I came across this blog post today: On Failing Kindergarten. The author, an autistic adult, explains why she would fail special ed kindergarten based on their “Whole Body Listening” requirements as depicted on this poster, which is apparently popular in those classrooms:
Take a look at all the requirements for listening correctly. It’s not enough to just listen, as in: hear what the other person is saying and process it. You also have to make eye contact, keep silent, keep your hands still and in one of three acceptable places, keep your feet on the floor, turn your body in the right direction, make your brain think about the words, and CARE.
Are neurotypical students held to these standards? I don’t remember all these rules for listening in kindergarten. I know that if I had been told I HAD to CARE about what my teacher was saying, I would have been in trouble a lot.
This poster sets up autistic kids for failure in many ways. Not only is it a lot to remember every time someone talks to you, but 1) it asks the impossible, 2) it sets up the child for ridicule by NT peers, and 3) it completely disregards the legitimate ways in which autistic kids DO listen and seems to be unaware that these requirements are contrary to their goal. More on each of those:
1) It asks the impossible. You can’t force yourself to care about what someone is saying to you. Remembering that autistic kids tend to be very literal, think about what they may feel at being told they MUST care, while knowing that sometimes they don’t care. Right away they have failed.
Thinking about what is being said while listening to it is often impossible too. Not all brains process at the same speed. If I told my son that he had to think about my words WHILE he was listening to me, he’d think I was crazy. First he takes in the words, then he processes/makes sense of them, THEN (if he’s at all interested in what I said) he thinks about them.
2) It sets up the child for ridicule. Again, remember that autistic kids tend to be literal. Now imagine an autistic kid among NT peers, trying to show that he is listening correctly by always turning his body to the speaker, looking him in the eye, and not moving. Is that how kids listen to each other? In kindergarten or at any age? What about adults? Pay attention the next time you are listening to someone. Are your hands and feet still? Are you making constant eye contact? Do you remain completely silent (or do you maybe throw in an “uh huh” or “I see” once in a while)? While these rules for listening may, theoretically, result in cooperative little students in a classroom setting, they give the child nothing practical to apply elsewhere.
3) It disregards the ways in which autistic kids DO listen. My son looks at me when he is talking to me, and looks away when he is listening. He listens best when he is pacing and/or rubbing his hands together. He would never be able to follow all these rules AND listen at the same time, and he’s way past kindergarten.
This concept actually falls into the first category as well: asking the impossible. Many autistic kids simply can’t listen and make eye contact at the same time. Some can’t listen unless they are moving. Some may appear to be doing everything “right” with their feet on the floor, their hands at their sides, their bodies turned toward the speaker… but they’ve used up all their tokens on managing all that and have none left for actual listening.
I consider my son lucky that he was not subjected to that poster and others like it. My visit to the junior high classroom for ASD kids when Nick was in 7th grade led me to insist that he not be part of that class. The walls were covered with posters listing all the rules and requirements the kids must remember in order to appear as neurotypical as possible. It left Karla, who was with me, feeling like they were telling her she was lesser, even subhuman, if she did not do things their way or think like they do. She talked about it here and here.
If a secure adult feels this way after one hour in an autism classroom, imagine what kids feel like after years of this sort of training. They hear constantly that their way is wrong, but they know that they literally can’t do it the “right” way. If they manage to give the appearance of following these rules, they are likely to be laughed at outside of the classroom.
I’ve heard from many, many autistic adults that this kind of social skills training left them feeling hopeless, disrespected, and down on themselves. Many did their best to follow the rules they were taught only to burn out in adulthood. Teaching autistic kids to act like they’re not autistic, to “pass” as neurotypical, seems to be the goal of this kind of training, but it comes at a tremendous cost to these children.
I choose to teach advocacy instead, and to lobby for acceptance. Nick has access to the special ed teachers at his school and can go to them if he wants their advice, but he is never forced to be in the autism classroom with all of its “your way is wrong” messages. The primary goal of his IEP is advocacy, so every time he asks a teacher for support or accommodation, they can claim measurable progress. He learns from autistic mentors how to advocate for his own legitimate way of being, and spends time with autistic peers in their own unique culture. He demonstrates fine social skills naturally while hanging out with people who share his special interests.
I don’t want Nick to learn to stand still while listening. I want him to learn to say, “I need to pace so I can listen to you.” I want the people in his life to accept that, and we are working on it, one person at a time.
It’s a good thing I went through normal kindergarten, because I wouldn’t be able to pass that one. As it was, every year the new teacher would try to get me to “pay attention” as they understood it. And every year I was harassed about it until they finally noticed that I was making straight A’s with my “not paying attention.”
These days, I tell coworkers that I’ll hear them better if I stare off into space or fidget. I’m out about my diagnosis. And here in the Pacific Northwest, in the tech industry, people are pretty okay with that.
Karla often says she “found her peeps” in the high-tech industry.
Fantastic stuff. Thank you for putting it so well!
I still couldn’t do that. I can’t do that for more than 45 seconds. I have very…active hands. And that’s good-if I’m still something is *very* wrong.
Why do they even care if we move around? I went to school for education & not one of my profs could tell me why it was so important to get kids with disabilities to sit still other than assimmilation, which is a poor excuse.
The only somewhat reasonable explanation I have heard is that the movement is distracting. Conventional thinking is that the only solution to that is to stop the movement. We challenge them to come up with solutions that respect the need to move, and there are plenty: look away from it, let kids who need to move be in the back of the classroom… even just changing the way you think about the movement can make it less distracting. It used to drive me nuts when Nick would pace around the house because I thought he was being impatient or waiting for me to do/say something. When I came to understand that he was just regulating himself that way, my stress about it melted away. Now when he paces I feel happy, knowing he is using a perfectly valid and important self-regulation tool. It no longer distracts me (and I am easily distracted so if it can work for me…)
This is also the kind of “teaching” that for me, inculcated a sense that neurotypical expectations were fundamentally hypocritical – a web of pretty theories that the proponents don’t follow themselves and certainly don’t demonstrate when it’s their turn to listen to people unlike themselves.
This is the concept of ableism, at its core. It’s important to press on with advocacy just to make people aware. So many just accept conventional thinking without question, but advocates and allies (like me 🙂 ) will keep pushing people to look more closely, because once you do, it’s clear that it doesn’t make sense.
That’s gonna be rough for ADD/ADHD kids, too. Heck, I don’t think I could do most of those today, even assuming I cared about what the person was talking about.
I actually concentrate and listen _better_ if I’m doing something with my hands and/or tapping my feet or something.
I am ADHD-I myself, and I listen best when I can intently watch the speaker’s mouth. It helps me tune out everything else.
Yeah… and just gonna put it out there- completely backwards and double-standardy to demand all this stuff even more strongly when there is a neurological reason that we can’t than when we are presumably capable of it.
Exactly. It’s like letting all the kids use the elevators if they want to… except the ones in wheelchairs.
Reblogged this on Linda Mad Hatter and commented:
Awesome blog that articulates in ways I can’t, why schools need to take a good hard look at themselves when dealing with ASD kids.
Reblogged this on Astigmatic Revelations.
As a special needs teacher who trained in a ” normal ” class I would have to say that none of the “normal ” children could sit still either. Working in an integrated classroom made me more determined to find way to make all the students comfortable . I fell in love with teaching when I worked with children on the spectrum . For me that look of delight when they mastered a skill will forever want me to help then do their best according to their ability
I never forget that I did it smile and that once in a lifetime hug
“according to their ability” is the key concept! I cherish those rare hugs too. 🙂
Curebie Social Skills classes are a disaster waiting to happen! Someone should go overkill on the surveilance of these classes, bugs, moles, informants, the whole nine yards.
I could not do the things listed on the poster let alone ask either of my ASD boys.
Reblogged this on And Mother makes 5! and commented:
I would have problems with these let alone my boys.
Awesome job advocating for your child and fighting the typical IEP by insisting on a truly individualized plan that actually works for the best for your child. I know it’s not easy to do – educators would so often rather go with a “one size fits all” approach – pretty ironic, considering that word “individualized” right in the title. And you’re right on about honoring a child’s learning/listening/thinking style rather than forcing her to conform. Our three kids don’t have autism, but they all have their own exceptionalities. It was a constant struggle to remind everyone at school that bottom line they were just DIFFFERENT from most of their peers, and that they needed different rules in order to succeed.
Wow, that is some pretty hostile signage. I know I still have trouble with some of those items, especially eye contact — not only do I have trouble looking at people when I’m talking to them or listening to them, but I hate people looking at me — it always feels like they’re judging me. I would have failed that kindergarten for sure. (I am not autistic, that I know of — I’ve felt for a long time that I might have some symptoms of it, but there’s no real point in getting diagnosed at 33, since I’m an adult now and I have to try to pretend to be normal whether I want to or not :()
I’d love to see you rethink the idea that you have to pretend to be normal. Even (perhaps especially) adults can successfully advocate for accommodations and support. Have you been to Karla’s ASD Page? She writes often about how she advocates for herself at work and in her daily life, and how her diagnosis has allowed her to get the support she needs.
My main concern is with things like job interviews (a concern for me as I am coming to the end of a Master’s degree program and looking for jobs in my field). In an economy like this, I feel like I won’t get hired if I can’t do the eye contact “acting normal” thing, and, anyway, I have been told that it is a bad idea for your employer to know you have a disability if it’s not obvious on the outside, because it’s none of their business and it gives them an opportunity to trump up a reason to fire you because they don’t want to do ADA stuff to accommodate you.
(I am really sorry if anything I say sounds hostile or mean to you. It’s not my intention. This is an upsetting thing for me in my life because I’m sort of on the edge, where I feel guilty because I know what I “should” do (eye contact, bright cheerful appearance, endless love of socializing with strangers instead of being afraid of them and not wanting them to look at me, etc.) but I can’t quiiiite manage to do it and I don’t know what to do.)
You don’t sound mean or hostile at all. 🙂 I understand that this is a difficult issue. One thing to think about: even if you could manage to put on an act for an interview, do you want to be hired based on that act when that personality would then be expected of you all the time? I ould say that any job that requires you to be other than yourself is not the right job.
What I hope for my son is work that suits him as he is, where his strengths are valued and his weaknesses either irrelevant or easily accommodated. Karla found that in high tech. I hope you can find it too.
Me too! I was always told that there are a lot of shy/autistic type people in the library field (which is what my masters is in.) People in my program seem much more outgoing than me but hopefully the overall industry will not be hostile to me.
Reblogged this on Restless Hands and commented:
I love this post talking about neurodiversity and how we set children on the spectrum up to fail from day one in school.
Teaching “impression management” one ‘reject’ at a time. When confronted by This kind of a picture while being literal-minded and thinking in pictures natively? This thought occurs to me – “Thou shalt worship thy Betters, for they are better than you, who art an object. Thou darest not become as they are, for that is Sacriledge, and unseemly. Instead, thou must become their perfected mirror, that THING which existeth solely to make them look and feel as good as is possible, as is appropriate for one’s GODS…” Ugh! Such EVIL! Why not say the TRUTH – “either provide us with the worship we are entitled to, or be destroyed for our pleasure!” (note: worship ~narcissistic supply)