Rethinking Education - Can Autistic People Lead the Way for Everyone?

I've been posting regular updates from the 2014 IMFAR autism science conference.  At 7:15 this morning I'll be discussing transition to adulthood, and how we might reshape our education system to improve our rate of success.

As the co-founder of a unique vocational program for teens with differences, and as Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at William and Mary these are questions I think about a lot.  One of the realizations I've come to is that we inherited a concept of learning where the young learn their trades at the side of those who are older and wiser in a system that we eventually came to call Vocational Education.  This system served humanity for as long as we've been around, and it was the way we taught every single trade from doctoring to sheepherding; from preaching to policing.  Then we threw it away and embraced the (false) idea that anyone could be anything, by learning from books and going to college.

But it's not college that's the problem.  It's the way we teach it.

Here's a TEDx talk that lays out my views in 18 minutes.  Take a look, and let me know what you think.  If you prefer to read the talk in stead, I've posted a transcript here.

Let's get a discussion going . . .

John Elder Robison is an autistic adult and advocate for people with neurological differences.  He's the author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, Raising Cubby, and the forthcoming Switched On. He serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Dept of Health and Human Services.  He's co-founder of the TCS Auto Program school and Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William & Mary.  The opinions expressed here are his own.


Unknown said…
When we talk about disability, it is incredible to think that actually it is our society that is creating that disability by introducing an education system that requires everyone to read well etc, and if you can't you are denied the opportunity to succeed in what you are more naturally skilled at and contribute to society at your best - because you cannot get through the hoops the system places upon you in order to learn a trade you're more suited to. This type of thing is a major hindrance to people with asperger's today - their skills aren't recognised because they struggle with social skills that they're not even taught.
deejay said…
My son (age 20) is a person with Aspergers. He has many difficulties, but many strengths and blessings. I just finished 'Be Different'---your Excellent book. I want to share a video with you; the song has a copyright, of course, yet is all over YouTube already. Point being, this is a young man who speaks softly and struggles mightily to speak without 'backtracking' is kind of like 'one step forward, two steps back'---he gets to his point eventually, but it requires patience to the listener to get to that. Those who love him make the effort. Choir was a great help in socialization! By the time he was an upperclassman, I was urging him to try a solo, because he has a very nice voice, and it could only boost his confidence. Eventually an irresistible piece of 'bait' emerged: Baba Yetu, which is the 'Our Father' in Swahili. The choir had heard a college choir sing this in concert; all went Nuts and said "we have to do this!" It was late in the year. All of the boys wanted that solo part, but the hitch was, the director did not have time to tutor anyone on solos so late in the school year, so it would have to go to someone who could learn it independently. My son's hand went right up. Yet he never told me what he was up to; he was Glued to his computer, listening to the official video by Christopher tin that features clips from 'Dawn of Civilization' video game, part of the 'hook' that lured teens into loving the music. He put headphones on, and stayed up several nights in a row. I probably even chewed him out; told him to 'come up for air.' Then, on concert night, the choir sang this, he had the solo, and I was blown away by the beauty of the whole experience. This was not the concert, but a performance of the same song at another school's auditorium:

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