This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but guess what? People are different. People think differently. People have different strengths.
When I went to University of New England, all of the incoming Freshmen took a battery of tests in order to determine our individual learning styles. This way, we could be aware of what works best for us and tailor our study strategies accordingly. As those who know me probably guessed, I’m a left brain thinker. I was only two clicks away from entirely left brained. Beth was closer to whole brain, but was slightly right brained. We even had our personalities studied. I was an ESTJ. This stands for Extroverted (vs Introverted), Sensing (vs iNtuitive), Thinking (vs Feeling), Judging (vs Perceiving). Most physical therapists are ESTJ. We tend to be left brained as well. This lends itself to medicine, scientific theory, and working as autonomous creatures.
I bring this up to highlight the fact that UNE knew (17 years ago) that amongst neurotypicals, there would still be enough diversity to spend the time, money, and effort to test every incoming Freshman in efforts to help them understand how to succeed. Why then, do we teach all students the same way; sitting upright in desks; aligned in neat little rows; preaching at them?
Now don’t get me wrong, this works for some kids. In fact, I am a passive learner. I can happily read the book, listen to the lecture, watch the movie – and learn the information. I don’t take a lot of notes. I assimilate the information given to me. Beth uses different colored pens to take notes on different colored note cards. This addition of color helps her learn. My nephew Jared is a kinetic learner. He needs to get moving, and get his hands dirty. At 8, he could take apart a transmission and rebuild it. I’m still trying to figure out which one’s the Phillips head screwdriver. I’m a physical therapist, Beth is a teacher, and Jared is a welder. We have gravitated towards fields that foster our natural abilities.
I read an article on Twitter recently that tested a sampling of people with autism (sorry, but I can’t find the source to cite it). When the subjects were tested over material that they could only have learned by picking up the context clues provided in social situations, over one third were classified as “low functioning.” When the same students were tested in a non-verbal way, only 5% were found to be “low functioning.” Not only that, but a considerable portion were deemed to be “of high intelligence.” I’ll repeat that: when tested in ways that reflected how they learn and express themselves, a considerable portion were deemed to be “of high intelligence.” Let that sink in.
Who knows what potential lies within the kid in the corner who can’t speak? Some wonderful breakthroughs have been made with kids with autism when using music, or animals, or movement. I don’t do well being put on the spot and made to act without being given a chance to “mull things over” in my own head. Beth doesn’t do well sitting in a classroom and being lectured at all day. Our own kids are already showing their unique learning styles and we’re learning to teach them in ways that work for them.
So when you’re dealing with a child, and your initial approach isn’t working (or your fifth, for that matter), don’t give up. You just haven’t found the connection yet. In the case of kids with autism, they’ll give you hints on how to teach them. Kids with autism and Asperger’s often have some things they obsess over. Currently, Jake’s mad for dinosaurs. If you want to keep his interest, teach him something about dinosaurs. Use the time left on a video (or how tall each was, or how long ago they lived) to teach him math. Use the names of dinosaurs to teach him spelling. Have him learn topography by drawing or labeling maps of places dinosaurs lived.
Jake is a visual learner, just like his dad. We’ve discussed his ability to watch Youtube videos to find ways out of Super Mario worlds. After several viewings of a particular video, he can run into the living room and totally dominate whatever Mario world he was struggling with. Once he’s motivated – stand back. Once any kid is properly motivated – stand back. The key is finding this motivation.
Anyone out there have a story about how they reached a kid? Maybe the kid everyone else had given up on? Share in the comment section below.