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Field Notes 3.6

hl13's picture
  • An Excerpt from Today's Field Notes: 
  • This week I visited Hannah D.’s school, which is for children with autism. We have talked about the unique aspects of her school before, but I was struck by the reality of what she has said. There is an aide for nearly every student that I saw there, and the aides are near them at all times, physically modifying their behavior (pulling their hands away from something they should not be doing), encouraging them to participate in activities, and being there if the student needs help.
    • All of the children there are what people would say “low on the spectrum,” meaning they are low functioning and would be less successful in a typical classroom. I could observe this from their behavior, and could compare it to students I’ve worked with in the past who are “higher on the spectrum”.
  • The first place we went to was the reading specialist, Karen (the teachers call one another by first names, the students are mostly nonverbal so do not frequently address the teachers). She was working with one student, John. John was singing to himself as they worked together. The two of them were sitting very close to one another in front of a computer, their legs touching. At times, John would play with Karen’s hands or touch her to get her attention, and Karen allowed this without comment. She was asking him to spell words, starting with “go”. She gave him plenty of time, and often he would sit there for a few seconds and not respond. Karen would then say the word again, sometimes more slowly, enunciating the sounds carefully. She asked him to spell each of three words, “go,” a five-letter word like “smell” that I don’t remember, and “Tuesday” three or four times. Some of the time, it did not matter which word, John would type it right away, other times Karen needed to give him more prodding.
    • This had many similarities to the way reading is taught at the kindergarten I go to. However, everything with John happens exponentially more slowly. I think this was good and probably necessary for him; I find myself wishing for more individual time with students myself when at kindergarten. I think it’s highly beneficial for students to spend one-on-one time with a teacher, to see how they learn away from others, however, I recognize that clearly its more necessary for students like John.
    • I was very aware of how some of John’s behaviors (singing to himself, wanting to touch the teacher, rocking) are similar to two of the students at the kindergarten who are much more high functioning. The two boys at the kindergarten, Frank and Mark, exhibit these behaviors as well but they are mostly forbidden in the integrated classroom.
      • I wonder sometimes how it would affect Frank and Mark’s individual performance if they were allowed to exhibit the behaviors of a typical child with autism and not asked to conform to the behaviors of more typical learners. I understand that the typical behaviors of a classroom teach Frank, Mark, and all other students the behaviors necessary for succeeding in the world outside of the classroom and forming strong, positive social relationships. However, I wonder frequently what the implications are for telling students that innate aspects of their behavior are somehow incorrect.
  • The next place we went to was music class. There was a group of about eight children and their aides. Karen and the music teacher led the class by singing quick songs of about a minute or so, and spelled the word of the week with each student, “rain.” Then the music teacher played songs about rain, once with instruments. Some children were asked to put the instrument away, while others stayed at their desk.
  • In the middle of music, an announcement came on that said the power was going out in the school and everyone needed to get coats on the children and evacuate to the Assisted Living House, which was a house where the older children learned life skills that was separate from the rest of the building. Everyone was confused, but when we went into a different hallway, the lights were flickering intensely and there were strange rumbling noises. Everyone quickly had coats on; children and teachers and were leaving the building with lunches and the emergency contacts. Hannah and I spent the rest of the placement with the students and aides in the house, waiting for the situation to be resolved. In the end, school was cancelled and teachers had to contact everyone’s parents. Some kids were picked up by parents, but otherwise they were preparing to send the kids on buses home to their families.