In an age where increasing numbers of kids with autism are being mainstreamed into regular classrooms that, in turn, are decreasingly hospitable to their learning needs (cf the rise of Reform Math, group-centered learning, personal reflections, and large, open-ended projects), it's refreshing to read of a different sort of institution that is moving in the opposite direction: namely, the transit museum.
These museums, with their trains and time tables, attract large numbers of children on the autistic spectrum. With Britain taking the lead (as it so often has in appreciating the strengths and interests of children with autism), these museums are now hosting programs specifically for this population. As reported in a recent New York Times article:
In Britain, home to Thomas the Tank Engine and the site of Thomas fund-raiser walks organized by the National Autistic Society, the movement to tailor transit museum programs to children with autism is more established. The London Transport Museum recently hosted an event for high school students to spend time with the timetabling department. The National Railway Museum in York, England, set up a disability forum to start catering to visitors with autism.Observes one British mother, who started a train club in Cheshire, England:
“When we go to train museums, they’re absolutely filled with children with autism... They’ve all been really well attended. It’s partly for the kids and partly for the parents. It’s nice to meet other people trailing around train museums.”The New York Transit Museum is following suit:
The museum created a “Subway Sleuths” after-school program for 9- and 10-year-olds with autism that focuses on the history of New York City trains but seeks to make the children more at ease socially.Parents are thrilled:
The response to the program been so positive that the museum is planning to expand it in the fall.They appear to value, in particular, the importance of their children "being around others with similar interests."
Perhaps our public schools could try something similar. How about offering magnet programs specifically focused on the academic subjects of greatest interest to those on the autistic spectrum--e.g., math, engineering and computer science--and tailoring the instruction and the assignments specifically to AS children? This, of course, would require schools to reverse their relentless drive to mainstream all children into one-size-fits-all classrooms and, for math in particular, to toss out Reform Math.
But I'd bet a lot of AS parents (and perhaps others as well) would be thrilled to have this option.