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Life Skills, Social Skills and the General Curriculum

By October 25, 2010

Who is in charge of providing typical and special needs kids with the tools they need to succeed in life?  What are those tools?  And what do the schools have to do with providing them?

According to the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) American public schools must provide children with the tools they need to access the general curriculum.  In theory, kids with special needs should also receive help in preparing for and taking standardized tests.  For children with autism and many other developmental disabilities, though, there's often a whole separate set of expectations that are wholly unrelated to the "general curriculum."

The general curriculum consists of academic classes in math, science, language arts and social studies, along with (sometimes, when budgets allow) "specials" such as music, art, gym, and computers. There are other activities available through most schools (after school clubs, band, theater, athletics, etc.), but these are by no means considered "general curriculum."  They're not only optional - they're often available only through try-outs or auditions.  Plenty of typical kids either can't or don't take part in these activities.

Nowhere in the curriculum are there expectations that children should make friends, be socially accepted, build advanced athletic skills, play with others during free time, order in a restaurant, fold a shirt, shop for groceries or make a bed.  None of our standardized tests require that our students be capable of brushing their hair, hammering a nail, or choosing matching socks.  It is perfectly possible for young people to graduate high school with no clue of what it takes to boil an egg, fill out a check or dress appropriately for a job interview.  Typically developing children aren't taught "life skills" (bed making, bathroom cleaning, food shopping and the like) or social skills (how to make eye contact, shake hands, use a friendly tone of voice, exchange small talk).  In fact, if they lack such skills (and a great many do), they're simply left to flounder and cope with the consequences.

Today's public schools hire an entire second work force, just to support the needs of children with developmental challenges.  In theory, their charge is to include these kids as fully as possible in the general curriculum.  Yet instead of teaching the general curriculum, many are actually teaching a complete separate curriculum - a curriculum designed to teach children to behave in a socially acceptable manner and to do basic tasks.  The schools are spending a fortune on therapists who have no mandate to teach academic content, but whose job is to normalize children socially and to prepare them for minimum wage jobs or sheltered workshops.

Personally, I would love to see the entire school curriculum revamped.  I'd like to see all kids learning how to manage money, tools and kitchen implements...  dress and behave appropriately in multiple situations...  prioritize and manage time.  I'd be just fine with cutting down on high level math, science and literature classes for high school students, and assuming that interested and capable kids can move forward in those purely academic areas in a higher education setting.  I think all our children need to understand how to plan, budget, and think ahead...  care for their bodies, their homes, and their children.

But for the moment, practical skills are simply not part of the general curriculum.

If we are working to have  children with autism included in the general curriculum, then, logic would suggest that we should be working on those skills required to access the general curriculum.  That is: reading, writing, math, and, depending upon the school, cutting, drawing, molding, singing, running, jumping, and so forth.  Collaboration may be expected in certain classes, but it is perfectly possible to complete science projects without a lab partner, or to write a report individually rather than as part of a team.

So which is it?  What do we, as a society, value for our children?  Are we most concerned with their understanding how to live their day-to-day lives with grace and competence?  Or are we most concerned with their ability to grasp academic content and prove their knowledge through standardized testing?  Is it possible for us to teach all of our children to manage both of these sets of skills?

In my opinion, it's long past time for Americans to review the purpose of both general and special education - and to adjust programs, services and expectations accordingly.

Comments
October 25, 2010 at 9:52 am
(1) Sandy-2000 says:

Actually, children who are in life skills classes do learn to fold clothes, go shopping and so on but of course it wont be to the extent of what this article is. IDEA in no way can enforce any child to make friends, be socially accepted; many children have these issues aside from being special ed. Also, just how much should the school be responsible for? Some of the skills listed are things parents would teach their children on a normal bases, but those of special ed children should expect a school district to teach these things?
“Yet instead of teaching the general curriculum, many are actually teaching a complete separate curriculum – a curriculum designed to teach children to behave in a socially acceptable manner and to do basic tasks.” I’m not sure what you mean by this. Academic and behavior are two different things, and they’re often taught at the same time. Some kids will never be at grade level, however the curriculum would be the same for that lower level student.

October 25, 2010 at 9:54 am
(2) Sandy-2000 says:

“The schools are spending a fortune on therapists who have no mandate to teach academic content, but whose job is to normalize children socially and to prepare them for minimum wage jobs or sheltered workshops.” Therapists are not academic teachers, period. I’m not sure where you get the info that those therapists are only teaching children for minimum wage jobs or sheltered workshops. This of course would be an individual sort of thing, and many who are disabled wont ever have a real job at all, let alone what is being taught in a public school to these children.

I would not want my public school teaching my child how to use tools and kitchen implements, other than what the school already offers. If one cuts down on higher level academics, then you’re contributing to that low paying job. If one wants a school to teach quality academics along with higher quality life skills, then you’re looking at a private school for those with disabilities.

I believe the hope is ‘if the public school did more’ however one then is asking the public school to take more of an active roll in the medical intervention of disabled children. A public school is not a medical establishment nor should it ever be one.

October 25, 2010 at 10:03 am
(3) autism says:

Why would the schools assume that parents will teach their typical kids how to do day to day tasks, but that parents will NOT teach their kids with autism the same tasks?

And why should the schools teach kids with autism to manage work settings when they don’t teach those same skills to kids withOUT autism?

If these skills aren’t part of the general curriculum, why are they taught at all? If they ARE part of the general curriculum, why aren’t they offered to typically developing kids?

The idea that the MOST important part of the school’s job is to prepare kids for life is laughable. As is the idea that parents actually teach their typical kids how to shake hands, make eye contact, or cook a meal.

The conflicting goals and methods just baffle and frustrate the heck out of me…

March 25, 2011 at 10:07 pm
(4) Billie Franger says:

I hope you never have a child who has special needs and you do not have the training needed to reach your child. You do not have the skills or knowledge and yet you want to help your child. You send your child to school and he or she is unable to keep up, unable to learn to read as his peer pass him up. Unable to retain information or process what is happening around him, so unable that he runs out of a crowded, noisey area and actually leaves the school grounds, unable to communicate or know where or how to get any help. Parents of these children are not equipped to teach their child these skills and depend on schools to help them just as a ‘typical child’ depends on schools to teach them needed academics that they are able to learn and apply. Both of these children can be successful in their own unique ways if they both receive the appropriate kind of education. So sad that people cannot or will not open their eyes to wide world of diversity.

October 25, 2010 at 10:10 am
(5) Sandy-2000 says:

The question really is, why do you think the public schools should teach those things? Preparing a typical child for life is laughable. You can give that typical child every tool there is and the real world is still a shocker to them. Most of it is life experience and learning as you go, once you ‘go’ out into that great big world outside of school.

I personally think the school teaches the tools a child would need; reading, writing and math. It’s family which contributes to teaching that ‘life’ part. Teachers change year to year, family doesn’t.

October 25, 2010 at 11:21 am
(6) KWombles says:

The public school system is designed to teach academics and to create adults who will have the necessary tools to be good citizens. It is not the job of the school to teach any child how to do the daily living skills that the parent and families are responsible for. In an age in which the federal government already has too much access into our personal lives, the suggestion that schools be asked to do more that teach academics (something it already has a hard time doing) is entirely too intrusive and smacks of yet another area in which people are failing to take responsibility for their own lives.

However, when we mandate placement of our children who have disabilities (some of whom are severe) into mainstream schools, the reality is that some of these children, my son as an example, are not able to perform academically because of intellectual disabilities. These students require life skills training and vocational training, which the federal government has mandated must be provided.

October 25, 2010 at 11:35 am
(7) Sandy-2000 says:

What’s interesting is of those who home school, which do not rely on the school for academics or otherwise. Those parents are soley then taking on the job of preparing their children for life.

There are just some things I wouldn’t want some one else teaching my child, let alone public schools. Everyone has a certain manner of doing things and I think for my child, everyone throwing their mannerisms onto him has to be very difficult. It yet would take away more of that family unit, and if everyone else taught my child all these things, there’d be nothing left for me to teach my own child.

October 25, 2010 at 12:01 pm
(8) autism says:

Kim – that’s an interesting perspective, that the schools are to prepare students to be “good citizens.” I’m not quite sure what that means, or how parents, teachers, etc. would define a good citizen.

Does it mean “a person who can hold down a job and pay taxes?” Does it have something to do with civics, ethics, etc.? Or is good citizenship defined by a set of skills?

You’re right, of course, that the IDEA has determined that kids with intellectual disabilities should receive vocational training. But what I’m really asking is -

what are our goals for the schools?
what are our goals for kids with/without disabilities?
are our programs for kids with disabilities helping them to access the general curriculum or something completely different?
if it’s something completely different, how are we determining what it should be?
if it’s something completely different, is it really a set of skills that ONLY people with intellectual disabilities need, or is it a set of skills that are neglected relative to typical kids?

In particular, I’m asking whether “life” and “vocational” skills are important ONLY if you have intellectual disabilities? I would argue that the answer is NO – and that all kids should receive just such training and education.

Lisa

October 25, 2010 at 4:26 pm
(9) barbaraj says:

My mother says, she , while a religious person, hated reading the 23rd psalm every morning. Who wanted to open the day with death, and pray souls to keep, to close it. Yet more than a few, even those running for office , hate that there is a separation of state and faith and will work toward that reform while voting out rights for the disabled. While we bat ideas back and forth over what they should teach our children, we better be keeping alert or there may not be public schools available to them. There will be facilities, but without a law in place to accomodate the disabled, there won’t be any accomodations to consider. Remember, we aren’t that far from the birth of inclusion and mainstreaming, they might just disappear. It’s all about funding and “fact is” you can’t improve upon something that may be taken away.

October 25, 2010 at 4:59 pm
(10) Sandy-2000 says:

That’s right, expecting the public school system to do more than teach academics, the next step is residential. Either way, if such things were included into public schools, you’d end up with less than a balance of one or the other within the time period a child is in school a day and then there’s still no guarantee the outcome for the disabled child or typical child would be any different, or that the parent couldn’t prepare that child with a better outcome.

The feel I get from this topic is to add more people to more area’s of a families life via the child, that a therapist is needed for every single aspect. I don’t know about anyone else, but I love summer when all of the stresses of public school and all that goes with it is gone. I would not be inviting the school to do more; if I had that need for my child, there should be options of training than the public school. Some states have such places.

October 25, 2010 at 6:58 pm
(11) Malia says:

It takes a community to raise a child, and the public school is an integral part of the community. To some degree, the public schools do teach children social and life skills simply by virtue of the fact that they are “social” institutions where large numbers of children are brought together. As almost every parent of a teenager laments – typical children learn many social behaviors at school, not in the home.

Various activities within the standard curriculum, such a group projects, have long been designed to aid children in learning how to work in teams and not just individually. So, I would also say that, although different approaches are required to help children with autism learn to work with other people, teaching them such a skill IS already part of general curriculum.

I also believe that children with disabilities should be required to write the standardized government tests (aka provincial exams). Here, at least in theory, they do have the requirement to do so unless the school can justify exempting them from the test. Unfortunately, there does seem to be a tendency for schools to want to exempt as many of their disabled students from these tests as possible, since the results of these tests to contribute to the ratings they receive as schools.

I don’t know if a similar situation exists in the United States. For myself, it meant that I had to put up a bit of a fight to prevent the school from exempting my son from writing the exams. This seemed to put some pressure on the school to ensure that he learned as much of general curriculum as possible so that he would do reasonably well on the exams. It should also be noted that my son was high-functioning and it was reasonable to expect that he was capable of learning how to write a standardized test. The government does allow from some concessions for various disabilities; Such as having the test read to the student orally or having a scribe to write down the student’s oral answers.

October 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm
(12) Sandy-2000 says:

The law in the USA is called NCLB and I believe it’s due for a revision. NCLB wasn’t created for special ed, but mainly for typical kids, being sure students are learning what they’re taught, and this also effects the over-all school rating. So they test yearly to be sure teachers are teaching, and no child is left behind. This law for a few reasons works well for a special ed child, however if the school has a large body of special ed students, it’s highly unfair to rate a school based solely on these state testing results. They can not exclude a child from these state testings in the USA, but they can offer the special ed child some limited accommodations. For a special ed child, these tests don’t always depict what that child has retained, either. I’d rather my child not be given these state tests, but given tests to which are presented to his learning which would tell me better what he is retaining.

October 25, 2010 at 10:29 pm
(13) zusia says:

Lisa Jo, you’ve got so much going on in this article I don’t know where to begin, but let’s start with IDEA. Do you understand that IDEA was instituted, in part, to prepare students for “further education, employment and independent living”???

Therefore “life skills” as they are called, are part of IDEA. Especially part of “transition services” as they are detailed under IDEA.

When my son was in elementary we addressed some of the goals you suggested– making friends, playing with others, building athletic skills, et.- within the context of the above quoted reference to IDEA, when we wrote his IEP. All his goals were met through the efforts of school staff.

When I worked at the high school level, as a paraeducator with students with disabilities, we worked on the rest of the skills you mentioned with the specific intent of preparing students for jobs in the community. For instance, they learned how to fold laundry to work in businesses like hotels that were willing to pay for these skills. One girl was paid by our town civic center to perform certain repetitious jobs. Some of our students learned independent baking skills that would allow them to work in that industry. And yes, we teach money management to students who are developmentally ready. These are not unique programs– schools offer these sorts of curricula nationwide.

October 25, 2010 at 10:31 pm
(14) zusia says:

part 2

As far as clubs and athletics not being part of the general curriculum, and sometimes being open only to students who pass tryouts, this is often true. The reason has to do with funding. Schools would love to be able to include everyone who, say, wants to play soccer, but simply can’t afford the number of coaches, equipment, transportation costs, or league fees to invite everyone to play.

And yet some schools do offer no-cut sports. Our middle school track & field is no-cut, and I believe there are other no-cut sports there as well. At the high school level there are several– I know our boys’ tennis was no-cut and ironically, there were at least 4 boys on the team this fall with various degrees of autism. Swim teams have been notorious for attracting students with disabilities. My neighbor is a student with Down Syndrome and he wears a letterman’s jacket that he truly earned. And he’s not the only one.

October 25, 2010 at 10:34 pm
(15) zusia says:

part 3

When IDEA talks about “access to the general curriculum”, it may not mean what you think it means. While interpretations have evolved over the years, one thing it means is that students with disabilities should have access to the same types of subjects that are being discussed in general ed classrooms.

For instance, in years past, high school students with cognitive disability (mental retardation) were given
children’s picture books or subjects for reading instruction and allowed to watch Disney films for entertainment. When their access to the general curriculum was evaluated those books were, by and large, replaced by science, literature, or history based narratives in simpler language. Disney films were replaced by nature and other documentaries– even Bill Nye the Science Guy. That was “access to the general curriculum.”

It sounds like a good idea to suggest that we prepare students with autism to be able to access the general curriculum by giving them the core academic skills that they need, but since they may learn at a slower rate, it cannot be guaranteed that they will be able to learn the same curriculum as their peers. Instead, we can offer them age-appropriate curriculum that ties into what their peers are learning, at their own level.

This is only one small example, but I hope it better illustrates what “access to general curriculum” is all about.

I do agree that school programs need to be revamped, because it’s too easy for kids to fall through cracks, but programs also need to be fully funded, which they aren’t at this time.

October 25, 2010 at 10:35 pm
(16) zusia says:

part 4

Please don’t advocate for cutting high level classes for motivated high school students. Those students, many of whom have been shoved aside for years with the thinking that they didn’t need support, deserve the opportunity to reach their own academic goals. Both my sons fit into this category but these classes are extremely critical for my son with autism, and others like him, who benefit from taking high level classes in a closely monitored, supportive environment.

October 26, 2010 at 8:03 am
(17) autism says:

Zusia, I’m not suggesting that advanced students shouldn’t take advanced courses. But I also know that, for example, advanced students in small districts that don’t have AP courses are often able to take such courses at local colleges or through distance learning programs.

Meanwhile, I personally (nothing to do with autism) believe that our schools are failing our children in many ways – and most significantly, I think our kids are graduating from school without the information or skills they need to live independently.

If “life skills” are key to kids with autism, I believe they are just as key to kids withOUT autism! And while parents may believe that kids “just pick this stuff up,” I don’t think ANYone picks up an understanding of insurance policies, tax issues, and so forth. This stuff has to be taught, and most parents aren’t thinking “oh, gosh, Johnny is 18 – time to have The Talk about selecting a telephone service provider!”

Lisa

October 26, 2010 at 8:29 am
(18) Sandy-2000 says:

Insurance policies and tax issues has nothing to do with school nor should any public school be teaching it and it would be impossible. You hire an accountant and for insurance you do what everyone else does, ask others. There’s no reason to teach these things until the student has a job, and parents these days can keep a child on their insurance until age 26. Anything the school teaches would more than likely be lost.

Of typical students, I disagree. I think the schools are giving them the skills and enough info to live independently; it’s truly up to the student as to what they do with it and their lives and the choices they make.

I’m also not sure life skills are key to kids with autism. I think the key is to recognize the abilities of those with disabilities, and accepting where the child needs help be it assisted living, no higher education or minimum wage jobs. It wouldn’t be the end of the world.

October 26, 2010 at 8:37 am
(19) Malia says:

I think NT kids do pick up a lot of different things on their own, because they first pick up on how to pick up things. I’ll concede the even some NT kids have more difficulties to insurance policies, tax issues, etc.; however, to some degree this is due to the fact that the business environment keeps rapidly changing (and it’s changing faster all the time).

October 26, 2010 at 10:27 am
(20) zusia says:

Lisa Jo– so you think I ought to ship my advanced Aspie off to a junior college where I have no legal access to his education just because you don’t like the idea of advanced students being served in the public high school? Sorry, but that’s ludicrous. So is the idea that he should have to take advanced courses online. He’s worked hard to get where he is and the schools owe him a full education as well.

Sandy is correct that the education is there for the students who want it. Unfortunately, classes at the middle and high school levels are filled with disinterested students and it’s very difficult to get them to take their education seriously.

Students in my district and I’m sure all over the nation do get instruction in finances. At the middle school we put all 8th graders through a year of a program called “Finance Park” which culminates in them attending a virtual model of adulthood and assuming roles that come with jobs, mortgages, car payments, and life choices.

http://www.ja.org/about/about_news_video_finpark.shtml

In high school our students participate in a similar program. Unfortunately not all students take these lessons seriously but you can’t mandate wisdom.

This is not to say that schools can’t be improved. They certainly can– and should. Schools are always a work in progress.

October 26, 2010 at 11:07 am
(21) Sandy-2000 says:

I have a problem with this whole topic. Kids do graduate and never know how to boil an egg or how to use a hammer, how to make a bed, load a dish washer or clothes washer but I disagree any of that should should be the sole responsibility of a public schools curriculum. If a child is left to flounder, might one ask where the parents are? Maybe kids never plan to boil an egg, use a hammer, dish washer and who cares if they’re bed isn’t made. Mine never is made. If my child was taught to fold towels differently than I do, it would annoy me to no end. Some kids just are not mechanically inclined, so why teach that child about tools when they’d probably hire someone?

What a child needs, any child, is academics to progress at all. That really is what the school is for; teaching those skills you’d use every day. The revamping suggested is that of a residential private school, not a public school.

I don’t have the most social child, but I don’t send him to school to be a socialite. He goes to school for an academic education and if he has few friends, that’s his disability and it’s not the end of the world. The school could offer full time social skills class but my child may never be that social child; or he might end up only being social in THAT setting. I also would not want my child who does have academic difficulties to in any way interfere with another child who could advance, disability or not.

October 26, 2010 at 11:34 am
(22) autism says:

wow – lots of opinions on this thread.

I am someone who took plenty of advanced courses in high school, but graduated with little idea of how to actually manage day to day life away from my family. Sure, I learned some of those skills at home – but like most people, a lot of the learning was hit or miss, and the school of hard knocks.

I certainly value the fact that I read Shakespeare and learned about African history in high school. But would it have been reasonable for me to address those topics in college while gaining more day-to-day skills in high school? My opinion is “yes.” Zusia’s description of the finance class taught in her school district makes tremendous sense to me, and if it were taught instead of, say, advanced calculus, I would not feel that the district was gyping its students out of a quality education.

And back to the child with autism: there are many opinions about what the school’s “job” is relative to the child with autism, and in some cases those opinions are in conflict with one another. If the point is to prepare a child for “life,” then one set of guidelines should prevail. If it’s to provide an “academic” education, a different set of guidelines should be used.

October 26, 2010 at 12:45 pm
(23) Sandy-2000 says:

The public school IS academically-based, a free and appropriate education. Those who are special ed is an individualized education program. A parents first job aside from just giving their child the basics, is preparing that child for life, as any parent would. Those that are special ed must prioritize that Individual Education and decide what more time should be spent on, but understand the public school system is quite limited just the same. For lower functioning children, there is life skills class setting in almost any school district, and those children generally are exempt from state testing. Reality is, those children’s disability will prohibit much of their lives. As for finance class and calculus, yes it would be ripping off students not to have different choices available to them however, higher education is where either of those curriculum choices will end up. The public school system gives to that start, to where if all you want is a minimum wage job, or higher education. And for those that seek higher education, fact is no public school can ever prepare that student for the reality of the work and expectations of college, and peer pressures and a tidy dorm room. For a typical child, yes their choices in life is a choice. For a child who is disabled, that child’s choices is just going to be different, regardless of what the public school offers or provides.

My child may never go to Japan, or ever have use for what the school taught about Japan (I certainly wouldn’t) the school could had forgot that and taught more useful things like remembering his homework however it sparked a great interest in my kid that he’d never had gotten from me. It’s hard to say where that spark could lead him.

October 26, 2010 at 4:50 pm
(24) Malia says:

I think there is a true conumdrum here. For higher functioning children with autism, the lack of ability to pick up on social cues (i.e. the ability to learn by picking up on what others do around them) is something that can impede them from accessing the general curriculum – even when they have the cognitive skills to absorb that curriculum and be successful. They tend to do not as well in their academics as their intelligence would dictate (as one parent pointed out, a 120 IQ getting C’s and D’s).

This was as it was for my son and the school (in Canada) wanted initially to use his low grades to imply a lower functioning level and exempt him from writing provincial exams. I was, of course, asked to provide my approval. I didn’t and, presumeably because I didn’t, this meant the school couldn’t really make a case to have my son exempted. Faced with the reality that he would be required to write, they seemed to work very hard to ensure that he was exposed to enough of the core general curriculum as possible. We were no longer encouraged to enroll him in numerous optional subjects to fill in his time at school. In high school, there was one required class that taught banking, money management and time management. My son was asked to take that course during summer school so that it wouldn’t eat into the additional tutorial course (learning support) time he was getting as part of his special ed.

I am confused – Do the states in the US have the ability to exempt students from state exams or not? There seems to be some discrepancy in the earlier posts addressing that particular point:

Oct 25, 8:40 pm – “They can not exclude a child from these state testings in the USA, but they can offer the special ed child some limited accommodations.”

Oct 26, 12:45 pm – “For lower functioning children, there is life skills class setting in almost any school district, and those children generally are exempt from state testing.”

October 26, 2010 at 8:52 pm
(25) Sandy-2000 says:

I corrected myself- I’m not sure statistically how many children are in life skills class settings as to how many are in inclusion. In my experience with parents, life skills class is the most dreaded class setting their child could be in. Those in life skills can be excluded, where as those in inclusion will very rarely have bases for exclusion. What made that confusing for me to comment on is the confusion of adding ‘life skills’ to inclusion and typical students.

An interesting thing about those state tests for a child like mine is 1) the tests are standard for all and on IQ my son is border line MR, but if given the same test not standard, he’s score better 2) he’s at least one grade level lower than his class peers and that’s even giving him the advantage of retaining him. The tests results will always how a child in this grade, but a grade below academically. Those standard state tests are truly unfair to the disabled child who has academic issues, and to the schools rating.

October 27, 2010 at 10:36 am
(26) Malia says:

Thanks Sandy for clearing that up. It seems to me that our two systems are more similar that it may seemed to me at first.

October 27, 2010 at 11:37 am
(27) KWombles says:

Lisa,

That’s not the school’s fault (@21); more properly the failure to prepare you to manage your personal life belongs with your family. It is the family’s job to prepare their children to live independently.

PBS notes that these have been the purposes of public education:

“To prepare children for citizenship
To cultivate a skilled workforce
To teach cultural literacy
To prepare students for college
To help students become critical thinkers
To help students compete in a global marketplace.”

http://www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/get_involved/guide_p2.html

What does citizenship mean? Able to make an informed decision when voting. One of the things that is decided when guardianship is granted is whether the individual is capable of voting in elections; if the individual is deemed sufficiently cognitively impaired, the right to vote is not granted. Now, it’s true that high school diplomas are not required to vote, but the populace has a vested interest in its citizens having the requisite critical thinking skills and knowledge base in order to make decisions regarding who should represent us and what kinds of ballots should be approved. That has been the traditional purpose of a free, public education and why it was first provided only to white male citizens.

What public education should be today is something that communities must hash out and decide. Budgetary concerns drive much of spending as do federal and state regulations regarding testing.

It’s unrealistic and unreasonable to demand that public institutions prepare non-impaired children on how to do all the things that go with living independently. To place the burden on public institutions for all aspects of our children’s education is to abrogate our responsibilities as parents.

October 27, 2010 at 11:54 am
(28) autism says:

Zusia says – IDEA was instituted, in part, to prepare students for “further education, employment and independent living.” Therefore “life skills” as they are called, are part of IDEA. Especially part of “transition services” as they are detailed under IDEA.

Kim cites PBS as saying that schools should “To prepare children for citizenship, cultivate a skilled workforce, teach cultural literacy, prepare students for college, help students become critical thinkers, and help students compete in a global marketplace.”

These are by no means the same goals, though they have some commonalities. While IDEA goals are pragmatic, the PBS goals are quite abstract, and don’t include the idea of “life skills” at all. But of course IDEA goals are intended to refer to children with disabilities while the PBS goals refer to children withOUT disabilities.

Do we really have two separate groups of goals for the children in our schools? That is, are our kids with autism working toward life, transition and employment skills while our kids withOUT challenges are working toward the goals of global and national citizenship, cultural understanding, etc.?

Perhaps that’s appropriate – but how can two such different sets of goals work if we’re ALSO trying to include our kids with autism in typical setting and have them engage, as much as possible, in the general curriculum?

Again, I think the goals are confused as are the programs that support them. It’s no wonder families and schools find it hard to know how to place, support, teach and treat kids with autism!

October 27, 2010 at 12:34 pm
(29) Malia says:

“That has been the traditional purpose of a free, public education and why it was first provided only to white male citizens.”

Interesting way to defend public education. If that line of thinking is what supported isolating women and people of color from burdening the taxpayer by having access to education, don’t you think it’s about time that line of thinking was revised (i.e. scrapped), period?

October 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm
(30) Tawnya says:

People are sorely mistaken in their thoughts and actions to equalize public education for typically developing children and children with autism. This perspective has proven to only isolate special needs children further.
Children with autism and PDD need EXTRA, SPECIALIZED education that typical children DO NOT NEED. Children on the spectrum need CONSTANT and REPETITIVE education in all areas of their lives. Take, for example, the need to have sequencing repetitively taught and reinforced throughout their entire lifespan. Why is this not an acceptable IEP goal? Adults sit and argue in IEP meetings about if it’s right or wrong, legally, to apply the teaching of sequencing in a textbook fashion versus a hands-on self-help fashion.

October 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm
(31) Tawnya says:

Somehow, school officials, and alike, have managed to take such an example as this and label it non-academic, expecting these kids to “get up to speed” and if they don’t, then it must be because they have parents that are irresponsible and/or don’t care. Afterwards, the children are labeled aggressive and sent home for maladaptive, disruptive behaviors because they struggle to follow directions. Before you know it, the public school ships them off to the “bad-boy school”. And yet, it is all because of school officials who refuse to adapt an academic-based task to a personally functional skill, based on the developmental level of the child.
Shame on people who declare life skills and social skills are 100% non-academic. Shame on anyone who ignores the FACT that these kids need hours upon hours of instruction in order to do the simplest tasks! The public school officials are robbing kids on the spectrum when they only focus on mainstream level academics or even developmental level textbook-type academics for 30-40 hours a week! This is a drastic loss of much needed teaching of functional and social skills, all which stem from an academic base of learning anyway. This sets them up for a very real possibility of spending their adulthood hours outside of a workshop by sitting on the couch being ignored, except for being fed and toileted.

October 27, 2010 at 11:42 pm
(32) zusia says:

Lisa Jo writes:

“Zusia’s description of the finance class taught in her school district makes tremendous sense to me, and if it were taught instead of, say, advanced calculus, I would not feel that the district was gyping its students out of a quality education.”

Zusia answers:

What you may not be taking into account is that the kids taking advanced calculus may not be the ones who need the extra class in finance because they’re the ones who understand money and economics from an early age.

Lisa Jo writes re: IDEA and PBS resource mission of public education:

“These are by no means the same goals, though they have some commonalities. While IDEA goals are pragmatic, the PBS goals are quite abstract, and don’t include the idea of “life skills” at all. But of course IDEA goals are intended to refer to children with disabilities while the PBS goals refer to children withOUT disabilities.”

Zusia answers:

For better or worse, Life Skills falls under the PBS category: “cultivate a diverse workforce.” Life Skills acknowledges that students with the lowest cognitive profile still deserve the opportunities afforded them in the workplace– the dignity of a job– even if their highest ability is to be able to push a color-coded button on a shredding machine when instructed. Fortunately, most students in good Life Skills programs have some degree of competency– often fairly high– which allows them to become productive citizens when they age out at 21yo.

That said, there is always room for improvement in Life Skills programs and parents should always work with the schools to make sure their child is well served.

October 27, 2010 at 11:45 pm
(33) zusia says:

p.s. KWombles is right.

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