Thursday, July 20, 2006

Learning "a bit at a time"...

"If a child can't learn the way he is taught, we must teach him the way he can learn." Dr. Glenda Sternberg, founder of Glenforest School, for children who didn't learn typically in the public schools. She was a special educator in the public schools, and began Glenforest with 12 students in the 1980's. She now has over 150 students at Glenforest, although she has retired as head.

So many people hope to make a living by finding a "cure" for Autism. Carl H. Delacato used "patterning exercises" in which the child went back to supposed missed developmental milestones that were missed, and his therapy was considered paramount when I was in college. Stanley Greenspan feels it is a defective parental relationship that causes autism, and parents learn how go back to enter into their child's world. What these both have in common is "fixing" the child. When the child undergoes appropriate therapy, he is "fixed". Even Lovaas "fixes" the child. The end goal is to be "indistinguishable from his peers". What is missing is instilling a desire to learn.

What appealed to me about Dr. Sternberg was her way of seeing the child, first, as whole. Her goal seems to be to teach the child in spite of the difference. She didn't try to change them, she tried to teach them.

I am going to be working in a classroom of multiply handicapped kids. My goal is not to teach some how to impossibility because of lack of muscular control, but to teach them how to see as an artist sees. My goal is not to teach some how to talk, because they may never have language, but how to communicate in ways they can be understood in their world. Most will never walk, so I will bring them to the world they will want to explore.

When we try to "fix" autism, are we missing the broader goal of teaching our children how to live?

The goal of education, in an ideal world, is to inspire children to want to learn. It should be a broadening, not a narrowing. Instead of looking back, why not look to the future?

I can't help but think of Helen Keller these amount of going back could have helped her. It was only when the future was opened up to her that she began to learn. Annie Sullivan could have spent the rest of her life trying to extinguish Helen's "negative behaviors", and we would have never known what a wonderful mind she had. It was only when she broadened her future, showing her how to learn, how to communicate with others, that Helen developed a desire to do so.

When we teach a child to read, we enter their world. We get down to their level and see it with their eyes. A mass of confusing symbols has no meaning to them. We break it down to a level they can understand, and then we build on that. We immerse them in a world of chaos and then take incremental steps to give that chaos meaning. We must look to the future, but only a bit at a time, so as not to overwhelm them.

I have one child whose teacher had an "aha!" moment when I explained how I taught my son non-visual language. "That sounds just like "M"!" We will break down language, and teach him through immersion...a bit at a time.

I've no doubt the kids will teach me how to learn to teach...a bit at a time, so I don't get overwhelmed. Just like Ben taught me how to be a mother...


Kristina Chew said...

Thanks for providing more details about the Delacato book and, especially, for writing about Dr. Sternberg. Our Lovaas consultant also does not talk about "fixing" Charlie, but on helping to teach him the skills he needs, and on instilling the motivation in him to learn.

Will you have the chance to meet any of the kids you'll be teaching and their parents before the school year starts?

Jannalou said...


It's not about "fixing" it's about learning and teaching.


I wonder if that's what life is all about, in the end - learning and teaching...?

r.b. said...


I planned to meet with, or at least call the parents, before learning that most of them have very free access to the room, weekly, if not daily.

I will be implementing the IEP plans that were worked out at the end of last year, so my main concern was getting their input, there. That was something that always made me feel useless at IEP's. Unless I put my foot down about something, it had all been decided before I got there! I still may call to find out more about their kids.

Jannalou...sometimes it seems that way! You know what I like best? Just "being"...ya know, when it all flows easily!

andrea said...

A child's job is to:





r.b. said...

That's good, Andrea...thanks

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