So, let me tell you a story. Last year I envisioned a classroom where I could make a difference to my students. My instincts told me that technology could make a difference, but I found pcs or laptops difficult because of they way they were set up ...mostly they face a wall, or with laptops, students are hidden behind them. I then heard about the new IPad, not yet released.....and before I even tried one, I knew it could be the answer. I had used an iphone and an itouch, so I had some feel for how a the touch screen might work.
I kept saying out loud, "I want ten Ipads"....first a parent purchased one and the difference to my student was remarkable. He went from a child who could barely sit for five minutes to being engaged in writing, reading and spelling for more than forty minutes. The parents were so enthusiastic and saw remarkable differences at home. The school began to see the differences as well and the Principal started to talk about what the future might hold if the school were to introduce Ipads into the school.
From that discussion, they purchased ten for my classroom and I was given permission to trial using Ipads within the classroom in all curriculum areas. From the very first day, my students were incredibly excited...we do reading, writing, spelling and creating; we also do counting, math etc....and what was extraordinary, within the first week kids who had reputations as kids who roamed the classroom, refused to work, struggled with handwriting etc were sitting at their tables completely engrossed in the various applications and learning at the same time.
By week three, other teachers started asking about how effective the IPads were and the other students were asking why their grades didn't have them too. Astoundingly, the school made a decision to buy an IPad for each student....so my dream of ten went to 60 in three weeks.
Ok, so it is a piece of technology, but my passion emerged from my belief that all children can learn and achieve success. I've taught in many many special schools and I've observed teachers still trying to teach children who have fine motor issues to write in year 7, 8, 9....not their fault, it is what they are required to do....but why do we insist on focusing on what these kids can't do? We must give them success because when we do, they can learn and when they do learn, they feel great about themselves and the cycle continues....in a nutshell, let's focus on what these children can achieve.
The beauty of the IPad for children with autism is that the children can interact with the machinery in a very tactile way; the graphics are engaging and extremely appealing; it responds to many of the senses; and as the teacher I can sit along side the student, or in front of them and there is a not a big screen in the way.....the other brilliant thing about this technology is that the students become directors of their own learning.
I am working on a list of applications and how they relate to the curriculum and hope to have that available soon. I will post it on this website when I do.
Parents, educators please consider this technology for your child.....and allow your child to learn by focusing on their talents and what they can do. Please send me an email if you want any more info.
I was speaking to my brother tonight and he asked me about what I do within my classroom and how each student is different and unique and therefore I need to be provide an individual program, unique to them. He asked me why I have chosen to work in a field that is so challenging and time consuming from a work perspective.
Why? I can provide you with such an easy answer...because I cannot imagine NOT teaching these kids. I'm touched every day by their brilliance, determination, inspiration, humour, love and overall humanity. These kids are so 'real' in a world that can often miss the truth of what is really important.
I came by this work by accident, but in actuality it was serendipitous. For connecting with these kids, my life has been changed. I've watched in frustration as I've seen kids who are completley brilliant not achieving their potential. I watch in dismay as we continually focus upon what children cannot do, rather than what they can do and yet we keep doing the same things over and over. What is the saying, "if you continue to do the same thing over and over, this is the definition of insanity".
The key to any child achieving and learning is success. These kids must achieve in any way possible....so it is up to teachers to be creative and create learning environments that provide this for the kids: use their interests, use technology and most of all focus on what they can do!
I have been blessed this year to have been given Ipads in my classroom. I have one for each child and I've designed my entire curriculum around their use, including literacy, numeracy etc. I've had a number of parents come to me concerned that I'm going to neglect "traditional" ways of learning. But what if traditional ways of learning means their child fails every time? For example, I've taught kids who are 12, 13 who still cannot hold a pencil to write their name; but they can type it on the ipad. Why would I insist on these kids holding a pencil, failing every time; when they can achieve success, write their names and feel good about themselves?
We have to accept the paradigm of education is shifting and needs to shift. It is no longer about the "three rs", times tables, spelling bees etc. This may still work for some kids, but not for all. Our kids are in a technological era; they face technology no matter where they go and what they do; on train stations, shops, local library etc etc. So many childen who have disabilities can't perform simple tasks, but they sure know how to turn on a computer and if this is what interests them and what they achieve success with, then we MUST use this.
At the end of the day it is about your child reaching their potential and many children with disabilities, especially Autism are only scraping the surface of what their true pontential is! I work with these kids every day and I see the brilliance; I see the potential; I see the wonder in these kids and as I've said many times previously, I am forced to face myself and change my view of the world.
I wanted my very first post to put a stamp on what I want to achieve with "Project Autism". I want to help families of children with Autism to alter their perception of what 'autism' is and in doing so alter how they then live their lives.
When we see autism as a brilliant way of being and that we need to deal with autism in a more transformative way, then we frame our own experiences in a much more positive and energetic way. I, by no means want to diminish family's experience because as a teacher with children of autism, I know there are 'tough' days and it is often difficult to know what these children need, want and expect. However, I do know with certainty, that when I step outside of the box; step into their world a little more; and understand that autism is as autism does then I have much more success with these kids and more importantly they seek me out and are happy to see me. This is because they know I am making an effort; they know I want to understand them; and vitally, they know I accept and value who they are.
These kids view the world through a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, textures and smells. Their experience of the world is more intense and rich, but at the same time can be disturbing, scary and frustrating. So as parents, familes and educators, it is up to us to alter the way we perceive and understand these children and in doing so we alter the way we create the world around them. For example, we need to understand that so called 'tantrums' are merely expressions of frustration, anxiety and fear. A child having a tantrum is either 1/ trying to tell us something ie they are hungry, in pain or unsure of what they are experiencing 2/ they may be experiencing something sensorally ie colours, shapes, sounds, textures and smells can be distressing and even painful to these kids. We need to understand what their sensory issues are and adjust accordingly. 3/ they orient within the world very differently and everything has to make sense to them. For example, a boy in my class would walk into the room and push the chairs off the tables. After a few weeks of this, it occurred to me to ask him why he was doing this. He replied "chairs don't go on tables". He is completley right...chairs don't belong on tables! 4/ seguing on from that point...we need to talk to these kids; ask them why they are doing what they are doing; ask them what they are feeling; and talk to them about their experiences. When we do this, you'd be surprised by their answers and you also find that they are willing and actually happy to tell you what is wrong, because finally someone will listen to them.
The one certainty is that children with autism have a huge 'bullshit' metre....they just won't put up with people who are false, don't get them, don't care for them or are tentative with them. If a child with autism pushes someone away, lashes out, or doesn't want to go near a person, generally it means they know how that person feels about them. The remotest sense that someone doesn't get it or get them, then you will have lost them and it will take a lot to gain back their confidence and trust.
As I'm writing this, I am realising that I have so much to write and it is often difficult to contain and put my writing in a way that hopefully will make sense. However, thankfully a blog is just that, a blog, in that it is a space to just "write" what one is thinking; it is not a book that has to have sequence, continuity and form, so hopefully my 'just writing' will provide some insight.
My last words are for parents. I meet and talk to so many parents, either in my role as a teacher, or randomly. Just the other day, I was getting my hair done and the hairdresser asked me what I did. After I told her, she shared that she had a child who had Asperger's. Within a few minutes, I could tell she carried the same burden I sense from all parents; guilt and possbily shame; frustration and anger (because they don't know where to go for assistance); fear and anxiety....there is so much blame experienced by parents, especially mothers. Did I do something wrong? Is it my fault my child is like this? etc etc. Please parents, the one thing I wish you would all get is "it is not your fault and there is nothing for you to be blamed for". You gave birth to these wonderful, brilliant, fabulous children because as a parent you were 1/ up for the job and 2/ must be wonderful and brillant yourself to be blessed with a child like this. When you parent from blame, pain and stress then the burden is so much bigger; but when you parent from a space of wonder, excitement and anticipation, then the entire energy changes around your relationship with your child and the world. Parents, rid yourself of blame and the journey will immediately become easier because you will be able to breathe again and just maybe the light at the end of the tunnel will become more visible.