Saturday, December 12, 2009

Special education programs do help boys with "mild" autisim; biological neurological timing issue thought to be involved

Emma Brown had an article a while back in the Washington Post, Dec. 3, “Teaching the ABC's of crucial social skills: As number of autistic kids rises, schools and programs are being created to aid those with mild form”, link here. The article seems to focus mainly on Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly in middle school settings where teasing and outright physical hostility from some students occurs in some environments.

Often, students with mild autism are mainstreamed as special education students, but instructional assistants accompany them. It takes a special kind of person to work as an assistant. But often substitutes work as assistants, and may simply accompany them to class and not want to or know how to interact with them.

I believe that I had Aspergers myself in “junior high school” in the 1950s. But then, it was seen as a “moral” problem. I showed signs of developmental issues suddenly in third grade, when I started interrupting in class and falling behind in physical activities on recess (“No bunts except for Boushka”). But, as I explained recently on the drama blog, I started piano in third grade and was good at it and gradually outgrew many of the problems. I got so I could hit a moderately pitched softball and play ping pong, but I could not swim, do tumbling, or endure contact sports (football).

Neurologists say that boys with autistic symptoms have biological neurological responses that are just too “slow”, much the way a computer can become too "slow". Therefore they can focus on individual activities and interests as long as they are not distracted and don’t have to “shift gears” at the demands of others. The slow neurological response accounts for falling behind in athletic abilities. The developmental "disability" relates to interpersonal connection speed and social spontaniety, not to congnition itself.

I can recall the experience of being disrupted just to be made to do “unnecessary” things just to please the social needs of others. It was their needs, not mine. So it seems that some of our genetically determined neurological response is related to fitting into a social structure (lions' pride) determined by others, not simply to performing tasks on our own terms. Mildly autistic people often become successful in computer-related occupations where they can work and think alone. Some have become millionaires.

Today (Saturday Dec. 12), the Post printed a letter on p A13 from parents who at one time had a son at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington. I substitute-taught at Kenmore in early 2005 and was banned with a “do not use” request after I had too many problems with classroom discipline (“poor classroom management”). The issue is discussed in more detail on my main blog July 25, 2007. On one occasion, in a special ed class, some bullies turned on a particular student suddenly, and I could not stop it. I had to call security immediately. But I was considered ineffective as a male “authority figure.” It seems from this letter that Kenmore Middle School, despite its wonderful new building, still has serious problems with discipline, which must stem from practices of the administration. The best middle school now in Arlington is Swanson. That’s where I went in the 1950s, and I had no problems subbing there.

Also, when I subbed, a couple of times supposedly "autistic" students were able to carry on perfectly appropriate classroom-subject-related discussions with me (with the Aspergers as I have said above) alone, to the point of not seeming "impaired" and said that I understood them better than most "real" teachers.

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