It's Time to Take a Different Approach in our Classrooms
Nov 17, 2020
In my teaching days, I received one professional development session on teaching autistic students in my classes.
It involved learning about the importance of reward systems (at Secondary level), using lists and visuals, repeating instructions over and over to the autistic student and having instructions written on the board.
That was over a decade ago and I still see these as the most widely understood and practised approaches for autistic students in classrooms today.
The above aren't necessarily bad (not a fan of reward systems for human beings).
What is problematic about these approaches is that they're a systematically generalised blanket approach for an entire population of people who share a neurotype; yet are all completely different people.
Individuals, unique, you know?
Like all human beings.
When we only use those basic systems, we overlook the internal world of the student.
We are making gross assumptions around need and at times, doing students a complete disservice.
An example of this is the student who is autistic, demand avoidant or ADHD, among other NDs and doesn't respond to lists and routines well at all.
Instead, those lists are blazing neon reminders of failure-what one cannot complete, or even get started on.
They are received as expectations that are translated by the PDA brain as a threat.
Timers? I feel anxious even thinking of them.
We don't focus on a student's strengths by stereotyping or categorising need and supports based on neurodivergence and applying the same thing every time.
This approach also further propagates the myth of disorder and need for normality and conformity based on behaviour and severely and detrimentally impacts on the student's sense of self when they're offered "all the autism supports" and they don't support the student at all.
Anything outside of those supports is often received as too difficult and inconvenient.
It is so important to begin with a complete and whole picture of the student.
Who are they? What brings them joy? What are their strengths? Challenges? How can we accommodate those challenges and illuminate their strengths?
We must move beyond the application of presumed practical supports and start from the core of the person, moving outward.
Image Credit: Akela Photography
(Image description: a photo of a classroom, young muslim girls sit at their desks reading books. They are all wearing a lilac hijab, covering their hair and heads.)