Wednesday, July 7, 2010

There's so much to learn...

Today, I was thinking about osmosis. As you do.

I was thinking about the day I learned about osmosis. In a science class at high school. I remember the phrase 'differentially permeable membrane'... how particles need to be able to pass back and forth across the membrane for osmosis to occur. I have no idea how (or why)  that idea appealed so much way back in the 80s, but it did.

If you have a second, I'll link it back to something relevant to Billy, autism and my own strangeness.

Teaching is one of the toughest jobs around, in my book. Good teachers need to be able to understand the modus operandi of each one of their students, and match the external curriculum requirements to each little being. Add a difference like autism to the mix, and you've got a majorly complex challenge on your teacher-ly hands.

Half way through the equivalent of Year One, we are butting up against the complexity of that challenge. I can give up the fantasy of my son being school captain, a popular kid or a soccer player, I will not let this bright boy slide into the ranks of the intellectual under-achievers.

So, in my usual 'fix it' kind of way, I've started seriously attacking Billy's cognitive skills. I have no doubt in the whole wide world he can learn anything he wants to. The challenges of where and how he learns these things, though, is becoming deeply apparent.

There are many reasons why school is unlikely to be the 'where' and 'the same way as the other kids' is rapidly losing favour as the 'how'. Here are a few of those reasons of the top of my head.

  • There are too many other children at school. Children make noise. Noise exhausts Billy. Learning is tough when you are knackered.
  • Peer modeling is only just becoming valid for Billy, at almost 7. He models things like 'it's OK to wrestle boys to the ground' and 'eating boogers is interesting to try once'. He does not yet have the ability to model ways to attack a maths problem. Unless I take the time to video his peers at maths time, I doubt he will ever have the opportunity to meaningfully mimic their learning styles.
  • Every single day, I learn something new about autism. Doctors and academics have spent their entire careers studying autism. It is a complex neuro-developmental condition of as yet indeterminate cause and with impacts and implications unknown. School staff are way down that information chain. 

There are many, many positives to Billy attending school, and even more to him attending the school he's at. Socially, he's kicking goals all over the place. Personally, he's (slowly) developing great independence.

But he's not going to learn traditional cognitive skills by osmosis.

That membrane between him and the information is not even remotely differentially permeable. You just have to spend some time being spoken at by your average Aspie to understand that the information is often moving in one direction only.

It is conditionally permeable though. There are ways to get through, you just have to know how. Here's a list of what I've learned thus far.

  • He needs to be as relaxed and non-threatened as possible. The adrenaline needs to be at bay, the fight/flight mechanism should be as rested as possible.
  • He needs assistance to maintain a posture that promotes cognitive processing. This does not happen naturally. Yawning, slumping and leaning come naturally. Another ASD parent put me on to this therapeutic cushion, which will be going to school with him next term.
  • If all else fails, a video camera is invaluable. Video a successful learning experience, and watch it back. Repeat 100 times.(thankfully, something Billy likes to do). Lesson learned. 

I'm sure there will be more. I am resigned to the fact that I will be driving this journey way more than I had hoped, and so there will have to be more.

Perhaps I will pick some up by osmosis. Can I dare to dream his teachers might as well?


Ro said...

Good on you :)
The only other thing I can offer is to suggest the Excel workbooks for extra coaching in maths, spelling, etc, to boost Billy's learning and self-esteem.
They offer ways of learning that are so easy for kids to click into using it's just a pity that they aren't used in mainstream schools every day.

Lisa said...

Yes. Just yes. Your dot points are dot on.

I don't think anyone (yet) has found the perfect solution, but many parents have found 'their' solution.

For Dreamer too, the social positives at school have been great, but the amount of energy expended there leaves very little left over for anything else.

May I suggest that as he gets older, push towards the book/internet/written word over the video. Much easier on you and your camera, and there's an inexhaustible body of work out there already.