My kid is a smart kid. Though his autism might make you believe otherwise.
And trust me, I have made the mistake of doubting him before. Many times actually. Yet many times, he has stepped up, proven me wrong and provided plenty of reminders to anyone who questions his academic abilities only needs a bit more patience and understanding to gain that insight to his intelligence.
Over these past six years or so since his diagnosis, my questions no longer revolve around Can he learn? but rather How can he be taught? and the inevitable How can he be tested? Unfortunately, the answers are not always easy.
As young Matt continues his transition out of a special education environment and into a mainstream classroom – a transition that started in earnest just a couple of months ago halfway through the 4th grade – it remains obvious that he has a lot of catching up to do in order to be on the same academic (and social) level as his peers. It is not uncommon for him to bring bring home papers graded at 50% or so (though in my opinion a 50% on a 4th grade level math paper is better than a 100% on a 1st or 2nd grade remedial math homework).
At the same time, however, it is not uncommon to bring home grades such as 70/70 = 100% like on a big report on Paul Revere. In this report, he had to choose a famous person and complete a series of short (and long) answer questions. Additionally, he was to do a short presentation in front of the school while those in the audience had to guess who they were. Though in Matt’s case, he did a quick YouTube video as he was out of town for the school-wide presentations.
Despite the hard work he put into the report and the awesome grade received, I think this was a tough assignment for Matt. For some kids, it might have been as easy as reading a book, clicking a few links from Google and filling in the blanks. For Matt, not so much.
For Matt, it required reading, re-reading and focused reading. In any given book there is a lot going on, a long time frame, multiple characters to follow and other intertwining facts. Though I’ve little doubt he read all about Paul Revere, understanding which facts were relevant and to be retained proved difficult.
Perhaps that’s the autism or it might just be him still trying to catch up with his reading skills.
He and I spent several hours reading, reviewing questions and finding answers. Sometimes he would get frustrated when I would make him read aloud pages or paragraphs (or even individual sentences) in order to home in on the answer.
In a few cases, after deciding on the right answer, I would write it down so he could copy it and work on his handwriting. Other times, I would dictate to him. He knew the answers, I think he just needed a bit of direction to stay focused.
However, all of this goes back to the question about finding what’s the best way to teach someone with autism. For Matt, we’re constantly looking for the perfect combination of regular classroom time and individualized attention; peer influence and parental guidance.
So far, Matt is succeeding but everyone who knows him also know he can do so much more…