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Becoming a "Typical" Student: What's Your Opinion?

By October 11, 2006

For more than two years, our son has been in a public "autism support" classroom. Strangely, while few of the children in the class have learning disabilities (and some are academically gifted), the focus in the classroom is not on academics. In fact, the teacher has not been supplied with science or social studies curricula to use with her class!

Instead, the program is built around development of "social skills." Even the field trips are intended to build social skills. Instead of trips to museums or zoos, our children go to restaurants and malls. The idea, we're told, is that our children need to to be typical students. Otherwise, how will they ever return to a typical classroom?

Many of our children with autism have significant academic strengths None are strong in social skills. For many, a "typical" classroom may never be a realistic option -- though a career in, say, science, math or academics may well be achievable.

Of course, social skills are vitally important. But in my opinion, our children are best served by building on their academic strengths and their passionate interests. While social skills training is great, school is for learning about the wider world, about history and geography, about thinking skills, writing skills, and science. Isn't it?

I hate to think that my tax money to going to teach my son how to order at McDonalds -- while he's losing out on history, biology and narrative writing...

Do you have an opinion on this issue? What SHOULD the schools be teaching our children with autism? Is your child learning what he or she needs to know?

October 11, 2006 at 3:04 pm
(1) f.bat says:

Because autstim is so varied, and parents want such schools/teachers to play such varied roles, what one school does for one group is independant of what the next school may do. Obviously, if your son is served in the Exceptional Children’s Program by your school district, he has an IEP in which you are asked to attend and have input into. If you are not satisfied with his social goals (assuming he has them in his IEP) then you have a right as a parent to voice this. Furthermore, you can request goals in his IEP to only reflect academic goals if you feel that his social abilities are sufficient.
Often, parents want one outcome for their child, when the child is not prepared nor able to fufill the goals. Is your reality for him to sit in an office doing math and/or science one day, void of the ability to interact socially among people?
I think these field trips do have a positive impact for him and are valid. If you truly disapprove, seek an IEP meeting and have your concerns noted.

October 11, 2006 at 5:44 pm
(2) george says:

well being a parent of an 11 year old boy with downes and autism, i think social skills are so very important. as they are the predictor of success. good social skills allow your creativaty to flow therefore making you more successful.i have had a very hard time getting the ISD to provide these services.sensory issue’s are another service that is needed in the school for our kids. thanks….gw

October 11, 2006 at 6:21 pm
(3) Parent says:

Our child hums and flapps hands frequently indoors or in the classroom but his atypical behaviors would decrease enormously when he is outdoors. We though that our son would never be able to just go for a walk but know he can ask if he wants to go out.

October 13, 2006 at 1:25 pm
(4) Sharon A. Mitchell says:

Isn’t there room for compromise?

I see many bright ASD kids who get good marks in school, (often with assistance), but are unable to manage themselves on their own. Despite their high academics, these kids bomb when they enter post-secondary schools or the world of work.

While the academics are very important, what’s the point of being smart if you’re unable to use your talents? There needs to be a balance in the IEP.

I have a son with Asperger’s who went through the regular school system and is now away at university.

October 13, 2006 at 2:39 pm
(5) Evelyn says:

I agree with some of the previous comments. I too think that our children need to learn to be sociable, and how to handle themselves around other people. It is great to have a child who is really smart and may become a scientist someday, but if he/she does not know how to get along with others, that might not be good enough.

Humans are social beings; we depend on each other to succeed. Even if our children become very well trained professionals, they will still need of others to help them get and maintain their jobs, housing, health and all of the services that other people provide. Remember, we are not alone in this world.

October 14, 2006 at 12:43 am
(6) Stephen says:

My question is: How is a child supposed to rejoin a “typical classroom” if they can’t read/write or do “typical” activities? They really can’t. I think you need to watch what the school is doing carefully. What you don’t want is a child trained to stay in the “autism support” classroom, and not the “typical classroom”. He needs both social AND academic skills to rejoin the typical classroom.

For example: If your son were “ready” to go back to a “typical class” when he is in 5th grade, but reads at a 1st grade level, then it will be VERY hard for him in a standard class. He might be able to sit their quietly, interact with others, and maybe even make friends, but won’t understand anything the teacher is talking about. He won’t be able to do the same math, the same reading, the same writing, the same history, or the same science that everyone else is working on. All of those depend on previous knowledge gained in the earlier grades. Then they will say they have to take him out of class so he can catch up to the other students. This is of course exactly what you are rightfully worried about.

Examine how your son behaves socially, his academic level, and then decide what is best for him. Listen to the advice from the school and special education teachers, but make up your own mind. None of them know your son as well as you do. If you have the feeling he needs more work academically, then he probably does.

October 14, 2006 at 10:52 am
(7) Jessica says:

Hi All,

I agree there needs to be a middle ground.
We live in VT (which is a fully inclusionary state) while my son is doing well in acedemics (with support) we strugle to get the social skils training oprroutunities in a group setting. He is the only one with autism in a very small elementary school. Due to VT’s philosophy of inclusion, and that he is doing well with the acedemics in the classroom, it is like pulling teeth to get the pull out time for the social skills work. That and a lack of peers to practice with is a a real challange.

His IEP does reflect the time and need for social/emotional goals, but again, this is something we work hard to have in place.

Just my 2.

October 14, 2006 at 1:36 pm
(8) Cynthia Whitfield says:

I am always so surprised by the wide differences in approaches to kids with autism. I know some parents with higher-academically functioning kids. In our city, it is almost exclusively about academics until middle or high school when they start emphasizing social skills more.

I think the school should definitely be teaching more academics. Like one of the commentors noted, if he isn’t doing any social studies, how is he going to function in a typical class where they’ve been studying social studies for years?

Even for lower-functioning kids, academics should not be abandoned. Before I started homeschooling, I was frustrated when autism consultants would remind my son’s teacher that these kids need to only learn “functional” skills.

One consultant didn’t like my son’s reading program because he learned words like “horse” which she said wasn’t functional. But I want my son to learn to read and enjoy simple books. Besides, he loves animals, so I thought learnng to read their names was a good goal. I wasn’t happy with the idea that we should give up on his reading anything other than words other than “restroom” and “exit.” Sure, he was already 10, and way behind. But that’s too soon to give up.

After starting homeschooling, his reading took off. And he’s enjoying it too!

October 16, 2006 at 1:07 pm
(9) Maureen Gardner says:

Every child needs both social skills and academics. Initially it is necessary to ensure that the behavior is not disruptive to a regular ed. classroom,or inattentive to a teacher. If the behavior is mostly under control( fewer than 1 outburst per week)then by LRE they should be placed in the regular ed. classroom with an aide. Does your school district have a curriculum guideline for the grade level your child is in? If yes, use this to guide your child’s grade- level skills, and use it to determine if your child is really capable of participating at grade level. If the behaviors are such that he or she cannot be in reg. ed. classroom, include these curriculum goals in the IEP- if first graders are expected to add and subtract numbers up to twenty, then that should be in your child’s IEP for first grade- provided your child is capable of this. Do not let the school system give up on the academics.Don’t give up on the social skills either. Every parent wants their child to become independent and you need both.
For Field Trips, the question is: can your child handle being in a museum or at the zoo. Does your child wander off- will they assign an aide to go with him or her?
If the school isn’t getting your child the academics they need, you may have to supplement at home, do at-home schooling, or consider private school.
The question is what social skills/typical behavior has your child acquired since being in their program and has significant progress happened?
If not, then the school is not doing either. Social skills are important even to participate in reg. ed academics- teasing and bullying is common and your kid could be the target.

October 9, 2007 at 1:04 pm
(10) Dorothy Bennett says:

I have a first grade son with Asperger’s who is in a mainstreamed class receiving pull-out services. My son has a keen interest in science and we do hope his interests will be supported in his classes. At the same time, we know he can’t get anything out of a science lesson if he can’t get past his own ideas and work effectively with others. THis is stuff of life (even scientists have to collaborate these days!)

In terms of the balance between functional skills and academics: we just had our meeting to reconsider how much our son is being pulled out to get what he needs. This included a social skill training session once a week with a skilled advisor. The reality is that our children need supports to survive in mainstream settings but also need to get the support where they need it most– in the classroom, on the playground, with their neurotypical peers not always in pull-out sessions or special classes. I finally got the school to agree to provide push-in social skills training at lunchtime or recess (where he needs this most). I think the time has come for districts to think creatively about how to provide these essentials. It does not have to cost more or result in the loss of valuable academic time if they use their resources wisely. It is our job to advocate for this as children with special needs who are also paying taxes to support our schools!

April 24, 2008 at 3:16 pm
(11) Esther says:

This is an old blog but I wanted to comment. It sounds like the class isn’t focusing on ‘social skills’, but rather ‘life skills’..skills such as ordering food, managing money, using public transportation, and going out into the community. Typically classes like this are for students who aren’t on an academic track. Social skills, such as turn taking, having a conversation, forming real friendships, and perspective taking, should be an important and central part of any program for students with autism, regardless of academic functioning. Students who are on or close to academic level can benefit from ‘life skills training’, but I don’t think it should be the main focus of the class. And certainly academics shouldn’t be overlooked. I’m sure by now you have taken action.

April 25, 2008 at 6:27 am
(12) debbie says:

I think it is important for an autistic child to learn social skills first, the academic side can come later. If the child does not have these skills how will they manage on their own. If the child is also on an IEP then her/his academic skills will fall into place. surely there is no rush for the child he can always go on to college to further his educational skills.

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