Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What's soft for neurotypicals can prickle those with autism

Day three of College has begin, and so far, so good. J has been navigating the campus on his own and getting to classes on his own, on time. He's gone to the bookstore and purchased a textbook. He's had lunch in the cafeteria. He's been interacting with professors: giving them his "disability letter" (Notice of Accommodations) at the end of class and, apparently, participating in class. As far as we know, he hasn't committed any major blunders.

In terms of J's classes, the good news is that most of them have websites. If he neglects to get a syllabus, or to take notes, there's often a syllabus or lecture notes on BlackBoard. (He is supposed to have a note taker; that should be set up following the Notice of Accommodations).

The bad news is that some of these (mostly technical) classes are starting off with "soft" assignments that seem designed to ease accessibility for neurotypical students: an interview with a computer science professor about his career choices; a research paper on recent developments in one of the core areas of computer science.

But here's a general rule of thumb: What makes things more accessible to neurotypicals often makes them less accessible to those on the spectrum. And, while the Notice of Accommodations has everything considered "reasonable accommodations" for autism in it--from note-taking and laptop use to separate rooms for exams--there's nothing about opting out of those soft, "accessibility"-easing assignments.


Anonymous said...

I've felt the same way about efforts to attract more girls/URMs to particular classes/fields; they seem to at least as effective (maybe more so) in repelling those who already have the interest/performance in such areas. Making science "fun" by adding artsy projects is one thing my kids have experienced - and hated. This was mostly in ES-MS for my kids,but I've heard that it is now in HS, as well. I've heard of making posters in AP English Lit, as opposed to writing a real research paper.

kcab said...

Best of luck to J! Hope the classes get past the squishy stuff quickly and that J is able to shine as they move onto meatier stuff.

Unknown said...

And these "soft" assignments are at least all about actual information to be gleaned from the interviews and the research on important issues in computer science. Think about the introductory exercises that afflict many humanities courses -- how the student feels about something, or what her/his opinion on some issue is.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we have now at least a generation of kids who didn't learn the difference between "I think" and "I feel", because schools have given feelings primacy, while failing to teach how to construct, support and/or rebut an academic argument. Of course, it's easier - and more PC - to do the former than the latter.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to J on starting college!

Regarding note taking, does J's college loan Lifescribe pens? My son was able to borrow one from his college and it's great. This pen records audio and can sync up to one's handwritten notes or "key words". This allows one to replay a specific portion of the recording by tapping on a word in the handwritten notes. The recording can also be downloaded and converted to text, but we haven't tried this feature yet.

A smartphone audio recording might be another good option, especially if the notetaker is a fellow classmate.