple was surrounded with a group of unusual youngsters, many who were dealing with similar challenges as Temple. While I have seen her school years described as very challenging in her books, she actually had become rather popular at the school and as she matured at the school, often played a leadership role in student activities such as Chair Person for the Winter Carnival and student reported for the school newsletter. Many would be pleased learn she actually captained the winning team in a Broom Hockey tournament during her final years at Hampshire Country School.

Of note is the support she received from many of the staff at Hampshire Country School, most notably here science teacher who nurtured her interest and encouraged her to pursue her goals. Also of note is the efforts by Dr. Patey in championing her efforts to gain admittance to Franklin Pierce College (also located in Rindge). Dr. Patey personally took it upon himself to intercede on her behalf to the President of Franklin Pierce College at the time. One can imagian Temples high school transcript was very different than most the other applicants at the time. Dr and Mrs. Patey had great faith in Temple and felt if given the opportunity, Temple could become very successful. As we know, after Franklin Pierce, Temple continued here education and has become the amazing example she is to millions of folks.

While Hampshire Country School is no longer coeducational, those who mentored Temple, are still dealing with much the same group of kids today as they were since 1948.

I suggest you check out their website.