Last Tuesday I met with Margaret Poggi, head of the Learning Spring School. I spoke with her for about 30 minutes and was able to ask her all of the questions I had prepared. We set up another meeting for this coming Wednesday, where I will be discussing my ideas with all of the teachers to get some feedback from them. Following the teacher meeting, I will be setting up times to go in and observe students in the classroom.
Here is a summary of some of the things I learned from Margaret about the school, teaching methods, and autism in general:
- every activity is socially based – try to facilitate conversation between kids
- teach greetings, personal space, relationship development, etc.
- have special interest groups – bring kids together with similar interests (ex. Lego, video games, etc.)
- word finding, auditory processing, no internal interest in socializing
- self-stimulatory behaviours (arm flapping, paper flicking, etc.)
- lots of visuals used in teaching – have technology lab run by speech pathologist
- kids all very good on the computer, use it for various subjects
- kids extremely drawn to digital whiteboard system (will see when observing)
- very interested in things that are interactive and visually stimulating
- love Lego/building blocks/building toys
- lack of imaginative play – tend to be very concrete, have difficulty understanding abstract ideas
- timers reduce anxiety – kids know as soon as the red is done the activity is over
- scheduling – kids write own schedules every day, bring home goal sheets and have parents sign off each day
- ensure strategies used at home are consistent with strategies used at school
The most inspiring part of speaking with Margaret was a short anecdote she told about a potential student she was observing in a playground. She could see that he really wanted to play with the group of kids close by, but did not know how to engage with them. After looking at the kids for a while, not knowing what to do he began barking at them. I think this story sums up the need for communication skill building in the autistic community. Hopefully, with strong educational tools and strategies, autistic children will be able to acquire the skills necessary to interact and communicate more effectively.