Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Discovery learning and politeness

One theme of this blog is how discovery learning (aka Constructivism, aka experiential learning, aka incidental learning) particularly disadvantages children on the autistic spectrum. AS children are less able than other kids are to pick things up incidentally from social context, and depend on direct, structured instruction--whether the subject is turn-taking or fractions.

One subject I haven't addressed is politeness. But now, reading up on the wisdom of Temple Grandin for an online course I'm designing on high functioning autism, I've realized that the same issues arise here. Especially since politeness has gone the way of reading (Balanced) writing (Workshop) and arithmetic (Reform). Here's a quote from Grandin:

Fewer and fewer parents are taking the time to instill manners and teach proper social etiquette to their children. It's having a ripple effect. Young parents today aren't even conscious of some of Miss Manners' rules, which used to govern society when I was young and growing up.

Typical kids are able to deal with this shift in emphasis on teaching social functioning skills--they have the brain capacity to learn by watching other kids and still pick up manners if they need them, despite not being directly taught. But the Asperger kids can't learn by observation; they need direct teaching, direct experiences--they need that structure that used to exist in the social world. It's not there at home or at school, and they're lost as a result.

(From the Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism.)
Of course, each society at any given time strikes a different balance between how formulaic vs. spontaneous and heart-felt our interactions with others should be, and different people have different personal preferences. For those on the autistic spectrum, however, there's a distinct downside when the rules become too spontaneous, unstructured, and untaught.


Mrs. C said...

This is a very difficult thing to teach as well for us. I have recently been teaching Emperor that even if someone else says that his doing something rude (hugging, getting too close, constant chatting) is "ok," that doesn't really mean it's "ok."

No, not that they're lying, exactly (that was the question I got... why would they say it's ok if it isn't). Just more that they are telling you that it is "ok" in the same way that your answer to "How are you?" shouldn't be your entire life story... it should just be, "Fine, thank you. And how are you?"

(Which of course makes no sense to him, either, but it's just what you do.)

I hadn't realized before having my children how much of our social interaction is just following the script that is laid out for us. :)

Marcy said...

We have become an extremely formal family in some respects for this very reason. My gripe is that when something happens in public and my son must apologize for his behavior, running into someone in a store for example, any adult involved will wave it off "It's okay!"
But until people partake in social formality, and politeness, with any child that child will not learn. I want other adults to insist upon respectful behavior too!

Anonymous said...

"That's okay" as a response to an apology is sort of intended as smoothing, deflating reply, so that the child is not made to feel bad. In effect, though, it is belittling since it implies that is not worthy or mature enough to be culpable for what he did, and not significant enough as a person to take seriously. Saying "Thank you" or "I accept your apology" can mean a lot to a kid in that situation.

Marcy said...

Exactly! Anonymous. Say "That's okay" to another adult. Let the child experience the full social interaction.