Contradictions 1

Myth 1

Children with autism do not learn through observation.

  I am not sure if that was one of the ABA trained teachers or her clinical supervisor who told me that.   Most probably, it was a teacher quoting a very respectable clinical researcher.
 It might be that it was an argument against any approach to teaching that would not follow strictly ABA’s principles.  Maybe, that was an argument against inclusion even in limited format. Inclusion has a meaning if a child is capable of learning through observation from his/her peers.  If the child is not able to learn from members of the  group, then the  inclusion only separates that child even more. .  Unfortunately, it might be that a child is capable of learning from his/her peers but the well-meaning teachers do not realize that or are not able to provide  setting or support for such learning.  Instead,  they separate that child from other students and in many unsettling ways  reduce  learning  opportunities.  And thus they make sure that the above statement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In 2006 I was teaching Robert at home for over four months. The circumstances which forced me to do that are painful.  Describing them still brings up bitterness I am not ready to confront yet.   During that homeschooling time, Robert made a lot of academic progress learning things I never believed he could grasp.  His behavior also improved dramatically and that allowed us to  make many community trips.   We shopped together. We deposited cans and bottles. We frequented many restaurants.  We often went to movies, museums, and parks. Robert got his ATM cards  and was learning to write checks.  During this time, Robert started  swimming lessons and horseback riding lessons.   Yet, I was constantly told that to develop social skills, Robert needed to be at school with other children.   So,  in November of 2006, Robertbegan to attend a self-contained classroom in local High School for two hours every day.  Although I knew that part of his school day would be spent  with  his  one on one teacher’s aide,  I also believed that he would receive a short group instruction. First of all, that was what he had done the  previous year. Secondly, I always saw his pencil and wallet on one of the desks so  I assumed that he was sitting  among other students. Moreover, at least in mathematics his academic skills were not below the class average.

Next  year, we extended Robert’s hours in the classroom to three or three and a half.  Why shouldn’t we?  Everything went so well.  He was a part of the group. Although, I became concerned when I learned that Robert was excluded from the field trip to bowling alley. That would mean that he was NOT a part of the group.

It was in the beginning of his third year in this classroom when I finally understood that my son was ALWAYS working one on one with his aide and that he NEVER was a part of any group. He never received a group instruction.

What social skills could he learn from such a setting?  What concept of self could be developed in such arrangement?  That he was distinctly different?  That he didn’t belong to the group? What image of Robert was formed in other students minds?  That he was different, thus that he  should be treated differently?

Robert was in the classroom but there was no reason for him to observe other children.  He was NOT ONE OF THEM.  His days were filled with one on one work with his aid.  If anything, to be successful at school, he should have tuned out the rest of the classroom, he should have ignored his (?) peers and attend only to his one on one teacher.  How he could learn through observation if there was no reason for him to observe…Watching other children and the main teacher working with them could be only distracting to him, to the other teacher, to other students…

This arrangement didn’t allow the  teacher to observe Robert closely and learn about him.    So it was not surprising that when she planned a field trip to a bowling alley to give OTHER students the opportunity to practice counting averages of their scores, she didn’t include Robert.  She didn’t know that Robert was counting averages during the time he was home schooled.  Such trip would offer him a chance for practical application of the emerging concept, he worked very hard to learn.

But he didn’t go.

Robert didn’t learn any social skills through observation of his peers because he didn’t have a chance to observe.  The teacher didn’t learn much about Robert through observation, because she chose not to observe him to closely.  He had his teacher aide after all.

The new teacher that started working in this classroom the third  year,  changed the delivery of instruction. She  included Robert in many groups throughout the day.  Different ones for math,  reading, or science. Finally, that school year, Robert became a part of the class he had been attending for two previous year. That was the best year in whole Robert’s education. He started to learn through observation because  what he observed meant something for him.

Unfortunately, that teacher, who almost every day stayed 1-3 hours after school to prepare materials for next day,  was laid off, without any reason, by the end of the year, by the high school principal. A new, young teacher was hired and my son lost opportunities to learn through observation.  But that was already expected. The Myth was kept alive….


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