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Autism

#24: Feb. - Mar. 2006 (Fiction)
MadArchitect

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Autism

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Those of you whom are already reading know that "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" is about a 15 year old British boy with autism. To that end, I thought it would make for a good tangent to have a thread in which we discussed autism. I figure there are three solid lines we could weave through this thread. I'm posting them below as questions, but feel free to add anything that you feel fits the topic, even if it doesn't address those questions.1) What, if any, experiences do you have with autistic or otherwise developmentally impaired persons?2) What, specifically, do you know about autism?3) What are some worthwhile resources -- books, movies, web sites, etc -- about autism?
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Re: Autism

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I taught a Summer School course for 10th Grade World History and one of my students was a young man, 17, with autism. He had a learning specialist who accompanied him to class, helped him stay focused, redirected him when he would often stray off, and assisted him with basic social cues.He would repeatedly share that he listened to a particular radio station, the names of the DJs, the music and artists they played, who he was with when he listened and at what times of day he tuned in. He would also talk about the construction project that was across the street from the school. He would give a daily report of its progress, what the workers were doing, the machines, the noises, smell and he would laugh about the confusion it was creating for his mother in traffic.I was instructed to not expect him to do any of the homework, but to encourage him to participate in class discussions. He was able to read the assignments, and could recall the content with great detail. His, our, great struggle involved guiding him to enter into discusions, answer questions, respond to his peers, etc. in appropriate ways. Our primary task, it seemed, was to provide a safe space where he could interact and correspond with a "general population" class; as well as providing the general population class an opportunity to find space for folks with autism.His peers were exceptionally keen to his needs and were quick to punish anyone who mistreated him. And this was a tough summer school crowd...I was very impressed with their patience and good humor.
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Re: Autism

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Sounds like it would be tough to keep the rest of the class focussed on learning the subject matter of the class. Did you find that to be a problem? The only solution that would really occur to me is to try to get the other students interested in teaching the autistic student, so that they'd have some vested interest in knowing the material themselves.
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Re: Autism

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MA: Sounds like it would be tough to keep the rest of the class focussed on learning the subject matter of the class. Did you find that to be a problem?Seeking full-inclusion classrooms is very difficult work. Creating a learning space where every student is welcome and encouraged to grow sometimes requires the subject matter take a back seat. Actually, the challenge to create a full-inclusion society becomes the primary subject matter, and exploring world history becomes a means to that larger end.This specific case required the additional adult learning specialist in the room to redirect and refocus the student. She was wonderfully adept at this task, and if his "outbursts" became simply too distracting, she would tactfully escort him out of the room and into the quad for fresh air. If it had just been myself, it would have been pure chaos and would have demanded an alternative plan.In the context of the World History course, we worked to find examples of full-inclusion societies; or how different cultures dealt with the needs of its disabled members in history and across the globe.MA: The only solution that would really occur to me is to try to get the other students interested in teaching the autistic student, so that they'd have some vested interest in knowing the material themselves.The course involved a good deal of cooperative learning opportunities: students collaborating to find information, ask and answer questions, build projects, do presentations, etc. Couple this to the larger emphasis on understanding inclusion in world history, the students saw the obvious logic of working with their autistic peer; discovering first hand the challenges and difficulties, as well as the many treasures that come with full inclusion social structures.
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My younger son has Autistic Spectrum Disorder - ASD - i.e. he has autism. Not Asperger's, which is the condition described in the book, but nonetheless, he is a high-functioning autist. Not in the sense of Dutin Hoffman in Rainman, but he diverges from the neurotypical in certain key aspects. Some are engaging and thought provoking, some are infuriating.Although he is nine, and for two years up to last year was an academic year ahead of his peers (there was no space for him in his year group, and when a space became available, we decided it would be best to repeat Yr5 so he had more time to develop socially before entering secondary school), he often behaves as a three year old would. I'm only on the net right now because, when I went upstairs to bed, he was tucked in, and there was no room for me!My son's interests are a little different from the rest of his class, and he likes to play with Yu-Gi-Oh cards, which the other boys passed through a year ago.He likes to know about things in detail. He gets intensely involved in anything he watches or plays. I have had to learn the characters and stories from Beyblade, Digimon, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Harry Potter and Star Wars. He's a bit like an encyclopaedia on all of these. He is interested in the detail of the monsters, their attacks, combinations, powers, etc.Oh - I should point out this is an area where he is typically autistic (memorising facts) and absolutely untypical (he does not just act out scenes he has watched, but makes up his own battles, monsters, etc - indicating a creative imagination not common among autists).I could ramble on about this al night, but don't let me bore you. _________________________________________________________Il Sotto Seme La Neva
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Re: Autism

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ADO, I don't know that it would help at all, but you might want to check out Jean Piaget's "The Moral Behavior of Children". Your talk about your son's interest in cards and so on reminds me of Piaget's early discussion on how children understand and conform to the rules of marbles. It's a pretty old study, but as far as I know it's the basis for a great deal of modern child psychology.
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Re: Autism

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I read a fascinating book titled "Shadow Syndromes". The premise is that many people have mild, "shadow" (technically "forme fruste") versions of conditions, including asperger's. Self-diagonsis is risky business, but I suspect, based mainly on that book, that I have a very mild aspergers. This added another dimension to reading "Dog", where I was looking for similarities between myself and Christopher. His rigid honesty and the disription of lying making him feel physically uncomfortable rang very true to me; when he says, "I lied in Chapter three, I do know one joke", I drove my ex-wife crazy because I didn't want to leave a false impression concerning anything I was telling about, even when it was completely trivial.I have an easier time that Christopher figuring out what is and is not appropriate... most of the time... I guess... but, I do have to figure it out. Social conventions do not come naturally to me at all. Being socially appropriate to me is somewhat like, I guess, writing a foreign language where you have to translate words one at a time. If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything. Daniel Dennett, 1984
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Re: Autism

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ADO15Quote:Not in the sense of Dutin Hoffman in Rainman, The character of Rainman is based real-life Savant Kim Peek. I first read about him in Scientific American a few issues back. He has consented to a great deal of experimentation and among other things the research has led to the discovery that about one person in 1,000 has no Corpus Callosum, as Peek does not. www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant/kimpeek.cfm If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything. Daniel Dennett, 1984
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Re: Autism

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I have worked with autistic children on three past occasions and I now informally have some contact with an autistic child in my school. In the past I have worked with an autistic child who was mainstreamed into the classroom I did my student teaching in. Then, I worked one-on-one with a child who was mainstreamed into another teacher's classroom. There is an autistic child who, for some reason, likes me/my classroom in the school I work at now. For rewards, he is allowed to come into my classroom. I think he likes my room because it is orderly, but since he doesn't often talk no one is sure why he requests to go to my room. The most experience I had with working with an autistic child was when I had a child who had Asperger's in my classroom. That child will probably be the child who will always stand out in my reflections on teaching. I could go on and on about that child and that year of teaching. I am so glad that I had that child in my class. I was surprised and delighted at his progress and my ability to work with him. I learned a lot that year.
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