Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Autism and School
Work Too Easy or Too Hard? Striking a Balance
For kids with autism as well as kids without, it is very important that their schoolwork and educational activities be matched with their ability level. Why? Several reasons are at play.
1. Autism Child Education – Not Enough Challenge
The child who is not challenged enough will become bored and likely to act out. Especially with a child with autism/Asperger’s syndrome, he may feel that the teacher doesn’t believe he is capable of work any more difficult, and he will then believe he is not able to do anything more difficult. He may never get a chance to develop abilities that will otherwise lie dormant.
2. Autism Child Education – Too Much Challenge
The child with autism who is challenged too much will become overwhelmed and may be at risk for developing learned helplessness. If you fail at enough tasks in a row, pretty soon you’re just going to stop trying. It’s too hard to keep failing. You might never want to try again if you keep getting the message over and over again that you can’t do something. Needless to say, we don’t want this.
This also is a problem with teens and socialization. If a child fails for years to develop friends, then he or she may simply give up and become reclusive.
3. Autism Child Education – Striking the Right Balance
The educational theory that describes this best is called zone of approximal development. It states that a child should be given work or tasks that are one step beyond what the child can achieve with help. That is, the child should be shown how and supported in doing the next step. When they have achieved that step, the feeling of self-confidence will buoy them into the next step, and the next.
But don’t let them do it without some kind of support – cueing, or hints, or arranging the variables of the situation to best ensure success. A little help goes a long way in raising a child’s confidence that they can do something. The next time, they will probably be able to do it without support.
How Can You Tell If Your Child Is Being Over or Under Challenged?
Keep in constant connection with your child’s teacher. Ask to see the work he or she is doing. You know your child best. Is he struggling more than you think he should? Is he acing the work in one particular subject or more? Is he making any comments about school that would lead you to think there is a problem?
Comments such as “Why do I always have to do the baby stuff?” or “What’s the point? I’ll never be able to do that,” would point to two extremes in the situation, and extreme reluctance to go to school or faking illness may be another sign that something is up.
My Personal Experience
My son, when in middle school, was constantly frustrated that he had to do repetitive math problems. Once he understood how to do the problems he rebelled at having to do a whole page of similar problems (sometimes an hour’s worth or work).
No matter that we tried to explain to him that “practice makes perfect” he simply did not understand and it was battle after battle. We eventually spoke with his teachers — who were not very sympathetic. Teachers rarely want to customize work for an individual student — especially in a class of 30 students. We eventually convinced the teacher to give our son somewhat more challenging problems and allow him to skip the repetitive math problems once he felt he knew how to do them.
Autism Education – The Law
Remember, your child is guaranteed a “free and appropriate” education under federal law. If you feel that his placement is not right, you can ask to have things changed. You can ask for more help for your child, or arrange for extracurricular enrichment activities for a child that is gifted in one area but lacking in others. The important thing to remember is to try to match all areas of your child’s abilities and disabilities to the appropriate educational setting – easier said than done, I know, but worth fighting for.
Autism Education – Conclusion
Work closely with your child’s teacher. Explain to the teacher your child’s reaction to their homework and classwork. Children with autism and high-functioning autism (Asperger’s syndrome) do not respond well to assignments that are either under OR over challenging.
Additional Information on Education Help and Autism
For additional information to help you and your child with autism succeed in school and to learn your rights, see my book, The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide.