I posted this on Facebook a couple of days ago and I received a really interesting comment from my brother, Royce Barley. He is in his late forties and was only diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago.
Here is my original POST:
Click here to read the Dysgraphia Vs Dyslexia article first.
This is a really exception article because it clarifies a huge issue for students in the classroom. Dysgraphia is a very real, but undervalued problem for many children, especially those who are on the Autism Spectrum. Dysgraphia is why logically it makes sense to allow children who have this condition to use technology to do their 'writing'. #autismawareness #ipads4education #dysgraphiaisreal
Here was my brother’s response to my post:
Dysgraphia can also be associated with other learning differences. I have ADD and also have dysgraphia. When I was in primary school I missed quite a few lunch breaks because my teaching insisted I stay in and learn to write neater (which was impossible and made even more difficult by this stress of missing playtime). I still feel a flush of embarrassment every time I have to hand write in public.
This was over 37 years ago and we still haven't figured out that every child may not have the ability to write letters neatly or even the same.
I agree with Karina that technology can really help here (if this response was hand written I would be the only one who could read it).
The other thing that baffles me here is why we think all kids should write the same way. I can actually write quite neatly with pastry on a pie. I am not saying we should start letting kids start writing on pastries (though it would be quite tasty) but maybe they can write eligibly in their own way. Maybe they would prefer to write bigger letters or with coloured pens. Maybe they would prefer there o's to be flatter or their f's bigger.
My point here is we need to think outside the box and let kids express themselves the way they want to, not the way they think they should.
It’s absolutely soul destroying to make a child continue to do ‘handwriting’ before we consider that this may be an issue for them. If we truly want children to experience success in ‘writing’ then we should provide a way to make it as easy as possible.
So it is the season of pumpkins and spices, autumnal colors and harvest. Yes, it’s Halloween and for children on the Spectrum this can be a literal nightmare. So, how can we have an Autism friendly Halloween?
Halloween like many other celebrations can cause an extreme amount of sensory overload for children who are on the Autism Spectrum. There is an overdose of color, sound, sensation and food.
This can cause extreme anxiety and as I said and sensory overwhelm. So how can you get your child to participate in Halloween and ‘trick or treating’ if they are on the Autism Spectrum?
First is first, if you child is uncomfortable, doesn’t want to participate please don’t make them. Of course you can encourage and try some of the other tips I suggest to get them past the sensory issues that they will experience, but never force a child on the Spectrum to do anything.
Here are some tips:
You might be thinking that this is going to take a little bit of work and yes it will. The first few experiences will always be more work than the subsequent experiences. If we want children who are on the Autism Spectrum to assimilate and be ‘included’ in society and the events that occur around them, we have to meet them where they are at first.
What do I mean by that?
For them, they will not understand Halloween in the same way that a neurotypical child will. They will think it doesn’t make sense and if something doesn’t make sense it makes them nervous and apprehensive. So, we meet them at a place where it can begin to make sense to them. Small steps, moving forward. Give them as much information as possible to prepare them and with support from loving people around them they might get to ‘trick or treat’ at one or two houses. If that’s all they
get to do to start with, then that’s an achievement. Next year, try for four houses. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t let your child’s differences prevent you from trying. Work around them. There is always a way!
If it doesn’t work this year, try a different plan next year. What was it that didn’t work? Make adjustments and ensure you don’t repeat the same plan again. Everything with Autism is trial and error, but we will never know what your child can achieve if we don’t try.
RATIONALE FOR TABLET USE by Karina D. Barley
Imagine a school, just for one moment… where you walked into the door of the school….and the very first questionnaire would contain the questions: “What do you love to do?” What is your favorite thing in life? What are you good at? What would make you smile? How would life/school be if you could do the things that you love to do?
Imagine a school whose curriculum catered for those kinds of questions…and designed a pedagogical program that is individual to your child, based on the answers to those questions?
Teaching to Children's Strengths
It is then that we could abandon English, Math, Science, etc. in the way that it is taught now, where we just deliver buckets of information that has no relevance to kids. Alternatively, let’s say a child’s interest is cooking; what if we were to inspire them to want to learn for example they will want to learn to read because by reading they can gain more information from recipe books. They will want to learn about measurement because this knowledge will help them to become a better chef. They will want to learn about money because they will want to go shopping to purchase their ingredients. They will want to learn about science in the context of how cooking and science interrelate. They will want to learn to write, because they will want to write their own recipes. Just recently, there's a program called Master Junior Chef and everyone is amazed at how incredible the children are.
The comments I hear are "can you believe those kids?" "Those kids are just brilliant". "I can't believe they can cook like that." The recipe (pardon the pun) really isn't that difficult to understand and while I don't want to take away from those amazing kids (because they really are amazing), but these kids are shining because they LOVE to cook; they LOVE to do what they are doing; and when children LOVE doing something, they WILL learn!!! You don't have to ask them, or cajole them into it, they can't wait to get into the kitchen to cook; and to be a better cook, they will learn to read a recipe, learn the math required to get their recipes right; understand the science behind what makes recipes work, flavors taste better etc; and develop creativity in the way they present their food. As I said above, it really is NOT difficult to comprehend and in my mind, this gives me a "recipe", a foundation, a platform from which educating children should stem from. If we start with what they LOVE to do; the rest comes naturally.
I personally believe that using technology can bridge the gaps for those children who are struggling, but also make learning easier for any child. These kids come to school ‘tech’ ready and digitally aware so it makes sense that we give 21st century children, learn using 21st Century technology.
Just read this article about Toni Braxton (click here to read for yourself). This really disturbs me and saddens me at the same time. First, I do not believe any God would punish a child for anything their parents have done. Second, I do not believe Autism is a punishment for anyone. Is it a hard road sometimes? Yes! But to suggest that these kids are a punishment is tantamount to saying they are damaged and deficient and I do NOT for one minute believe that kids with Autism are deficient. We have so much to learn from Autism and I don't want to offend parents, but when you look at your child from a perspective of lack, suffering and sadness then of course Autism will feel like a punishment.
Please understand I am NOT diminishing anyone's experience because in my work, I see many parent's struggle, heartache and torment in trying to work out what is best for their child. I've watched them cry in dismay and wish for a child that was 'neurotypical'. But I've also witnessed parents express awe at what their child can do; light up when they try to explain who their child really is; and display frustration when no one else gets it.
Would we really wish Autism away and believe for a cure? That is a moot question and a question that merits so much more discussion. I for one would not want eradicate Autism. I've learned so much in the last 8 years from teaching children on the spectrum, that I can't imagine that I would have made such discoveries any other way. I've learned to not judge a book by it's cover; not everything is as it seems; to step outside of the box of my own 'teaching' philosophy; to be more creative and forward thinking as a teacher; that there is more than one way to learn; that these kids can teach me; that simple and quiet is sometimes better; and to never give up.
What we need instead, is AWARENESS!!!!!! UNDERSTANDING!!!!! & TOLERANCE!!!!!
Awareness that difference is ok and we can adjust to the difference. Understanding that what looks like 'negative' behaviour is behaviour that 1 tells us something and 2. may be causing pain for the child. Tolerance for difference, uniqueness and diversity. It would not hurt any of us to learn how to be more 'Autism friendly'.
I make no apologies for this rant, but if I could speak to Toni Braxton, I would tell her that her child is not a punishment but a blessing. Again, parents please let me reiterate that I know it's tough and difficult and might sometimes feel like the journey is a punishment, but at the same time I also know the joy, the delight and the fascination that is Autism.
The last few weeks I've felt my client’s desperation. It’s sometimes difficult for me to walk away without feeling like I need to do more.
Why? A number of my clients have two or more children on the Spectrum and all of the parents I meet are struggling with lack of resources, funding and therapies. Either they can’t find appropriate therapies, or they can’t find the funding to do the therapies once they find them.
Parents struggle enough – No one can even remotely pretend that Autism isn’t a tough gig. While the journey can be infinitely rewarding, joyous and inspiring, walking that road can be tenuous, frustrating and exhausting. It’s not so much that the children cause the frustration, but the major problems can be a system that can be roadblocks and brick walls to families being able to move forward.
Getting a diagnosis alone can take months and sometimes years of attending various the Doctors, therapists and organizations. It costs a significant amount of money to pay for these practitioners. An Autism Pediatrician (in Australia) can cost upwards of $450; Speech Therapists are upwards of $200 per hour; and Occupational Therapists are the same. While I have no problem with therapists needing to charge for their services; surely funding to pay for the diagnosis process should be mandatory.
Then parents have to struggle with finding the most appropriate services for their children. In my role as a consultant I often attend Pediatrician visits and therapy visits and I’m dumbfounded that so-called Autism Specialist services don’t even have Autism friendly waiting rooms.
I’ve attended Pediatrician visits where the Specialist doesn’t even talk to the child, then of course the child misbehaves and the outcome of the visit is negative. I’ve watched Parents try to tell Doctors and Therapists “my child doesn’t normally behave like this” and I see the Therapists/Doctors ignore the parent’s pleas.
I walk away NOT surprised at all, there has been NO connection, so the child with Autism is not going to behave well under these circumstances. They are NOT going to show their ‘best’ to someone they don’t trust and has failed to even notice they exist.
I’ve told Doctors that I’ve witnessed our client doing ‘XYZ’… Only to be told that I must have a biased opinion. Not only is that insult to my professionalism, but to my integrity. In that moment, I feel a little of what parents feel every day.
One of the greatest gifts I can give to parents is to ‘get it’. To understand what they are experiencing, to understand their child; and to see what they see in their child. I see parents faces light up when I recognize their children as more than just autistic. They often resolve to tears when I say “oh your child is bright. He has the ability to achieve; we just have to find what induces his desire to learn.”
There is NO ‘one size fits all’ solution to the problem that is Autism. I think we need to spend less time on trying to finding a ‘cure’ and invest more energy spent into understanding the condition. There is a saying that “if you know one child who has Autism, you know one child who has Autism”. So this tells us NO child is the same, therefore NO one therapy or intervention will work for every child.
One thing I believe Autism teaches us is the nature of individualism and uniqueness. We just can’t put children in an “age” box, irrespective of whether they have Autism OR if they are neurotypical.
All children learn differently[KB1] . All children have different skills and abilities. All children have different interests. Being seven years old shouldn’t mean that the child goes straight into a typical curriculum for a seven year old. Some children will learn visually, some by doing, some verbally and some emotionally. Some children love Math and don’t like English; some love Science but don’t like Sport. Doesn’t it make sense to create a differentiated curriculum to suite each child?
Does this idea make the job of the teacher harder? Initially there will be more work and preparation to do, but ultimately if the child loves what they are learning, then behavior problems will diminish, motivation will increase, concentration will improve and children will WANT to attend school.
The principle is the same for children on the Spectrum. I won’t even consider a program for my clients until I’ve observed them at least once. We need to understand how these kids learn, what motivates them and what their sensory issues are. Any program needs to be uniquely and individually tailored to that child.
So I’ve veered off the topic a little, but the truth is this is a huge, varied, and complicated topic. There are so many issues to consider, but I want to return to my original purpose for writing this blog.
Parents with children on the Spectrum need our support. They need our understanding and they need our awareness. We owe children this! Not only because of the benefits to them individually, but we owe it to them because as a community, we will be better off when we understand the uniqueness that is Autism.
I view Autism through the eyes of potential and when I communicate that to parents I give them hope. Let’s make the path easier by supporting faster diagnosis methods, funding for support and therapies, and funding for community, education and professional awareness programs. In ten years we need these children to be shining with potential and productive, thriving members of society. Then people like Temple Grandin and Carly Fleischmann won’t be so unique. They’ll be a part of every community inspiring us all.
I offer a specialized consultancy where my role as coach and teacher is to suggest strategies and innovative ideas about how parents, teachers and care givers of children with Autism can make life more manageable for their child and family.
This “gift to give” is looking at the Autism Spectrum with a quantum perspective! I am convinced the future of Autism is evolving and on the verge of huge positive and initializing change.
I believe passionately and wholeheartedly that when we look at Autism with a different perspective; one where we are not looking at this condition with pity, sadness and misunderstanding, but where we are looking at Autism as an opportunity for huge potential and change for all humankind, then we will be truly seeing Autism as Potential!
The unique individuals who are on the Autistic Spectrum vibrate on a totally different frequency; they orientate within their environment in a very unique way to us; their senses are heightened in a variety of ways which makes the world a profound sensory minefield for them; and most importantly they are misunderstood by society where they are expected to “fit” into the mainstream way of being.
Whether you are a parent, teacher or caregiver of a child of autism, you have been chosen as a shepherd for these amazing, extraordinary human beings, where you can champion their cause.
So, it is tantamount that you are aware of how we can bridge the divide between our world and theirs.
This can be achieved by:
1. Tuning into the frequency that is uniquely theirs and in doing so connect online to the Autism “world”
2. Take ourselves to their world, instead of trying to drag them into ours. How incredibly transforming it will be when we open ourselves up to the possibility that is Autism!
Contrary to popular belief children with Autism are hanging out to connect, communicate and relate, so it is through my consultancy that I can make this possible. I want to help parents to see that they must be incredible, extraordinary human beings to have been given the gift of caretaker of these children.
I’d like to assist parents to eliminate guilt and shame or whatever else attaches them to some negative around this – as they didn’t cause this to happen and parents are NOT responsible for their child being Autistic! Children are autistic because they are here to change the world and challenge the way we do things. They are here to teach us about ourselves and to help us to learn how to tune in to the vibration of the human race in a much more profound way. We need to embrace what they are bringing to the table and then find ways to help them to orientate within this world in a much more effective way. I also think we need to deal with this situation in a holistic way, in that we are working with the entire family, not just the child who has Autism.
I came across this AMAZING group on Facebook and I encourage you to check them out. Not only do they raise awareness in a fun way (creating beautiful jewelry), but in doing so they are supporting children with Autism and helping them reach their potential with the gift of giving.
I am a strong advocate of iPads for Autism as I have seen first hand how this technology can allow children, of all abilities, to reach their potential and advance their learning skills in a way they never have before. AND their jewelry is SUPER fun and made with love.
This is the description from their Facebook page:
It is the mission of The Puzzling Piece to raise Autism awareness, as well as help families that have been touched by Autism feel loved and supported through the gift of technology. The Puzzling Piece also honors those who help the children and families touched by Autism by making donations to Autism based non-profit organizations with each sale that is made. Through awareness and the efforts to place iPads in the hands of children, teachers and therapists the Puzzling Piece strives to enhance the lives of children and families touched by Autism.
Check out their website and Facebook Page with one small click of a button!
I have recently come across some amazing organizations who are working towards making the world a more accepting one. Check out their Facebook Pages!!!
Check out my new Slideshare for Autism Awareness Month - Learning styles of Individuals with Autism.
A presentation celebrating unique and awesome individuals who have Autism, raising awareness on their abilities and potential.
For Teachers, Parents, Carers, people with the privileged of knowing someone with Autism, or people wanting to know more about Autism.
Project Autism will be celebrating Autism Awareness Month with the launch of THREE new Autism Courses.
Stay tuned to this website, and Digital Learning Tree for further information!
My website is now currently updated and reflecting the way my work has evolved over the last few years. As you all know I have been creating a lot of online courses available through Digital Learning Tree, University of North Dakota, and available for university credits through University of the Pacific.
I have also partnered with Teacher Training Australia, creating a number of Professional Development courses available to teachers/educators in Australia.
The courses I have written are iPads to teach K-12 Common Core Standards, guiding teachers to successfully implement and integrate this new technology into the curriculum and classroom, then that evolved into a course for using Androids to teach K-12 Common Core Standards. Must have Apps for the Classroom came next, as did my work on Autism Awareness, and iPads for Autism.
You can get a preview of these online courses from the Digital Learning Tree, or from my website "Further Reading and Resources", which will take you my Powerpoint Presentations on Slideshare.
I hope to aid teachers to successfully use these tools in the classroom as an educational tool, furthering their professional development, and in turn skyrocketing their students access to unique, engaging and creative ways of learning.
I’d like to use today, Martin Luther King Day as a day to declare a ‘dream’ that I have. In 1994 in Salamanca Spain, a statement was made in a UNESCO World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality. The Statement was a Framework for action on Special Needs Education.
There were 300 participants representing 92 governments around the world and 23 world organizations and then after the conference the Salamanca Statement was born. We are now 20 years on from when that Statement was made and I want to use this document as a preface to my ‘dream’. Statement 1 declares that: T H E S A L A M A N C A S T A T E M E N T - We, the delegates of the World Conference on Special Needs Education representing ninety-two governments and twenty – five international organizations, assembled here in Salamanca, Spain, from 7-10 June 1994, here by reaffirm our commitment to Education for All, recognizing the necessity and urgency of providing education for children, youth and adults with special educational needs within the regular education system, and further here-by endorse the Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, that governments and organizations may be guided by the spirit of its provisions and recommendations (UNESCO, 1994, p. viii).
One of the principal declarations in this document is ‘recognizing the necessity and urgency’ for equal and quality education for all students with special needs and here we are 20 years on and I am unsure that urgency has been expedited. In my work as a consultant and trainer, I meet many parents and teachers of children (whom I prefer to term ‘difabled’ - that is, they are differently abled). The common denominator I hear from both parties are the frustrations around lack or resources, funding and understanding from governments and departments who are in charge of education. I have been completely shocked, flabbergasted and dismayed when teachers around the world tell me of classrooms that are oversized and have little support and that they would love to employ strategies based on my research, but don’t know how, given the environment and conditions of their work.
We can’t ignore this as a problem anymore. The statistics on Autism alone are going up yearly and the recent statistics in the USA is that one in 55 children in America are born on the Autism Spectrum (Pomerance, M. (2014) Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/50-american-kids-autism-latest-figures-article-1.1302872). This is going to be a significant problem to social welfare, employment and the parents of these children 20 years from now if we do not cater for this now.
The only way we can do that is by recognizing our education system is not working. It does not work for neurotypical children nor difabled children. We can no longer rely upon an antiquated 20th Century model and must look towards a productive, progressive model that focuses upon creative, differentiated learning, where children learn how to learn.
If I refer to my opening statement and think about Martin Luther King Jnr (King, 1963, retrieved from, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm) and look at his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, much of what he says can apply to our many difabled students. These kids are “crippled by the manacles of segregation and chains of discrimination”; they struggle to find acceptance in a world of judgment and find it even more difficult to be integrated into everyday life and activities because of lack of understanding and awareness.
These kids live on “a lonely island of poverty and ….find themselves in exile in their own land”. I met a delightful young man who is now 20 in Ohio. He is on the Autism Spectrum, but after five minutes conversing with him, I could sense his wit, intellect and organized thinking. Yet he was struggling to find anyone who would hire him, he is isolated living with his parents and has very little friends and has taken to living in the cyber world of gaming. All he needs is ONE employer to give him a chance and help him to function in the job with awareness, tolerance and understanding.
Mr King declares that “when the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir”. He continued to state that this was for every human being irrespective of color and I would like to add that this also refers to ability, disability, difference, education, able or difabled; that these people also “would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’”.
Adding to the sentiments of Mr King, I don’t believe we are bankrupt of feeling or understanding. The one thing I am certain is that are many, many people in the USA, Australia, Britain, Canada, India; in fact countries all over the world who are doing amazing, extraordinary work to bring equality, justice and humanity to the individuals in this world who are ‘difabled’.
Mr King stated in 1963, “we have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now” and I’d like to do the same. “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children”; kids with different abilities do not need your pity, sadness or dismay. They do not need you to feel grief for them, ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist. They don’t need you to do the ‘work’ for them…they just need you to pave the way for them to have dignity and the right to co-exist equally and independently and then do the ‘work’ for themselves. These individuals and their families “cannot walk alone” and it is up to us a society to recognize how imperative this is to the development and evolution of our society. It is NO longer acceptable to be racist, as we can value and learn from the culture of others; it is NO longer acceptable to be ignorant to the needs of our difabled neighbors; for as a society we will learn and evolve as a community when we embrace who they are and learn from their differences.
So again, to quote the great Martin Luther King, “I have a dream”. I have a dream that education will be based on how children learn; focus upon the skills and not deficits; and teach children to be independent learners.
I have a dream that education will embrace differences and integrate all into the one classroom; so that all children will then learn from each other and value what each individual has to offer.
I have a dream that we will no longer see people through lack, disability and looks and instead we will see truly what that person has to offer.
I have a dream that we will teach our children to value each and every person, irrespective of how they look, what they can do, what they wear, how they speak, or how they act.
I have a dream that we will live in a society, culture, country and world where we recognize that all “are created equal”.
I have a dream that governments and those in charge or ‘education’ will provide an equal, integrated and inclusive education system. We should not forget the Salamanca Statement’s intent and we should certain heed the words of Mr King….where we were once focused on race and culture, we need to also recognize that those with differences are afforded the same dignity and respect.
King, M.L., (1963), American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches. Retrieved: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm 20/1/14.
Pomerance, R. (2014), Daily News: One in 50 American kids has autism: What the latest figures tell us. Retrieved: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/50-american-kids-autism-latest-figures-article-1.1302872#ixzz2qyH84aX3 20/1/14.
UNESCO, (1994), The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, retrieved, http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/SALAMA_E.PDF 20/1/14.
As we move into the next year, I'm always compelled to think about what has gone before. I've spent an extremely busy year traveling back and forth from Australia to the USA and it's been an interesting personal experience comparing and sharing cultures. I apologise for the lack of 'blogs' on this forum, but traveling doesn't always lend itself to sitting at the computer for long lengths of time.
I've met teachers from all over the United States (as well as in Australia of course) and the one thing that I know with certainty is that teachers everywhere are working tirelessly to do their best for their students. Sure, like any profession there might be a few 'bad eggs'...but essentially the profession is full of passionate, dedicated people who start off teaching with a desire to make a difference. Let's face it, they are NOT doing it for the money....a teacher's salary is pitiful compared to most 'professional' salaries, yet I would defy anyone to argue that they have one of the most influential jobs in the world. Why then, are teachers struggling against lack of resources and funding? Why is bureaucracy more important than education? I feel so desperate for teachers when I speak to them at conferences and training when they say "we want to do what you are suggesting, but we can't because we don't have the resources". Why would any administration think it is ok to put 15 special needs children in one classroom with one teacher and minimal aide support? Yet I hear these stories every day.
However, despite the woes and cries of lack of support and lack of funding, we still must move forward into what I call the new educational paradigm. We can't stay in an antiquated system because it is easier, or expected. It's no longer feasible to be able to teach our students all that there is to learn because the world seems so much bigger now with the overflow of technological advancement, the internet age, and the influx of media. When I went to school, the curriculum was english, math, science, history, geography, art, health and a splash of physical education and we were limited to what was held in the Encyclopedia Britannica (or something similar).
Now, I believe it is impossible to stick to the above as curriculum. First, there is just too much information to impart to students in even one of those curriculum areas and second not everyone is meant to be 'well rounded' educationally any more (even if they could be). It makes so much more sense to me to work out what our student's specialties are; what they are good at and what they love to do and then build curriculum around their interests. You can still integrate all of the curriculum areas above, but you're doing it in a much more confined arena.
The other benefit is that students can basically be the designers and drivers of their own curriculum. It's kinda like a 'Pandora's' (www.pandora.com) approach to education in that students can select their areas of expertise.
I've talked about this before and I know there are many of you as educators jumping up and down saying "but how am I meant to manage all of that?" I believe passionately that when children are learning what they love to learn then behaviour issues diminish; attendance increases; and interest and engagement grows giving the teacher more time to manage the classroom and curriculum.
This is not some Utopian idea I have, because I tried this when I introduced technology into my classroom of 10 students with autism. They were all on differing levels of the spectrum both from an autism and learning viewpoint. I had to differentiate the curriculum anyway, so I focused on interests and technology and the success was phenomenal.
What I noticed was that my students gained confidence as they achieved success. As they gained confidence, they were willing to accept greater challenges educationally, and the whole thing became a cyclical process. The more confidence a student feels, they more success they will have. Why? Because they are learning in an area that they enjoy and this makes them WANT to learn! To me it just makes common sense.
I could spend a month of Sundays discussing this as an issue, but the point I really want to make is that the year of 2014 for me will be one where I am an ambassador for what I believe is true 21st Century Learning. This approach is about differentiated, creative, out of the box education and one that is very much student driven with the teacher as mentor. The paradigm shift is well overdue and we can longer deny the urgency for it's implementation.
I wanted to share briefly my thoughts on sensory issues. I'm not sure how many people are completely aware of how much of a problem this issue is for many kids who are on the spectrum. Many of the 'negative behaviours' exhibited I believe can be hugely linked to sensory based issues. We have to remember that ALL BEHAVIOUR TELLS US SOMETHING. So if a child is screaming with their hands over their ears, that's a big wake up call that they are experiencing pain because the noise is too loud around them. We can't just assume that if a child appears to be behaving badly that they are being so called 'naughty'.....look at the behaviour and figure out why they are doing what they are doing. It could also be that they desperately want to tell us something and no-one is listening.
If we think that 100 years ago, the world was a much quieter place and now we are bombarded by sound, colour, technology etc. The kids who struggle
sensorily can't cope... with this...even one small laptop will make a humming noise that most people don't even notice, but for the child with autism, it might sound like a tractor in their ears. Very rarely do we find a time to be quiet any more......and I think we all suffer. We have to be mindful and try to make our world a little more autism friendly by toning down the noise of sound, colour and smells. When we talk about attacking the senses, that is exactly what happens for these kids..... when we're mindful then we are more likely to take notice and help these kids function in a world that can be foreign and frightening. Part of my ongoing research and study is to work out a way that can help tone down the sensory pervasiveness - I think some of the clues of the past help us; it would hurt any of us to be still & quiet occasionally, turn all technology off, and rest from the noise of the world. Secondly, I believe pressure therapy of some sort definitely helps. It's how we can achieve this and still allowing children dignity and inclusiveness that is the trick.
Anyway, just wanted to share my thoughts as I am 1/ preparing for our fun day and 2/ as I prepare to go away to continue research and to share my research and work.
I recently had the very good fortune to meet a lovely family. This family comprises of three children; the mother is a stay at home Mum and Dad works as an engineer. The two elder children have some learning issues and it has been a huge struggle for the parents to get some 'real' help to assist with their children. The middle girl, is 7 and she has had numerous assessments by psychologists, ST & OTs and while they all elude to a possible 'Autism' diagnosis, none will commit to this diagnosis. This poor Mum is at her wit's end. She also had an IQ assessment (WISC IV) and was given quite a low score and the psychologist basically told Mum to go home and 'just love' this girl as she probably will not be able to achieve alot. Honestly, when I heard this I just wanted to cry. Is this what we tell parents ... really?
First of all, a WISC IV assessment is one assessment, done on one day when the child may have had a bad day; felt ill; couldn't be bothered; or felt bored and possibly insulted by the whole process....we just don't know and second, if this child does have autism (which all the other tests suggest), an IQ test can hardly be accurate for this student. Yet, interestingly the psychologist had more faith in her IQ test, than providing an autism diagnosis? Why is that?
I'm frustrated and saddened, so I can only try to imagine what it is like for parents. The latest from the psychologist is that while &%$# may have autism, we need to wait two more years as girls tend to show more symptoms by then. So what are the parents supposed to do in the mean time? It's a crying shame and to me a most untenable situation. Surely it is better that we work with the facts we have - not to label this child - but to give the parents some foundation to work with....instead parents are sent away with nothing but despair and fear.
I believe we need a complete overhaul of the medical process of getting a diagnosis for these kids; would we sit and wait to see if we had a 'cancer' diagnosis? I know cancer is potentially life threatening, but honestly undiagnosed 'autism' is soul destroying; relationship endangering; and in many ways neglectful to the children. If we think about the sensory issues alone; it is imperative that we know what the student's sensory issues are so that we can provide the appropriate sensory diet and preventions.
Parents need time to prepare; they need time to adjust; they need time to move forward so that the family can live in the most positive way possible. As professionals, we need to help parents to achieve this. Also, we should no longer give parents a 'no hope' diagnosis.....every situation has hope; every child has potential; every single child has the right for us to give them a recipe for success measured by their own potential and ability.
It is my long term goal in life to eliminate ridiculous single testing as a way to assess so called ability and intelligence, as this kind of testing does NOT look at the child from a holistic perspective. And it is from a holistic perspective we MUST assess each and every child; we need to look at tests, behaviour, talents, specific achievements, creativity, language, memory etc. Then we find what each child is GOOD at; what their specific TALENT is, this becomes the platform from which we teach them. The deficit model of teaching is no longer relevant in the 21st century when we have so much technology to assist in learning and education. Some people baulk at technology stunting children's learning, when I am convinced technology is a true gift, especially to kids who have differing abilities.
We wouldn't turn our back on the latest machinery to wash our clothes, or wash our dishes; instead insisting that we wash everything by hand. So, we shouldn't turn our back on anything that can improve all children's education.
So, what of the lovely family I met? All I can do is offer this family hope and belief that we work with the facts at hand, look at the children individually and uniquely and provide strategies and ideas to assist the entire family to achieve success. This is the most valuable gift we can offer families in a tenuous situation. Hope is the thing we can cling onto when everything else seems so dark. Hope shines a light for the future.
Imagine a school, just for one moment… where you walked into the door of the school….and the very first questionnaire would contain the questions: “What do you love to do?” What is your favourite thing in life? What are you good at? What would make you smile? How would life/school be if you could do the things that you love to do?
Imagine a school whose curriculum catered for those kinds of questions…and designed a pedagogical program that is individual to your child, based on the answers to those questions?
It is then that we could abandon English, Maths, Science, etc. in the way that it is taught now, where we just deliver buckets of information that has no relevance to kids. Alternatively, let’s say a child’s interest is cooking; what if we were to inspire them to want to learn for example they will want to learn to read because by reading they can gain more information from recipe books. They will want to learn about measurement because this knowledge will help them to become a better chef. They will want to learn about money because they will want to go shopping to purchase their ingredients. They will want to learn about science in the context of how cooking and science interrelate. They will want to learn to write, because they will want to write their own recipes.
It really is that simple, because the teacher becomes a catalyst and mentor in assisting their students to acquire the information that is relevant to them. From this one area of interest the teacher’s role will be to open up a way to educational content based on their interests.
We can include history, by looking at the evolving nature of food; we can look at geography by exploring foods around the world; we can expand on the science and technology by looking at molecular gastronomy and this new thing of being experimental with cooking; we can look at health and the body (biology) by exploring how food is digested. What are calories/kilojules? What foods are good for us? How the body needs food, brain food etc. I could easily create a curriculum based on a child’s interest in food that could last at least a year…and the beauty of this is that the student’s themselves will become the investigators, the enquirers, the creators of their own curriculum.
So what makes this different to schools as we know them? The difference is that we are using a child’s interests and abilities to create the curriculum and therefore learning experiences and outcomes. The desire to learn increases exponentially when there is a motivation to learn. Let’s go back to the cooking example; if the student wants to be a better chef, they have no choice but to incorporate all that learning into their experiences, but the brilliance is they want to learn and most of the time are not even aware they are learning because they are doing something they love to do!
I can hear the objections already… but how can we do this for every child? I don’t see this model as being any more difficult than trying to contain and teach a classroom full of children who don’t give a crap about what you are teaching them. I don’t see this model as being any more difficult than having to deal with constant behaviour issues because the students are bored with the lesson content. I don’t see this model as being any more difficult than dealing with constant resistance because the lessons have no relevance to them.
There may be some initial extra work and effort in setting this kind of educational model up, but eventually the teacher’s role will become exactly what it is meant to be; that of a facilitator for learning; a mentor or coach for your student’s educational future; and the provider of an educational environment where a student centred and student driven model exists. Kids will want to learn and therefore behaviour issues will be minimized; they will be excited and motivated by the content, so there will be less catching up on those who haven’t done the work; and the learning and knowledge derived will be a springboard for future learning. I also think this kind of education system will be significantly reliant upon IT and the use of technology, including the internet, YouTube, Google etc. This is where students can truly become independent learners by utilizing the world wide web to assist their journey of acquiring knowledge on their subject of interest. They can explore you tube for how to videos, information videos, reference videos etc. Google is an amazing tool where you can literally travel the world via cyberspace and one piece of knowledge leads to the next etc. I believe wholeheartedly that we need to fully integrate technology in our day to day classroom life as this is the way of the world. Every type of industry is now heavily reliant upon technology and kids need to be prepared for this.
Also, this generation’s child is already technology ready by the time they get to school, as there are very few five year old children who have not used a computer, an iPhone, iPad, Wii, Nintendo DS etc.
However, they get to school and are presented with an environment that is more suited to the 19th century and we wonder why they resist.
I question whether we really need to insist that children who have problems writing learn to write using pencil and paper….some kids just have terrible handwriting, or have dysgraphia, especially those with some learning differences. There is an extremely strong link between children with autism and dysgraphia (problems with handwriting) and yet we continue, year in and year out ‘teaching’ them to ‘write the alphabet’…. when all this does is discourage and hinders the desire to want to write. If this is a problem, hand them an iPad, or Laptop. Let your students with dysgraphia issues type their answers and use the technology to write. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how they write, as long as they do. Again, I hear the objections "But don’t they need to learn to write?"
The only thing we really need to know how to write is our name, address, phone numbers and a signature, but even then this could still be done technologically and with the iPad students can use their fingers to create a signature. At the end of the day, do we want our children to experience success? Or do we want to continue to focus on what they can’t do? I believe we need to focus on what children can do and are good at as a platform to scaffold their learning.
A classroom shouldn’t have walls or boundaries; seats or aisles that ‘contain’ students; classrooms should be constantly movable, constantly malleable, constantly changing as the children’s needs are changing (and for our student’s with autism, this may mean not changing at all). We may continue to hear the voices of resistance saying “ohh but they are not learning their abc's, or times tables, or not learning the way we did when we were at school." Or... "if they learn to use a calculator they won’t be able to learn to do it in their head”. This is because these kids can’t learn the way we did; and nor should they. They are in a different world; they are in a technologically rich world, and they have learned to take short cuts, they even short cut the English language, they look for the easiest way possible and then do it.
Why do we want our students to do things the long way just because that is the way we learned? Should be go back to horse and buggy because that was a way of travelling once upon a time? No, we evolved and now use very efficient cars. It is the same with education. This generation’s child has learned a much more efficient way of doing and learning is part of that.
We can no longer expect that schools can supply students with all that they need to learn as our world has expanded so incredibly. What is more important is that our education system provide students with a way to learn what Is relevant to them and what they can specialize in.
In other words we need to cater to their individual gifts and talents.
So, how does this all fit into the world of ‘autism’ as this blog is essentially about my views on autism? I believe wholeheartedly that one of the things that ‘autism’ and our children with ‘autism’ have taught us is how they can focus on one area of expertise and excel. They have also taught us that by developing their specific talents and abilities that they can achieve their potential. Children with ‘autism’ have no choice but to learn this way; what makes them quirky and different and unique is mostly what also makes them special and brilliant. Their specific obsession is the clue to their talent and to get the most out of them, this is what we must focus on. I contend that they have provided us with a model for the future of education as much of what I’ve learned about pedagogical theory comes from what I’ve learned about
autism and this is no exception.
It just makes so much sense and means that we can provide our children with a way to specialize their educational learning around what makes them “tick”. Again, I hear the voice of contention saying “ohh, but we don’t know what they may become”. I strongly disagree, because a child who is musically minded at 7 is always going to have that talent and ability, it is just that we almost beat it out of them by insisting ‘music’ isn't as important as learning about algorithms. Seriously in my 50 years of being I don’t believe I’ve ever used algorithms, but I sure as hell listen to, enjoy and express myself via music every day. We love to put children into little boxes that we think are more acceptable to society and I know for certain that autism in all its mystery and contention refuses to allow itself to be put into any societal box. Autism and its clients basically say F*&^ you to anything that contains, molds or demands that they fit into what is expected or desired.
In fact the majority of our children from this generation say the same thing.
So, the future of education rests upon us all to allow the changes to occur; to let go of past models being superior; and recognizing our clientele and knowing that the current model does not assist this generation to achieve their full potential. Education, in my view should shine a light on talents, gifts and abilities and make a pathway possible to achieve their goals, aspirations and potential. Our children should be excited to attend school and an environment where they can’t wait to explore more about what they are passionate about. Ultimately education should be where everyone is able to express their individuality in the most productive and fruitful way possible.
I am inspired every day by the wonderful children that I teach and when I am with them I don't ever think about what label they have been given...it just never occurs to me that these children are different in any way. Instead I see them as unique and any point of difference is that which makes them special and individual. My passion as an educator is to bring this an awareness to the world at large and in doing so create new understandings about us all as the human race. We honestly can no longer put everyone in a neat little box and call it normal.....what elements then define what is considered to be normal? Are we considered normal if we are a certain size; if we perform well in specific tests; if we live a certain lifestyle? Or is there really no such thing as normal and what is actually normal are unique, individual and exquisitely different beings, all of whom make up the fabric that is society. If this is truth and authentic, then we must reconsider how we approach so-called disability. Are special schools where 'special' children are segregated, excluded and ultimately ostracised viable in an evolving society that seeks to include all and create a new normal.
The truth is society finds 'difference' confronting and therefore causes a level of discomfort....I'm sorry to say, we can no longer make people comfortable...all people (which in essence means all children) deserve to be an integral and functional part of the every day machinations of society. If you feel uncomfortable, then honestly it is up to you to examine that....is it the child with all their uniqueness who makes you uncomfortable, or is it that you don't really know how to respond and relate to them?
I seek to challenge this uncomfortableness...I want to scratch upon the blackboard of the norm and gain your attention because by excluding anyone who is different we are missing out as a society on all possibilities for brilliance and genius.
Every single child has the potential for greatness - and every single child has something spectacular to contribute to the world. However if we only see greatness as something that is quantified by a test score or academia we miss all the other opportunities where brilliance can emerge. What is greatness, brilliance, talent or genius after all? I believe there is not a box big enough to contain the possibilities....greatness can come in so many forms and has so many layers....yet we limit greatness by a standard definition that narrows our vision.
One of the children I teach has many physical challenges, yet he inspires me every day with his courage and determination....his greatness abounds as he never lets his physical problems define him....he finds a way to do everything everyone else can do, and then some. He challenges me to stop thinking about my own aches and pains and to become more resilient. What a gift!
Another of my students with autism rarely speaks, yet he has the ability to look right into your soul and in that instant you feel an immediate exchange of love, understanding and acceptance....such magnificence! It is a privilege to have a connection with him.
I have a student who tells me daily what an awesome friend I am to her.....she is so full of truth and authenticity which compels me to be the same. I am forever changed by my students and changed for the better and these are changes I may never have experienced if I had not met these children.
However, in a world of exclusion we miss this greatness; and more often than not these children are overlooked because they are defined by a box that "says special and less than". I don't want to offend anyone however at the same time I must speak what is the truth. These kids are defined by lack and disability, test scores and what is considered normal....and once they are put into a box defined by their condition we forget to remember what they can do; how they can be brilliant; and what they can contribute to the greater world.
Why must everyone be the same? The simple answer is we don't.
I advocate that we look at all people from the perspective of greatness...and go beyond traditional views to truly see people for their essence. When we do this we see the potential in all...we see the wonderment of all and when we do this, we do ourselves the best favour because we will never ever miss a moment of greatness again. The effect is then exponential....the meeting is a union of energetic alignment where one rubs off on the other. Essentially each meeting is a moment of
brill-alliance and not one moment can ever be missed.
Consequently, for the universe to be become the best it can be and potentialise its future we must co- create, co- exist and collaborate with all. We need to recognise the brilliance and greatness in all human beings. Inclusion is key to this step and this brings in a new wave of educational thought and paradigmatic change....our education system must align to this concept. I know with certainty that when we achieve this our lives will be forever changed for the better as all possibilities for genius will be given an opportunity to shine.
I began to rework my pages on this website and realised that part of this reworking is actually another blog piece....so excuse me if you read part of this in the earlier pages. This year I completed my Masters in Education where the focus of my studies was on autism, autism education, technology and autism and giftedness and autism. This study has been extremely beneficial and illuminating and I have to say I learned so much more than I expected. Research, while a labour in itself took me on many detours and paths and I was gratified to find I was not a lone voice on this subject. Sure, there are many people out there who call themselves authorities, but a majority of research is focused upon a cure. I don't necessarily wish to find a cure, instead I wish to find the connection; the bridge; the clues to the mystery that is autism. For as much as this condition can be debilitating; there is also much about this condition that is fascinating, interesting and in a way transformational to us as human beings. The one thing I am sure of, is that autism is in fact a teacher in itself; the very essence of its lessons is to help us to evolve as human beings.
Everyday I work with these wonderful children, I learn more and more about what autism is.....and also about what autism is not. These kids are funny, brilliant, deep thinking, analytical, acutely aware of their surroundings and precise. They can be harsh and blunt, but in the next second be thoughtful and dear. One of my young boys asked me bluntly "why I was fat? and how did you get to be fat?" I actually took these questions as a compliment as I felt his asking how to "get to be fat" was in some way his desire to be like me....I laughed and joked and said "you have to eat a lot of chocolate". Then another of my children, a gorgeous young man, said "Do you know John (not real name), that in some cultures, being fat is considered beautiful?" God love this child.
These kids are unique...they are individual and I think in this era this is a precious lesson presented to us all. The world is full of "what it is to be fashionable"; "what it is to be beautiful"; "what it is to be recognised" and we are fast becoming unrecognisable as people. People are using surgery to resculpture their bodies and their face; they use fake tan, or tanning beds to constantly look like they've just come back from a summer holiday; they put botox and other intrusive chemicals in and on their body to look like what is thought to be acceptable to society. Yet our wonderful people who have autism, say "f&^% you" to all that (excuse my language here). They say accept me for who I am and what I am, or don't at all. They say, this is me, this is what I do and love me anyway. They say, I challenge and defy you to be unique, individual and different. When we get that as a quintessential truth, then we begin to realise that "autism" really isn't that different afterall; it really isn't that odd; and certainly isn't that objectionable a way to be....the only object is our own in not understanding it. When we understand, we realise that autism is, as autism does....and by looking into the eyes of the children, we find a part of ourselves that cries to be heard and accepted. Children and people with autism are not cold...quite the opposite, they are warm and loving; but they reserve their love and warmth for those who truly appreciate them. Pray you are one of those people, for when a child with autism looks you in the eyes and says "I love you" and you know they truly mean it....there is no greater satisfication in life.
So, what I am trying to say is, that it is the quest of humanity to understand, accept and embrace all difference and I believe we need to accept these values even more so than ever before. I'm so blessed to be where I am right now....I am blessed to have had the opportunity to study autism as an issue and my quest is to continue to bring awareness to all concerned. Most importantly we need to send some energy to the famiies who deal with this issue every day....they need our help. Not for us to say "there there...you poor things"...but to say, "help me to understand and how can we assist?" The last thing parents need is pity.....but from the many I've spoken to, they just want you to understand and get it. When you do, trust me you will find out more about yourself than you ever expected.
I can't draw, I can't play an instrument, I can't run a marathon, I can't fly a plane, I can't do algorithms and I can't speak Chinese. If one was to judge me on all the things that I cannot do (and believe me the list is longer than the one I just recited), then one could easily assume that I didn't have any talent, ability or intelligence.
However, I can read, I can write, I love to sing, I can create using wool, material and paper, I can drive a car, I can teach and I can tackle any technological challenge. Putting all of those abilities together, gives me a totally different profile and when looking at what I can do, one can see I have a number of gifts, talents and intelligences.
Consequently, it is tantamount when dealing with children that we primarily look and focus on children's strengths. This is not to say we shouldn't endeavour to rectify any weaknesses, but overall our intention should be to illuminate and showcase what children can do. However being made to do something over and over again that we can't do would be soul destroying to anyone, including me. I continue to say this over and over, success begets success. It is simply common sense. Additionally children will gladly do what the love to do and that they can do. Even when it is difficult, they will still have a go when they excited about what they are doing!
Education should NOT be about destroying the souls of children...it should be about increasing their confidence, helping them to achieve their goals and ultimately reaching their potential. We must continue to make this our focus when we are educating our children! When we achieve this in our classrooms, then we will have children running into our classrooms eager to learn...and I can tell you that this is a lovely picture to see.
I am aware I've blogged previously about the use of Ipads in my classroom, but I wanted to expand on this conversation and discuss this issue further. Also, I was privileged this week to present at the Victorian Dept of Education's Innovation in Technology Showcase, so I wanted to give you a snapshot of my presentation.
How do children with disabilities learn? What are they good at? What are their specialities? What are their gifts? If we ask these questions we come to understand that these children are not disabled at all but are different abled! From my observations in a classroom with different abled students they have many different abilities: they may have a great memory; or excellent observation skills; some are brilliant artists; others have amazing construction skills;...however, one commonality emerges...the majority of these kids are very competent using technology; they connect with technology, and where they have problems in the mainstream arena, they don't seem to have the same difficulties utilising technology.
Bearing this in mind I went to the research and was surprised and also elated to find that there is significant research linking technology with significant improvements in students with disabilities and particularly autism's learning outcomes. I wondered about a classroom that utilised technology 80% of the time.... I visualised how that might look....how could the classroom physically be designed to cater for this? The problem with pcs and laptops to a degree is that they need to be hooked up to a power point all the time and some of the time with laptops (as even on a good day the most you can get out a laptop is about an hour). The other problem with the laptop was that you had to look over the screen to see what the children were doing, as well as look at their faces. Then along came the iPad.... I owned an itouch and was convinced that if the iPad was similar, but was physically bigger, then this could have extraordinary implications and quite possibly could be the answer to my question. They were small enough to sit on the desk; with a case they could be tilted; as a teacher I could sit anywhere and observe how the student was working; the interface, with the touch screen meant almost any child could use this equipment unaided; visually the graphics are fantastic; and the device is multi-sensory in that the children can physically touch the screen, look at the graphics, listen to the sounds and in many cases use their voices...the only thing it is missing is smell and one day who knows, someday, someone may come up with the idea as to how we might get smell from the screen.
I've been incredibly lucky as last year one parent purchased an iPad for use in the classroom for her child with autism.... The results with this one student was remarkable - he sat for up to 40 mins in front of the iPad, was enthusiastic to use the technology, was motivated and asked to 'do his words' or 'do counting' on the iPad. There were other benefits as well...he starting writing independently in the classroom, starting writing at home, used more language, and showed significant improvements in behaviour. Simultaneously, I started to think about his learning and how kids with autism learn, as well as, how best can these different abled children reach their potential? I thought about asking my student about his learning? So I asked him...."Do you like reading and writing on paper or the iPad"? His answer was emphatic...."the iPad"! Next question. Why? "Writing on the paper and the shapes hurts my eyes". Hmmmm.....note to self, if you don't know the answer ask your student.
My understanding about autism is that these children are sensorially different; their visual world looks different, sounds more heightened, and they are more sensitive to touch, colours, smells etc. So my student's answer is one I need to heed. It is incredibly important to ask our students about their learning.....their answers will surprise you! A 9 year old boy I teach flaps his hands to the side of his eyes. Many schools try to prevent this so-called 'abnormal' behaviour and set about 'training' these kids from doing what comes naturally to them. I asked my student "why do you do that"? His answer, "because it helps my brain to think". Why would I ever want to stop that behaviour just because it doesn't look normal to me?
Back to Ipads. The experience of using one IPad with one student gave me some impetus and I could easily envisage a classroom with an IPad for each student...again I was incredibly lucky to have a school whose leadership understood my vision, or on some level trusted it and purchased 10 iPads - technology sorted, now for the implementation. I spent the summer break researching applications and which applications might fit into the daily curriculum. I looked at the three areas of literacy: writing, reading and speaking and listening. I found applications that I thought might work. Similarly in numeracy, I focused on counting, number recognition, one to one correspondence, simple operations etc. There are a lot of stand alone applications that may address counting only or number recognition....I wanted to find apps that were more adaptable, could be tailored to the individual student's learning needs, and that incorporated more than one concept. This is an evolving process because as more apps are developed and as the year continues, I discover what our classroom needs, or what each child needs or asks for. For example I have a student interested in dinosaurs, so I found books, apps, and encyclopaedias relating to dinosaurs. Another, loves toy story, so I found stories and apps on Toy Story. The brilliance, is that I can set up each IPad to the individual student's needs. My recommendation is that where possible, try to have one iPad per child. I personally don't think group sets will work as well.
The key and salient point to this entire exercise is potential! What is each child's potential? How can I as an educator ensure all of my students are provided with the best case scenario that enables them to achieve success?...for when success is achieved the desire for more success rises....success begets success. I feel satisfied that using the iPads in my classroom as the student's primary education tool, that I can provide them with a means by which they can achieve their full potential.
There is an adage that insanity is when you continue to do the same thing over and over without results....then why do we continue to do the same thing in education? Change the environment, introduce technology, let go of outmoded ways of thinking....step outside the box, be innovative! Develop your own new paradigm and in doing so the students and especially those different abled students also develop a new paradigm: they can achieve, they can have success, they can learn, they can be included in society, they can have full, productive, potentialised lives! Do we not owe them that?
So back to my classroom....I have no definitive data yet, but the classroom speaks for itself.... The kids are responsible for their iPads and they are very protective of them, they know what is expected of them and they can't wait to use their iPad, they are incredibly excited and motivated each day to work. They've become more student directed and I've become the facilitator. Each day is an adventure!
I'm not saying the iPad is necessarily the panacea, however I think the attitude is; the philosophy is; the innovation is; and ultimately the new paradigm is! When we stop thinking about children with differences as disabled, we start thinking about how we can help them to learn and in doing so become the best that they can be.
This week I had the priviledge to watch The Horse Boy which is a wonderful documentary by Rupert Isaacson. Rupert and his wife Kristin are parents to Rowan, a little boy who has autism and they were having a lot of problems with his behaviour. Rowan was not toilet trained and was exhibiting tantrums on a daily basis and Rupert and Kristin were at a loss to know what to do. Rupert had a ranch and was an experienced horseman and Rowan showed a love for animals, so Rupert put Rowan on a horse and the reaction was immediate. Rowan immediately responded and laid across the horse and it was from this moment an idea was born.
So, in the summer of 2007, Rupert and Kristin took Rowan to Mongolia, journeying on horseback from healer to healer, shaman to shaman, across the wide Steppe, and up into the forests of Siberia and what occurred was extraordinary. Rowan was toilet trained and much of his anxiety and tantrums dissipated. Is Rown still autistic? Yes, but now he is much more functional.
What I loved about this movie, was not so much the journey and Rowan's behaviour improvements, but it was the parents and their journey that profoundly made a difference to their lives. Rupert stated, "I am a better father because my son has Autism....it forced me to pay attention to him and what he needed". What an amazing statement.....a child having autism caused this parent to pay attention to his son....and understand and know his child more. I so get this statement. While I do not have a child with autism, I am a teacher of these children and autism has caused me to be a much better teacher than I have ever been in 25 years. I too am forced to pay attention to my students and search and discover what it is they need. I must look outside the square to teach these students and first and foremost, I have to take myself to their world, live their world and truly connect. I've said this before, but it is a complete myth that children with autism are anti-social, or don't want human contact; what they don't want is people in their world who are not real with them. They want and need to know that you genuinely want to know them and understand and appreciate them and if they for one minute think that you have any kind of aversion to their 'autism', then they will completely reject you.
I believe we need to connect with children's passions and specialities and use these interests to work with them and teach them. We can't take away their idiosyncracies, or behaviours because we don't understand why children with autism display these behaviours. It is important to 'get' it and as a way of achieving this knowledge, I talk to my students and ask them why they do certain things. One of my students flaps his hands by the side of his head while he is working in the classroom. I asked him why he did this and without hesitation he told me it helped him to think. Another student rocks her head in a circular motion and again I asked her why she did this and she said that it felt good and that she can hear a lovely sound. Having this knowledge, why would I try to stop these behaviours just because it either looks strange, or is not so-called "normal" behaviour if this behaviour helps these students to think, learn and minimise anxiety?
It is also extremely important to understand "negative" behaviours like the tantrums. All behaviour tells us something. Children don't throw a tantrum just because they can; they throw a tantrum because it is their way of expression and gaining our attention. Sure, it is frustrating, confusing and we don't always understand it, but if you have a car that is making a strange noise, you don't ignore that noise do you? You look under the hood, into the motor, gears etc and try to find the reason for the noise; it is the same with tantrums. While I don't necessarily like to compare children's behaviour to some inanimate object, the principal however is the same....we have to go under the surface, take the time to investigate, survey the whole picture and more often than not we will find the answer.
One example, was a student I had a number of years ago, let's call him James. James rarely spoke and could not convey what he needed. We used to go swimming once a week and James loved swimming. One week, we could not go because something had gone wrong at the pool and they had to cancel. James was not happy but by the end of the day he seemed like he was ok. The following week, James got off the bus screaming and was about to have a full blown tantrum and no-one could work out what the problem was. When he came into the classroom, I tried everything. Are you hungry? Do you need a drink? Do you feel sick? He was looking at me pleadingly, tears falling down his face and I stopped asking questions and just connected and eventually it occurred to me that it was swimming day and James was concerned we may not be going swimming again. I quickly grabbed his bathers and took him to the bathroom so he could change and the tantrum stopped. He just needed to know that swimming was not going to get cancelled again.
Going back to "The Horse Boy", a trip across Siberia is obviously not the solution for everyone and it was a unique journey for this family which taught them enormously about their child, autism, but more importantly about themselves as people and parents. Likewise, being a teacher of children with autism for me is like a world, wide adventure; daily I trek across unknown territory; take huge leaps off cliffs not knowing how high up I am; dive into unexplored waters reaching into the depths for treasure; and take myself out of the comfort zone of my own country. I'm so lucky, blessed and priviledged to be a teacher to these kids; every day is a joy when a student does or says something that completely lightens up my day; most of all, I grow extensively as a teacher, mother and human being as I am forced to look beyond the labels and connect to the soul within; but what's more important is that these kids look beyond me and connect to my soul. These leads me finally to tell you about another student, Liam, completely uncommunicative, doesn't like to look in your eyes and generally avoids connection has recently taken to doing something quite exquisite. When I am on yard duty, he takes my hand, walks me to the bench, motions for me to sit down, he then climbs on top of me, hugs me and kisses me tenderly on my cheek and then quickly jumps off and goes back to his other behaviours. Yes, this is indeed an exquisite moment of connection and appeciation for each other's soul and it touches me deeply. Thank you Liam!
http://www.horseboymovie.com/ Rupert Isaacson
I just watched a brilliant documentary by HBO called "Autism: the Musical". I will put the link on the site soon so you can all check it out. What a complete breathe of fresh air.
A few comments I have....parents really want their children to be accepted and included in the world and truth is we must go to their world first before we can integrate these children into ours. If you can imagine, it is a little like visiting a foreign country. If you were to do that, you wouldn't insist that the country's people and customs immediately adjust to yours; indeed we have to find a way to adjust, speak the language and integrate into the culture in a functional way. Autism is like another culture, a different way of functioning or orientating within the world and it is up to us to understand how this world operates so that we might be better able to assist these children to adjust.
I liken the experience of autism to the experience of a 3D film....in their world colours pop out; shapes and items pop out; noises are accentuated; and smells are more intense....our environment is often not set up for children with autism. There is so much "stuff" around us that it is often a sensory minefield for these kids. We don't realise it but all this stuff, noises and our environment crowds us and children with autism make us aware that the world has indeed become a sensorily overloaded environment. Just go to a supermarket, or a shopping centre and it is so noisy where, even I often have difficulty with the noise, clutter and bombardment of advertising and selling hooks. The children remind us that the world is no longer a place of quiet and peace...and it is at their insistence that they push us to create a space for them that is more manageable.
When did we forget to sit in silence? When did we start to need so much stuff? Autism and those who have autism are simplistic in its nature; there is a no fuss; no bullshit attitude to these kids and people. Looking from this perspective, you can see how much they have to teach us?
So, when I take myself to the space of a child with autism, I find myself sitting in a space of quiet, of reflection, of intuition and of connection and I believe this is part of the message of connection that autism provides. It's a beautiful, serene and 'real' space to connect from and it strikes me that one of the biggest myths of autism is that they are socially disconnected. If anything they cause us to be more connected but in a real way; they just won't connect with us if we are not real. Remember the song..."even in the quietest moments" by Supertramp...the words go like this:
Even in the quietest moments
I wish I knew what I had to do
And even though the sun is shining
Well I feel the rain...here it comes again, dear
And even when you showed me
My heart was out of tune
For there's a shadow of doubt that't not letting me find you too soon
The music that you gave me
The language of my soul
Ohh Lord I want to be with you.
Won't you let me come in from the cold?
And even though the stars are listening
And the ocean's deep, I just go to sleep
And then I create a silent movie
You become the star, is that what you are, dear?
Your whisper tells a secret
Your laughter brings me joy
And a wonder of feeling I'm nature's own little boy....
And even when the song is over
Where have I been....was it just a dream?
And though your door is always open
Where do I begin....may I please come in, dear?
Autism and the child with autism...asks us "may I please come in, dear?" Will you understand me? Will you connect to me in a way I understand?
Will you come to my world and play? And when you do, what a wonder you'll discover and maybe, just maybe you'll learn more about yourself than you ever knew.
I'm heading towards my 50th birthday and I am so excited to be here. I find myself catapulted into another world that demands a new paradigm. Families of children with autism are suffering as they feel a sense of isolation in a world that doesn't connect with their child. I'm increasingly confronted by parents; well intentioned parents with desperation in their eyes. They have brought into this world a child that is different to the expectation of what children are meant to be. They observe the magnificence, the uniqueness and even the gentility of their child, and so want everyone else to see what they see what they see....yet their child doesn't always conform to society; doesn't always perform for the crowds; doesn't fit in to what mainstream expects of them. It is incredibly frustrating and in some way soul destroying.
Yet, if we would - by we I mean all of us, would stop looking at these children through the eyes of what is meant to be normal and open up our scope of vision which in turn blurs the lines of normal; then we would 'see' all children and people for who they are meant to be. What if there is no "normal"? What if "normal" is simply conformity to the 'norms' of what society expects? Autism, and those who live with autism blur the lines of normal all the time; they challenge us to think ouside the box in order to be with them, teach them or nurture them; they extend us beyond ourselves in that we can never function within the so-called "normal" ever again!
I met a wonderful family the other evening. They have a wonderful boy who is 11. He is astute, tender, helpful, smart and he also has autism. He was somewhat suspicious of my presence - naturally, but when I opened up the IPad he slowly and surreptitiously slid next to me - collecting my scent (this boy recognises people by smell) and within a short space of time started working on the IPad quickly picking up on the requirements of the application. His Dad was nearly jumping out of his skin, "see, see", he said. "He picks up so quickly. He is smart". I responded...."you have a very bright boy" and I could see the relief in their faces. Someone could see what they could.
I received a beautiful note from another parent this week, as I am taking long service leave and I will be away for 5 weeks for second term. The note read "thank you for getting our son". It was all I needed to read. I will continue to say this until I no longer need to say it.....we do not need to eliminate autism, we need to get it, understand it, connect with it and then learn from it. When we do so, then we will have the same understanding parents have - that their kids are not wierd, or stupid, or 'not' normal. They just are who they are! Wonderful, unique human beings.
Finally from the mouth of one of my gorgeous students who spoke these words to me this week...."Karina, do you know you are the most perfect teacher for me.....perfect in every way! And if you were any different, like skinnier, then you would just not be you". WOW! This kid sees me....and in that one sentence helped me to to see myself. Thank you Aramis!
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.