Finally an Edweek Commentary I can relate to. In her piece on the challenges her Asperger's son faces at school, Anita Charles, the director of teacher education at Bates College, writes:
I have seen him get perfect answers in math, only to lose many points for not "showing" the work adequately. (In elementary school, the start of the math troubles, he was sent back from the math enrichment classroom because he kept showing up without a pencil.) I have seen him freak out over tests based exclusively on corrected homework—that somehow didn't manage to stay with his notebook, thereby earning him that toxic zero. Never mind the points lost for the disastrous notebook itself. (And this for a kid who was solving square roots in his head at the age of 5. Nowadays? "I can't do math," he tells me. What I tell him is that he's perfectly capable of doing "math"—he just doesn't "do school" as well.)
I have watched my son get a D on a science lab because he couldn't express enough details, had too many crossed-out errors in his lab report, and didn't list the full names of his lab partners.
He can only take yet another low mark for "group participation," "eye contact," "presentation," "neatness," "organization," and try not to fall apart at the seams.
We have asked our "Aspies" to try to "figure out" the way school functions for too long. What would it take for the rest of us to try to "figure out" the way kids with Asperger's function? What would it take to put a few ramps and railings in place, to find alternative assessments, to speak gently to these gentle souls and ask them what the world feels like to them? It's not that difficult, honestly. And the gifts we uncover might astound us.Amen.
As director of teacher education at Bates College, Charles is well-positioned to make a difference. I'm hoping that she's encouraging Bates' teachers of future teachers to question whether group participation and eye contact should figure in anyone's grades; whether it's fair to impose heavy organizational demands on anyone (not just the Aspies) who happens to be at the lower end of normal in their Executive Function development; whether neatness should ever be a requirement when students no longer learn penmanship; whether trivial nitpicks should ever add up to a D; and whether students should ever get points off for not showing their work when their answers are consistently correct.
Much as I sympathize with autism families in particular, these requirements aren't just frustrating the Aspies. Indeed, just as many have benefited from other accommodations intended originally for the disabled (everything from curb cuts to speech recognition software), many might benefit, in particular, from classroom accommodations for Aspies.