A Mind of My Own
Posted by Gail | Filed under Autism
Chapter Eight: Advocating At School (Part 4)
For an Asperger’s child, movement equals stress relief. Whatever their shtick – rebounding, jumping, running, bouncing a ball – movement releases tension and allows them to cope with the stresses they feel. Malcolm runs and bounces a ball. In the fair weather he bounces on a trampoline, runs back and forth along our flagstones or balances on a beam. These physical activities are what keep him sane and allow him to focus when he has to sit and do work. Without enough of them, his tension builds and he simply can’t think.
By building more movement into Malcolm’s school day, we would allow him to blow off more steam so he could focus on what needed to be accomplished academically.
I also asked for more rubrics for his assignments. Rubrics that clearly show the expectation and how marks would be awarded tell him what he needs to know to do the job he needs to do. Since he is very concrete, a random marking system does little in terms of motivating him to work well. On the other hand, a rubric that clearly identifies specifically what he needs to do to hit the mark (and where he missed) is very useful.
Since Malcolm has been officially identified at school, he also has an Individual Education Plan. It is this IEP that allowed me to program his Grade 7 (in Grade 4) math, remove him from French and replace it with English vocabulary building, and specify anything else he may need to accommodate his Asperger’s.
Based on what we had learned during Malcolm’s grade four year, Mary Beth and I decided some changes were needed to the IEP. Number one on my list was ensuring that everything in Malcolm’s curriculum was sent home to me so that I had the tools I needed to ensure learning was taking place.
Malcolm’s language issue often means that the classroom fails him as a learning environment. With a vocabulary that has huge holes, it’s not unusual for Malcolm to miss great gobs of information being discussed or taught. Everyone (except me) underestimates the extent of this problem because Malcolm is so good at being “good.” The expectation, generally, is that a child who is missing so much would be acting out more. Not so my Malcolm.
When Malcolm was doing a project on wetlands, he learned that one of the major reasons wetlands were disappearing was because they were being converted for agriculture. SO when he didn’t use this in his report, I asked him why. He didn’t know. I pointed out that the research material he was using showed that the land was being used for crops. He looked at me, eyes wide, and said, “What’s a crop?” A missed word that impacted the whole story.
Words like this – words the world knows that Malcolm doesn’t – pop up all the time. There was the afternoon he walked over to his dad and asked was the device was his dad was using to open the can of tuna. A can-opener. If the word isn’t taught to him directly, he doesn’t get it. And for the longest time, he didn’t even have enough language to be able to ask for the word he didn’t understand. Now that he does, his language is growing by leaps and bounds. But I am still constantly surprised by what he doesn’t know.
Inevitably, if I left him to his own devices at elementary school, he had enough content to pull a C or even a B on a subject test. With support from me, he was capable of an A. Now, here’s the thing: it’s not the mark, it’s the measure the mark gives of his understanding.
I have always been of the opinion that marks give me an identification of what my child DID NOT learn. My standard is a B+. Bring me home less than a B+ and we have some work to do to make sure the gaps aren’t so huge that they impact on the next part of the curriculum. Sadly, if a child pulls a B on an assignment or test, everyone is happy, and no remedial support is required. I want to know what he hasn’t learned – what may pop up again later to bite us both in the butt.
Let’s take times tables as an example. If you only know three quarters of your times tables, you can get a B. Really. Witness all the children who haven’t a clue how to multiply seven by eight. But if you don’t know your times tables, you’re gong to have problems with math all the way through the rest of your school life. So for me, the only acceptable mark on a times-table test is 100 percent. I refuse to settle for less, and my kids have both been good math students as a result. But left to the “system,” they may only have been adequate at math.
When it comes to science, geography or history, interpretation is a huge part of the issue – it’s not just the facts – and that’s where I’m prepared to cut more slack in terms of my expectations. Malcolm is great with facts but has trouble with interpretation so he can flounder. I have to get into the curriculum and go through it with him. I have to teach him.