Monday, March 26, 2012

Now accepting nominations for the 2012 Good Friend in Education Award!

Schools that invite us to come present to their staff and/or students receive a Presentation Kit.  In that kit, among other materials and resources, is a card explaining our Good Friend in Education Award.  Each year, Good Friend pays tribute to an individual, group, or team (depending on the nominator's description) that has taken our autism Awareness-Acceptance-Empathy® message to heart.  Past winners have included ...
  • a team of upper elementary students from Waukesha who were particularly helpful for their friends receiving Specially-Designed Phy Ed services.
  • a team including peers, educators, and related professionals in Germantown who collaborated to ensure the successful inclusion of an elementary school student with autism.
  • a teacher in Milwaukee who went out of her way to make her classroom inclusive of her student with autism before the school year even began.

Competition was fierce last year -- which is a good problem to have!  If you know someone who deserves recognition for their good friend behavior, please submit a 100-word essay describing why to  Be sure to include the following:
  • Nominee’s name as it should appear on the award
  • Title/Position held (or “Student” and current grade level, if applicable)
  • School/Organization name
  • Nominee's phone, email, and address
  • Nominator’s (YOUR) name and contact information
  • Title/Position held (or “Student”, if applicable)
  • School/Organization name
Nominations are due May 14.  Winners will be notified by June 1.  All nominees are welcome to join us at a special celebration on August 3 in Waukesha, Wis.  Details will be publicized in late June.  Contact Denise (262-391-1369) with any questions.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Different ≠ Deficient

Rodin's "The Thinker" taken at the Rodin museum in Paris. Copyright © 2007-2008 James H. Linder
The concrete thinker in every human wants to quantify things.  How many?  How much?  What's the difference between them?  And it's that last question that tends to get us into a pickle.  We want to assign a number to demonstrate the difference -- even when it's not a quantitative difference.  And even if it's a qualitative difference, we concrete thinkers want to have a handle on the disparity.

When it comes to testing and analysis, as in the realm of qualifying for special education services, we have to be specific.  What is the age equivalence for the expressive/receptive language ability?  What is the difference between the child's actual age and the developmental communication ability?  If the standard deviation is at least 1.75 below, then (in the State of Wisconsin) the student may qualify for speech-language services through an IEP.  If not, well ...

Collecting data and searching for patterns is an excellent way to track progress (or lack thereof).  We write quantifiable goals in IEPs so we can tell whether our means for achieving our goal are successful and whether or not we've satisfied the goal.

So I suppose I shouldn't be so ruffled when people look at children with autism and try to quantify their differences.  In some cases, that's warranted for service entitlement.  But as caretakers, we have to stop looking at different as being equal to deficient.  For if different < normal, then it's okay to treat different < average.  When we follow that math equation, different = deficient.  We certainly can't say different = average (although we are all "different" by definition), because then we run the risk of eliminating supports that different requires.  Have I confused you thoroughly yet?

The point is this.  Yes, the autistic brain is different than the neuro-typical (NT) brain.  Its differences lead to altered ways of experiencing the world.  And in order for that experience to be accepted into society at large, both sides of the equation need to make accommodations.  But making accommodations isn't an intrinsically bad thing.  We all make accommodations ourselves and for our loved ones (sharing workloads by managing strengths, using calendars to keep track of appointments, etc.).

If we truly want individuals with autism to be accepted by their (NT) peers, we need to stop measuring those differences and displaying the disparity.  We need to be less concerned about the appearance of difference in inclusive settings and downgrade the importance of blending with NT peers.  Make the accommodations for the student with different learning abilities and explain their necessity to peers in teachable moments as appropriate.  Transparency is a value increasingly embraced in our culture.  If we are hiding difference, we are harboring the sentiment that difference is bad.  And when we allow that sentiment to cloud our thinking, then we perpetuate the harmful untruth that people with autism are lesser than their NT peers.

Think about it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Social emotional matters

Don't worry.  I'm not going to make you lie on the couch of psychoanalysis for this blog posting.  But I do want you to reflect for a moment.  Depending on how old you are, I'm going to require you blow some dust off the box of memories in your brain and open up to the cards that hold your elementary school experiences.  What are you thinking about?  The smell of that new box of crayons?  The exultation of finally tying your shoes by yourself?  The way Tommy pulled that girl's hair at recess?  The time you forgot to zip your pants after returning from the bathroom and having a classmate point out your mistake in a not-so-discreet way?

I'm guessing not many of you went right to the math lesson card.  Or the correct sentence structure page.  Because the experiences that stick with us have some sensory and/or social-emotional basis.  I marvel at teachers and administrators who have such tunnel vision for academic learning that they deliberately carve away character-building curricular elements.  For these individuals, teaching to the tests is all-consuming.  There is no room for humanity.  This makes me sad.

If we don't teach social-emotional skills with the same fervor we teach academics, we risk releasing to the community young adults who can complete a task without regard for how to manage themselves in a sphere of reference to their environment.  If you need an evidence basis for the importance of social-emotional learning, check out CASEL.

Our students with autism are entitled to the same benefits of social-emotional learning.  Many prioritized lists by educational autism experts show the learning of new academic skills below elements like effective communication, self-regulation (from a sensory and emotional standpoint), and social understanding.  Building skills and practice of healthy social-emotional behaviors into an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) are important practices if we want good life-long outcomes.

At Good Friend, Inc., we believe that peer sensitivity training and peer mentors are crucial aspects of a classroom inclusive of a child with autism.  Give us an opportunity to show you why!