What would you say to them??

On Monday morning, I am speaking to a large group of educators at a conference on raising student achievement levels. It's in St. Charles, Illinois, just outside Chicago. If any of you are nearby, I'd love to meet you in person . . . there is a link on the right sidebar if you want to stop in. Otherwise, I hope you'll send me some of your ideas, so that I can share them with this esteemed group.

Those of you on the spectrum . . . what would you say to a group of educators?

How about you parents? I know so many of you struggle daily with school systems. What would you say?

This is my last speaking engagement until after the holidays. As we move toward spring I will be appearing at some autism conferences. I'll keep you informed as I go.



Osh said…
as a parent, I say this at every IEP meeting when the "powers that be" insist on mainstreaming because things like Prom, Homecoming and clubs are so important to the high school experience and what a shame it would be for Evan to miss them...

"he could care less about this stuff, he has told you he could care less about this stuff, he doesn't want to be mainstreamed, please respect that he is advocating for himself and knows his limits. Small class sizes, lots of sensory breaks, no school bells and no crowded hallways are working for him at the alternative school setting. Don't try to fix what is broken. Thank you very much"
Niksmom said…
I think the most important message I would hope *every* educator truly understands is this:
All behavior is a communication of some sort. A non-verbal child's behavior is critical to understanding his/her needs/wants. Empowering that child to communicate in ways besides speech or picture exchange is critical.

FWIW, my 5 yr old is nonverbal & has visual processing difficulties. Never took to PECS but became very communicative when we started trying different avenues —including music!
wrongshoes said…
Ooh, that's a tough one. I don't plan to send my son to school, so I'm not sure they'd want to hear what I have to say. Basically, I think school is far too dangerous a place for kids like mine, or for any kids really, and I don't think it's the fault of educators - rather I think the system itself is fundamentally flawed. Not helpful probably.
Unknown said…

As a parent of an Asperger child, I would say to teachers that they need to read "The Explosive Child" by Ross W. Greene, Phd. as well as "Look Me in the Eye." In reading Dr. Greene's book, I learned a lot of information about how Aspergian's get "stuck" and overwhelmed. If teachers would just take the time to learn more about Asperger's, there will no longer be a need to restrain Autistic or Aspergian children during a meltdown because as I learned meltdowns are 100% predictable and AVOIDABLE. I long for the day when Aspergians and Autistic children can go to school and not come home stressed out from their overwhelming day. These children are not bad and their behavior is not defiant. They are living in a world that is difficult for them because they are of a different culture that neurotypicals do not understand their culture. I long for the day where these children enjoy school instead of fearing it. Good Luck on Monday!
TheresaC said…
Mr. Robison, (very long post, I'm sorry, but you asked for ideas) I was going to try to make it to your appearance on Monday, but I'm afraid personal issues will keep me in town now. (I am about 1 hr. 15 min. away) Anyway, if you get to the Chicago area next year, maybe I can make it then.

I am a mother of a 14 yr old boy with AS. He was diagnosed when he was 5, in 1999. There were few teachers who had heard of AS then, and now he is a freshman in high school and I am surprised how few teachers really know much of anything about AS in his school today.

So my advice is to have more workshops educators can attend to learn more about the behaviors kids with AS can exhibit, and their various learning abilities and issues.

My biggest frustration I have with the district my kids are in now is that they have I think a very well organized website (www.harlem122.org if you'd like to check it out), and if you visit the middle and high school pages and go to the various teacher homepages, they are very under-utilized. The teacher homepages have a "school calendar" page where assignments can be posted. When we moved to this district, parents told me "You can keep up with their assignments on the school calendars," which our old school district, (www.rps205.com) did not have.

My middle school son has at best two teachers who actually do a very good job keeping up on their school calendar as well as posting tutorials and helpful links (which is down to one now because one teacher is currently on maternity leave). I was told the reason is it is not mandatory.

My high school son has no teachers who use the school calendar. The reason I got from one of his teachers was that they only got one day of training two years ago.

Most teachers have e-mail, but I am lucky if some even respond and some take two or three days to respond.

So far, my high school son with AS has done better than he ever has before (because he is on the block schedule this year, which the school board has voted to take away for next year and beyond) and needs very little supervision from me right now.

My middle school son is different.
Lazy would be the word. He brings home very little homework and much of his classwork is done so hurriedly just so he doesn't have to deal with it. So far, he is failing mostly everything. Unless he steps up greatly soon I expect him to repeat 7th grade. He has been evaluated for ADD and found to be too smart for special services. He does not have ADD or AS. I have him go to tutoring as much as possible.

So I am reduced to calling on Thursdays or Fridays to talk to his teachers as a team to see what he's missing and can makeup and what he needs to do over the weekend. This I must do while I am at work because God forbid those teachers make calls once school's out, or use their e-mail. Do you see my point? I am 41 yrs. old. Most of these teachers are younger than me. They can't use the technology available to them? I have more, so if this interests you please reply so and maybe we can correspond more but it's too much to type and I must be boring everyone else.

By the way, for anyone who is reading this and thinks I expect too much from teachers, let me make it clear I do not envy teachers the job they have and for having to put up with my very smart but lazy son. I know they have their own families and the demands on them are not what I would want to face on a daily basis. I'm just saying that I am a concerned parent and am trying to keep my kids focused and learning and turning things in on time and these are the frustrations I have trying to help them. I also know it is thier job to do their work, but at least with the younger, it's not working that way now. So I'm trying to teach him he can't just blow his responsibilities off.
Having gone through something similiar with my oldest daughter at around that age, what worked for us was an assigment notebook. It was her responsibility to write the assigments down AND have her teacher's initial them each day so I knew she'd put everything down that needed to be done. If she didn't get that much done, then there were consequences (loss of privileges.) It seems to me that puts the responsibility back on the student, rather than making the parents and teachers go to so much extra trouble because of choices he's making. I hope this helps.
I don't believe there's any one answer that fits all of our kids. I do think that by simply being at your talk, they are showing an interest and concern for educating our children, and that is the important thing. Get to know our kids. Like Laura said, they're not bad kids and in fact they can be exceptional and quite likeable once you stop trying to compare them to "typical" kids.

I hope it's OK if I also "use" your blog to promote a new Asperger's discussion blog. It seemed to me there is a need for something like this, a place where everyone is welcome to come and talk about their experiences with AS.

thanks, and good luck on Monday.
TheresaC said…
Molly, yes, they do have an assignment book and two of his teachers sign it daily and I make him write in it each day and keep on him to get the other teachers to sign it but so far he doesn't. I have been on him heavy the last month to get his teachers to sign it and he always has an excuse. Some days I think he has pow wows with his classmates and they swap ideas on how to get out of work.

I do have to check in with the teachers weekly because they tell me when he wastes time and what he didn't turn in that he can still makeup. I just resent that I have to take time out of my work day to call them because the "team" is only available for 45 min a day in the early afternoon. I just wish more of them would rely on e-mail. That's easier for me.
TheresaC said…
Also, Molly, he has lost his privileges to play video games, go to friends' houses or have friends over, and his computer crapped out a few months ago and I told him he would get it replaced when he brought his grades up. So far that's not working at all. There's not much else to take away. He just doesn't care right now.

I checked out your blog and will start following it. Thanks
Derodestad said…
Hi John, as a parent of an Asperger (and probably the daughter of one as well) I can only say that my experiences with the highschool my daughter visits are extremely positive. She can fill in her own days and if she has one of her enormous headaches she is allowed to work at home and rest as much as she likes. She suffers from too much stimula during the day at school which causes the headaches. But school does understand, teachers I mean. Other children is another story...though sometimes if you're lucky there's am emphatic kid who helps her trying to cope...
Apart from al that it is important that you give teachers much much info on the subject. Explain how the kid thinks and feels, make a fist, show you're being serious and proving she's being helped by any psychiatrist helps ofcourse...
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
I'll be interested when teachers and parents stop talking about children as being "problems," "disordered," "disturbed," "difficult," "challenging," "lazy," or "unmotivated," or talking about how they can increase student "achievement." I was one of those so-called "problem" children, because I preferred reading novels to playing sports games with other children who teased me or listening to teachers who belittled me. But it's difficult for a child to explain that they simply don't remember or don't understand or don't hear adults' instructions, when those adults disbelieve the child and insist on seeing a lack of compliance as a "behavior problem."

What I would say to teachers is that kids either grow out of their difficulties in adjusting to their environment or they don't. Peer pressure eventually teaches most kids to mask the difficulties they have. If they don't or can't grow out of having these difficulties, then they either learn it through trial and error as adults at job after job, or they develop the self-advocacy skills to arrange work and social environments that are more adapted to them individually (such as by finding contract work rather than punching timecards at a nine-to-fiver).

I think most kids will in fact do OK on their own, given enough room and opportunity to grow, but when you attach a label of "disturbed" on a child while they are still in kindergarten (as happened to me) that label can follow them all the way into adulthood and cause them to see themselves as "chronically disabled" with no hope of improving their own lives. They can come to see themselves as "damaged goods," or somehow defective. Kids aren't stupid; they know what's being said about them and that "special needs" is just a euphemism.

The book I would recommend would be "The Teenage Liberation Handbook," by Grace Llewellyn. If sitting at a cramped, right-handed desk all day huffing ditto ink under fluorescent lights isn't working for a kid, then WHY try to mold the kid to fit the setting? Why not let the kid find things that are interesting and useful to him or herself, and then find their own positions of respect and responsibility while following that path?

Kids ARE naturally motivated to learn and achieve, to create valued roles for themselves, whether they seek achievement in video games, cards, doodling or whatever. It's not that children are "unmotivated"; it's just that they grow into their own motivations at their own pace, as the motivating factors around them change.
Liz said…
Right now I am struggling with how to get across to my daughter's teachers that perhaps the system for conflict resolution that they have used for years (a "trust" circle) may not be effective for my childe. All that I see happen for her when she is "in the circle" is cause her sorrow and upset, rather than being a tool for teaching correct behaviors.

My wish for educators is that they be more open to trying preventative forms of social training so that students with AS do not get to the point of needing trust circles or visiting the principal's office. That they work with the parents, who are the best experts at knowing what works with their own child.
iamrandom said…
I would like to share with you what my son's school has done to help him succeed in a classroom setting.

My son is in a regular classroom and in the fourth grade. His desk is slightly away from the rest of the class, but closer to the teacher's desk. This way he's part of the group, but if he needs to disengage himself he's able to.

If he is becoming overwhelmed by too much noise or activity in the classroom, he is allowed to go to a quiet place, either the reading room (that used to be the teacher's office space) or out in the hall with his work or a book.

One of his real struggles has always been writing. It is very difficult for him to physically write things down because he has poor fine motor skills. If the assignment is not for the purpose of practicing his handwriting, he is allowed to type. This has saved many a meltdown.

Another thing his teacher has put in place for him is enhanced math work. Math is his gift. If he finishes his work early he is allowed to do harder work for extra credit or work on a Sudoku puzzle. If he has shown he has mastered a concept, she will give him 5th grade math homework that uses the same concepts. This way we avoid the boredom trap.

Our son has come up with some coping skills, too. He has a hooded sweatshirt at school. Sometimes, when things are too "busy" and he can't leave the room he puts it on and pulls up the hood. He does this when we are out at a store or restaurant, too.
He also has a MP3 player that he keeps in his backpack for recess. Sometimes he just needs to sit alone and, as he calls it, "quiet down my insides".

I want to thank you for sharing your story. I too have AS, but, like you, did not know there was a name for it until I was much older. It is my dream that my son not have the same experiences I had. You are doing so much to help our cause.
TheresaC said…

"..because things like Prom, Homecoming and clubs are so important to the high school experience and what a shame it would be for Evan to miss them..."

I heard the same thing when I went to my son's 9th grade orientation.

I don't have AS but when I went to high school I never attended prom, Homecoming, or belonged to clubs. I don't feel I missed anything...

Belonging to clubs and sports are great, but they can be just as lonesome for someone with few or no friends as the rest of school life.
Osh said…
I went to maybe 2 dances in high-school, and one of them wasn't prom! LOL.

It is my greatest wish that (at least in our district) the Special Education department would stop looking at our children as federal funding, or in our case costing the district thousands of dollars a month because he is being sent to an alternative setting, and instead see each child for who they are...not a number or a statistic.

In 7th grade my son was being mainstreamed, he asked for a sensory break, to be allowed to go back to his special ed classroom, was denied, had a meltdown, and the school called the police! He was charged with a disorderly conduct! Just now, 3 years later our legal battles have ended in the court system because of several incidents like this, and despite 6 medical diagnoses of AS and ASD, the district refuses to give him an educational diagnosis, instead they give him an EBD label...and I have appealed and lost.

Anyway John, maybe you can tell the teachers that the parents do know their children and their needs quite well. Sorry for rambling on.
BlogStalker said…
I think the children's voice really needs to be heard. Usually they are able to communicate, if not verbally, in other ways, what works for them and helps them to maximize their success. My guess is that most children with a spectrum diagnosis DO NOT appreciate mainstreaming, but why not ask them, or let them show you? And other volatile environments, like a school bus, hallways, or cafeterias, are often recipes for disaster because the stimulation is so overwhelming. When meltdowns happen, learning isn't.

Our state offers publicly funded cyber schooling, and that is a big hit with my aspie teen. Another cyber school we are considering has a large aspie population by default, this was a development the administration wasn't expecting. But one of their teachers told me that this appears to be a method by which aspies are able to thrive because it cuts out so many of the negative aspects of a traditional brick and mortar school for those students. It also utilizes "block" scheduling, which allows students to focus on fewer subjects in greater depth at one time. My son has asked me to transfer him to that school for that reason.

A venue for social skills is important too, critical even, but only if it's a POSITIVE experience for the individual. Negative social experiences generally lead to academic failure and withdrawal. Rarely in "the real world" is an adult forced to stay in a negative social environment. What educators often think should be a positive social environment is just the opposite for a kid on the spectrum.

My concern especially is those teachers who tolerate bullying, because the autistic person's behavior is considered purposefully negative, rather than typical or unavoidable for them. To me, this like allowing a deaf person to be ostracized since they are being "bad" for not listening. Note the teacher in Florida who had her students each voice how much they disliked their autistic classmate's behavior as a group to his face in a "Survivor" style.

Teachers who are expected to teach autistic children need to be specifically educated about it, no question. If someone used the word "unmotivated" to describe my child, I would tell them, "why would you expect him to be?" Those are not appropriate standards for our children, and the teachers need to understand that.

More than that, as the population of people on the spectrum continues to grow at an exponential rate, the other students need to be specifically educated about neurodiversity, and not just "tolerance", but acceptance. Especially in districts where mainstreaming is still considered the preferable method of education, the other students NEED that help in understanding their autistic classmates.
The Pitman Geek said…
I believe that much has gotten better over the past 20 years... we just need to continue that trend. I remember being discouraged from taking the SATs by my guidance counselor. He said that I needed to start learning a trade... I proceeded to almost ace the math portion with no prep. He still wouldn't let me take calculus in HS. I never did learn a trade, but I've done pretty well without it.

There wasn't any type of understanding on non-traditional thinking or approaches to education.

From what I've seen for my son (both he and I are AS)... there seems to be an understanding and desire to see all children succeed. From what I read, our school system may be unique, but I would hope that we are the trend.

I think communication and understanding are critical. Be open to new ideas and approaches and understand the role of education... to prepare the student for a successful and productive adulthood.
Kanani said…
Appropriately, I will shut up and let those with Asperger's do the talking.
MMartin said…
I realize Dec 6 has passed but thought I'd write anyway.

I have custody of my 7 year old grandson who has a diagnosis of PDD, and his psychologist keeps referring to his "aspergery" ways. What I find interesting is that he has been on an IEP since the second month of Kindergarten, and I have the same discussions every year with his teachers. He has a different special needs teacher each year and they always tell me they don't have time to read his files. So instead I have to miss work to go in for yet another meeting because they don't know how to handle him.

My advice...when you have a child in your class that's on an IEP READ THEIR FILE!! I've thought about writing a booklet called 'The Secret To David' to give to his educators each year because they don't want to read his files and learn how to work with him.

From the other posts here, it sounds like I'm in a similar boat, so it's nice to know I'm not alone on this.
Carol Prescott said…
Hello John,
Please tell them that this parent of a young Aspergian boy thanks them for inviting an Aspergian man for his insight on this issue! There is no one simple answer, as every person is different. I appreciate everyone who is trying to help our kids to succeed.
Good luck!
Unknown said…
John - I appreciate updates re: your speaking engagements. I too attempt to get input from others on the Spectrum before I prepare for my lectures.

If you want to plan an event in Nebraska, let me know. I will put you in contact with some organizations who might be interested in arranging a lecture from you. We "Heartlanders" would appreciate hearing what you have to say.

My son (15 yr old Aspie) has viewed your video of the speaking engagement you did in Boulder, CO. He can relate to so much of what you have to say about being a male with Aspergers.


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