Educating Aspies

When I was at school, a mere 14-28 years ago (I feel so old now) words like autism and Asperger’s weren’t part of my vocabulary. As far as I know, nobody else at school was thinking about these things either, including the teachers. Today it seems to be common knowledge, although I hear a lot more about autism then Asperger’s when I hear school teachers talking about their classes.

Maybe that’s because children diagnosed with an ASD need more support with their learning than plain old Aspies? Maybe children with Asperger’s are still slipping through the net for this very reason? Maybe Aspies are simply less prolific?

What bothers me (and has been bothering me for about 18 years now) is the worry that most educational institutions will fail to meet the needs of children with Asperger’s.

My overriding memory of school days is the feeling of being invisible, like I wasn’t worth noticing. I found it hard to talk to my peers and my teachers. I didn’t know why I didn’t fit in. I started to believe I was worthless. I thought there was no real future for me. I became numb, and that meant I didn’t make the most of what opportunities I had. Every day was simply an endurance test. How much can I put with? How much can I take before I crack?

Not once did I feel like anyone understood me, or even attempted to see beyond my quiet facade. I was just the quiet kid who followed orders.

Now we have teachers who are more aware – but with so much on their plate, would they notice another child who was struggling but not diagnosed?

I hate the thought of a child feeling so isolated, when they should be surrounded by friends and possibilities.

But what does a child with Asperger’s need to flourish at school?

  • Sympathetic teachers, definitely!
  • A bolt hole – why not let us hide in the library or a reading room instead of hiding in toilet cubicles?
  • Social coaching – this would be a big ask! Maybe an after-school or lunchtime class with a small group, or one-on-one, to give us some clues and encouragement.

Can you think of anything else that would help?

 

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2 comments
  1. khendradm said:

    By “help,” and given the context of your post, I presume you mean exclusively in the social realm? Academically, I did very well, and I thus loved that aspect of school. Because I was quiet and studious, no one really thought I had a “condition.” (I was undiagnosed with Asperger Syndrome until age 29.) I have personally found the working world, and adult friendships, to be far more difficult than anything I ever encountered at school, a place where I needed no accommodations. Yet perhaps I should have gotten them?

    I guess it’s difficult for teachers to figure out if a quiet kid who follows orders/does well academically is just a quiet kid who follows orders/does well academically, or a legit case of autism who will need social help to function effectively in the adult world once they are done with the relative ease of school. It’s probably especially difficult because there is a prevailing notion that if you do well academically, you’ll succeed in the working world. That is NOT always the case. Most jobs expect you to multi-task and be socially adept, not just “smart”/”intellectual.”

    I wish I had more of the answers myself! Thanks for inspiring some thought here.

  2. Hi khendradm, thanks for your comment.

    Yes, I do mean help to socialise. Although I agree with your point about finding adult life to be more difficult, I think this is partly because people like us don’t naturally learn enough during our school days to help us function socially as adults. Although I feel I function well now, it has taken a long time and a lot of difficult work to get there! Most of this work, and the accompanying epiphanies, have been after the age of 20.

    I also like your point about the perceived link between academic success and success in your career. I was also considered “bright”, went to University, and then struggled with my career. When you consider what a sociable species we’re in, and how much we rely on our interactions with others, it’s a shame that our development in this area is often taken for granted.

    Perhaps the problem will no longer exist in 10 or 20 years, as awareness increases? Knowing a few school teachers, and having read your comment, I feel more hopeful about the future.

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