Have We Moved Too Far From Hans Asperger’s Recommendation?
We were to go to a jazz show last night. Instead we ended up watching the film, ‘Hichki.’
The film showcased an important social message about acceptance of differences.
The brilliance lay in the performances and screenplay.
I’ll share some relevant points from the film, without giving too much away- just in case you haven’t seen it.
The protagonist had Tourette’s Syndrome.
While every body else ridiculed her, the school principal encouraged her to live life fearlessly.
She went on to become a teacher who put in charge of an unruly bunch of students, who were from an unprivileged section of society.
The threads were woven together beautifully to showcase the effects of acceptance.
This ‘acceptance ‘ message was right up my alley.
But creating customized and authentic teaching techniques, was even closer to my heart.
A child who displayed extra ordinary mathematical abilities with playing cards, was shown a vision of being a stock market analyst.
A teenager who showed amazing culinary skills was taught chemistry via cooking.
Another youngster who worked as a mechanic in his spare time was shown how he applied the principles of physics without even knowing it.
The best part was learning happened in the natural environment. It wasn’t classroom based. It was fun, out in the open.
It took me back to an amazing art class I had observed at the Louvre last year.
This innovative teacher had taken a bunch of 6-7 year olds to the museum.
They sat on the floor, listened to their teacher, looked at paintings and filled handouts.
Some children were observant while some were not.
But that wasn’t the point. The experience of being in the Louvre and enjoying the ambience was the point. The teaching was incidental.
Imagine being exposed to the finer things of life at such a young age.
“We need students who can learn how to learn, who can discover how to push themselves and are generous enough and honest enough to engage with the outside world to make those dreams happen.”
― Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams
It’s strange how I haven’t mentioned autism (till now) in this article.
Yet, it’s all about teaching autistic individuals from a place of acceptance.
Closer to home, Dr Renuka Nambiar submitted a beautiful video of teaching her son, Sanjeev.
She didn’t realize it at that time, but she actually gave Sanjeev a Science lesson.
Over the past couple of years, Renuka has worked tirelessly with Sanjeev on the basic core deficits of autism.
Today, things are falling in place for him beautifully, due to her efforts.
Sanjeev, 23, goes to Baking College in Malaysia, to work on his Diploma.
How did Renuka get here in a period of 1.5 years?
She joined the RDI Program and worked on making the following changes.
1. From an Instructional Model to a Co participatory Model
Prior to the parent training program, she worked on Sanjeev’s language and skills through instructional techniques.
After joining the program, we moved to a co participatory model. Sanjeev and Renuka worked on several activities where they both had an authentic role.
For example: While cooking Sanjeev was responsible for gathering the ingredients and chopping, while Renuka worked on the cooking.
They worked as a team.
2. From instructions to declarative communication
From giving instructions to get a response from Sanjeev, Renuka started to share her own experiences with Sanjeev.
This encouraged Sanjeev to think and share his experiences too.
For example: Instead of saying, “How was your day today?” She switched to sharing about her own day. “I had a very tiring day at work today.”
This enabled Sanjeev to absorb what she said and share something about his day too.
3. From prompting to giving time
Prior to the program, Renuka went down the route of physical, gestural, positional prompting, to achieve the desired result.
Once on the program, she gave him plenty of time to problem solve independently and come up with his own solutions.
For example: If he needed to feed the dogs and the packet was empty, she would not prompt him about where to look. He would of his own initiative figure out where the new food bag was, once he was given time.
4. Working on independence
Sanjeev was encouraged to go to stores independently and pick a snack for himself. I remember how Renuka’s heart was in her mouth, the first time they tried this.
Today it’s common for Sanjeev to go by himself for his haircut or pick up something from a store.
This has stood him in good stead at college.
5. Working on authentic frameworks at the clinic and at home
After college, Sanjeev goes over to Renuka’s clinic.
He works with authentic frameworks, as above. He even does data entry and other such work required at the clinic.
Renuka had a ‘maid’ issue a few months ago. Everybody in the family contributed. And so did Sanjeev.
In fact, Sanjeev contributed more than the others.
6. Working with extenders
Not only does Sanjeev work with Renuka, but he has a good rapport with the nurses at her clinic too.
When they have some free time, they work on complex ball games and musical games. Sanjeev has learned to read others and work effectively with them. He enjoys being with others.
7. Working on encoding experiences
Sanjeev loves to write.
The writing skill was already in place.
After joining the program it got linked to his experiences.
He now encodes his own experiences to journal every single day.
Writing is part and parcel of his life. It’s not taught as a separate skill.
Asperger would often just sit with the children, reading poetry and stories to them from his favorite books. “ I don’t want to simply ‘push from the outside’ and give instructions, observing coolly and with detachment,” he said. “Rather I want to play and talk with the child, all the while looking with open eyes both into the child and into myself, observing the emotions that arise in reaction to everything that occurs in the conversation between the two of us.”
– Neurotribes, Steve Silberman
The first time I read this passage, I cried.
Since then I’ve read it several times and it always has a profound effect on me.
It speaks to respect and dignity of the autistic child.
It speaks to authentic teaching.
Above all, it speaks to emotions. And the effect autistic individuals have on us.
Have we moved too far away from authentic and respectfully teaching autistic individuals?
It’s time to get back to teaching respectfully.
Dr Renuka Nambiar did it. And continues to do so.