Monday, August 16, 2010

Managing vs. educating autistic children

The more I explore the industry of educating autistic children, the more it occus to me that there are two different models out there.

The first one is the management model. Here the top priority is making the autistic student manageable in the classroom. If the child acts up, the first assumption is that the underlying problem is the child's problem: typically, something having to do with attention or sensory processing. The solution is medication (the latest fad is Risperdol) or some sort of "sensory diet" (a weighted vest, a stress ball, time out of the classroom for running around or swinging).

The second model is the education model. Here the top priority is figuring out how to best engage the child in the academic curriculum. While this might include attention enhancing medications and frequent breaks, the first question to be asked, always, is whether the child's lack of attention, fidgets, or misbehavior stem from problems with the task at hand. Are the directions comprehensible? Is the reading over his or her head? Is the group discussion too difficult to follow? Are the math problems too easy? Is the writing assignment too open-ended?

The first model is the easier one to follow--especially if the goal is full inclusion in regular classrooms with minimal disruptions to classroom routines. But if the goal is actual education, then the first thing to look at is whether the assignments that are supposed to be educating the child are actually having this effect--rather than other effects that too many people are only too happy to "manage" away.


Mrs. C said...

Since I homeschool, I see that I am "catering" to these educational needs and that makes it more difficult for them to transition into the neurotypical expectations at Sunday school, etc.

But barring violence or severe mental illness/safety issues, why would you medicate your kid? Just to make the TEACHER's day easier? That's not right.

Lsquared said...

I'm totally with you on the managing/educating dichotomy. Managing isn't bad, but educating should come first. (I feel so lucky to have had my ADD kids in an elementary school where the teachers could and did adapt to them somewhat, so the education could work even when the management wasn't so good).

On the other hand, medication isn't always bad. My son isn't autistic, just ADHD, but the medication works for him, and it's not just to make my/the teacher's life easier. He pays more attention to the world around him when he's on his meds, and he can control himself better. He even appreciates the difference himself sometimes. (I know the meds don't work for everyone, though. It would be nice if there were a magic pill to help every child live up to their potential... sigh.)

Anonymous said...

We run up against the reality that school-based education (and particularly mainstream classrooms) is an activity based on creating learning experiences that will work for a group of children. Maybe better for some than for others, but well enough to say that learning is happening. Differentiation is valued, but it's clear that there's a limit to how much of it can happen during any given lesson or activity. As I said in the comment section of a post below, IEP's have a tendency to overlook the time constraints that make the amount of instructional differentiation that children with autism need, an unrealistic goal.

FedUpMom said...

Katharine, this post could have been written about any child.

Most of what goes on during the school day is classroom management, rather than teaching.

Kids are set to work on "projects" that have no educational value. If you complain about this, you get responses like, "they need to learn to do what they're told like all the other kids!" as if that's the entire purpose of school.

FedUpMom said...

Katharine, I just noticed you misspelled "autistic" in your title.

Katharine Beals said...

Thanks for spotting the typo, FedupMom. It's very true that this managing vs. educating issue applies to all kids. But, as with so many issues in contemporary education (group work, unstructured learning, dumbed down math, large, open-ended projects), I'd argue that HFA/Asperger's kids in particular really force the issue.