This is one of those posts that might start to play into a “Autistic Utopian” theme. After all, an educational curriculum/program that is healthy and encouraging for Asperger’s/autistic children is probably a long way off right now. I get that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t dream. It doesn’t mean I can’t advocate. And it certainly doesn’t mean I can’t start planting seeds.
A while back (about three months ago), I wrote a post in which I described the drawbacks of having been enrolled in mainstream education, without any supports or individual education plans. This was not my parents’ fault at all; it was a matter of the diagnostic criteria for autism at that time being tangled up in that of childhood schizophrenia and because my behavior wasn’t extreme, I didn’t warrant a psychiatric evaluation at the time and thus, I missed the diagnostic radar completely. A second pesky detail involves the lack of widespread individual education plans. Back then, there was the “regular” classroom, a separate single classroom for “obviously disabled” students, and if you were lucky, a few select–and exceptional–school districts had a “gifted and talented” program.
Well, I missed all the boats. I wasn’t developmentally disabled or “mentally retarded” (the term used at the time), so the “special needs” (another term used at the time) classroom was not appropriate for me. My grades weren’t high enough to qualify for the “gifted and talented” track, either, but only because my “daily work/homework” wasn’t up to par, so I never caught the accelerated program train, either.
So, unsure of what else to do with me, but having been left little choice, my parents pretty much had to mainstream me. We lived in a rural farming area at the time, where little emphasis was placed on education, and the population was quite small–too much so to enjoy amenities like alternative schools. Homeschooling laws were prohibitively strict, and the online world was a government/academia-limited pipe dream, and would remain so for another decade and a half.
Yeah… not exactly the ideal situation.
I don’t have children of my own, so I don’t have all the details at my fingertips, but I am a consciously aware adult, with my finger on at least some kind of pulse on the world. So there might be some information in the following part of this post that might not be 100% accurate…
My situation wasn’t what I would have preferred, and I’m not sure that the general mainstream track has improved all that much. Sure, it’s dressed up in shiny new technology, and much-needed elements such as cultural diversity and environmental friendliness have been peppered in here and there. But the fundamentals haven’t changed; it’s still a “one teacher talks to 20-30 kids in a monologue for an hour and prepares (indoctrinates) an entire class to become compliant workers and cooperative citizens” kind of model. Despite the diversity-friendly lip service, there’s still little tolerance for people who are different in ways underneath those which may be obvious. Any deviation from the norm is still penalized and persecuted. Children are still robbed of respect and individuality. There’s a new lexicon that sounds rosy (“zero tolerance”, “learning environment”, and other such terms), but the underlying attitudes remain the same old, same old.
The good news is, that many locales throughout many countries now enjoy a wider variety of schooling options. Homeschooling, alternative schools, autism-friendly schools, and even excellent private schools have been popping up for quite a while now. In addition, there are indeed various programs in place within the “mainstream” school system, such as “special needs” services, individual education plans (IEP), SEND programs, and a few (still-scarce) autism-friendly spaces.
I know little-to-nothing about these programs, other than what I’ve read on social media and blog sites, which admittedly, isn’t much; since I don’t have kids of my own, I haven’t had to be closely tuned-in to this part of the world.
But as a once-autistic-child who has now aged to become a now-autistic-adult, I still remember what it was like to be a child and a public school student in an area in which that was our only option. And I can tell you how I felt about it and I found wrong with it. I can also brainstorm for ideas involving what I might have preferred instead, and share those with anyone who might find this to be of help.
I don’t like to leave a complaint (about my experience of mainstream school, in this case) hanging in the air for too long, so I’ve decided to be proactive and constructive, and offer up my ideas for solutions. 🙂
What follows is, as usual, my own opinion. I’m one Aspie/autistic person. The autism spectrum community is quite the colorful, vibrant, and varied place. Therefore, my ideas may not–and probably won’t–work for everyone, nor might they appeal to everyone. That’s OK. All these are, are ideas, and ideas only. There might even be more awesome ideas that aren’t on this list. But I’m all about helping anyone and everyone wherever I can, so I didn’t see the point in not writing this, and I’ll share with you everything I’ve got.
Obviously, one of my ideal arrangements would have involved one-to-one tutoring, at my pace. The “unschooling” movement, done correctly (which is likely harder than it sounds) might have been a decent option for me, as I was interested in practically everything before I started public school (public school killed a lot of my interest in certain subjects, which I’ve only recently begun to rekindle).
However, that type of setup might not have been feasible. We might not have been able to find a suitable tutor or afford their full-time services. So, barring that, I could have used a diverse, stimulating, and limited-population environment of a handful of other kids of a few different ages. I even have a few ideas that might be used in a small class setting.
My ideas aren’t necessarily classes in themselves, per se, but they’re ideas for projects and assignments within classes. These are projects and activities that I would probably have engaged very much in and learned a lot from. They would’ve fit hand-in-glove with my desire to learn and apply the newfound information to multiple aspects of life, throughout life. If/when applicable, I’ll try to list the class in parentheses after the idea. (Note: not all of these are feasible for all walks of life; these are merely options.)
- Create your own business – complete with name, concept, logo, business plan, etc. Actually price shop supplies, tax rates, etc. (Mathematics, Accounting, Entrepreneurship)
- Build an environmentally-beneficial system; examples include: wind power, solar battery, water purification, etc. (Earth Science/Environmental Studies, Social Studies, Shop/Industrial Technology)
- Design/grow a garden (actually research what grows best next to what, natural pest control etc). May not use chemicals/fertilizers/pesticides of any kind. (Earth Science/Environmental Studies, Biology/Life Science)
- Write a song (Music, Music Appreciation)
- Build something substantial out of Legos. Can’t use any existing plans/instructions; must use original design. (Architecture, Social Studies, History, or any other class in which this might be applicable)
- Write a research paper (in-depth) on an extinct/”fringe”/less-common religion/philosophy. Examples include (but aren’t limited to): Sikh, Jain, Shakta, Esoteric Christianity, Sufi Muslim, Middle Eastern Paganism, pantheism, Eclectic Wicca/Paganism, etc. (English Composition, Creative Writing, Social Studies, Philosophy, Comparative/World Religions, Cultural Diversity, History)
- Go on a 3-day fit-hits-the-shan/Zombie Apocalypse-type field trip. Plan and pack accordingly. No hotels or staying with friends. Document your experiences and newfound knowledge. Bonus points for no cell phone, no credit cards, etc. (Biology/Life Science, Social Studies, Life Skills, etc)
- Live as a homeless person for 1 day and 1 night. Document your experiences and newfound knowledge. Or assemble an artistic collage or write a poem or song about your experience and newfound perspective (English Composition, Journalism/Communications, Social Studies, Sociology, Civics, Philosophy, Art, Music, Creative Writing, Life Skills)
- Compassionately interview four or five different homeless people – why they’re homeless, how long they’ve been that way, what their biggest struggles are, etc. Write a basic report. Or assemble an artistic collage or write a poem or song about your experience and newfound perspective (Same applicability as the previous item)
- Write a paper on a journey to another country. Tourist traps like Cancun don’t count; must be off the beaten path, mingling with the locals. If you’re able to go on this trip, take pictures. If you have pictures, make a collage that tells a story (English Composition, Journalism/Communications, Geography, Photography, Art)
- Interview several doctors and/or several police officers; write a report on their day-to-day struggles/challenges, motivation/calling, day-to-day thoughts, their best/worst types of clientele, “A Day in the Life” synopsis, etc. In the case of doctors, they must be of different types/specialties. (Life Skills, English Composition, Journalism/Communications, Speech/Communications, Sociology)
- Interview an active duty military soldier; see above (the doctor/officer paper) for specifics. (Same applicability as the previous item)
- Design an LRT (light rail transit) system for an urban area that does not already have one. Pick routes, stops, timing, etc. (Social Studies, Engineering, Geography, Environmental Science)
- Interview someone with a disability–vision, hearing, paralysis, etc. Write a paper. (Sociology, English Composition, Journalism/Communications, Life Skills, Civics, Social Studies)
- Create a political platform, as though you were running for office. (English Composition, Civics/Government/Political Science, Speech/Communications, Sociology, Social Studies, Leadership)
- Assemble a photo album of Soviet Russia, the former East Germany, China, etc–any communist/nearly communist country. Must be urban or small town areas, not nature photos. Splice in facts regarding quality of life, economy, quotes from those who’ve lived there, etc. Need not be original photos Google Images OK) but must be properly verified (to be accurate) and credited. (Art, Sociology, Social Studies, Geography)
- Create an album of photos of murals. Need not be own photos, but must be properly credited. (Same applicability as the previous item)
- Interview a CEO of a company. Their work history, skills, dreams/visions, how they rose to the top, advice for young entrepreneurs or employees, etc. Report your findings. (Business, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Life Skills, Journalism/Communications, English Composition)
- Plan a small self-sustaining community. Be sure address food, shelter, healthcare, sanitation, waste disposal. No public services from other levels (county/state/federal or regional/national) are available; must be self-sustained. (Social Studies, Environmental Science, Mathematics, Political Science, Engineering, Leadership, Civics/Government, Geology, Geography (perhaps))
- Create an alphabet and language (Cultural Studies, Language, Elective)
- Interview five elderly people, at least 75 years old. What changes they’ve seen in their lives, how they feel about those changes, what they predict for the future, concerns they have about the future, lessons learned from the past, etc. Some may be relatives; at least 1-2 must be non-relatives. Write a paper detailing your findings. (English Composition, Journalism/Communications, Speech Communications, Sociology, Social Studies)
- Interview five teenagers from different socioeconomic backgrounds and walks of life. Ask for their outlook on life, their worldview, their dreams, their strengths, their weaknesses, the challenges/hurdles they see ahead, their biggest fears and concerns, and where they think they might be in five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years. (Same applicability as above)
- Design a computer programming language. (Technology, Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics)
- Write a smartphone/mobile app. Try to list it in one of the mobile app stores. (Technology, Engineering, Computer Science)
- Write a children’s story book (Art, Creative Writing)
- Read to elderly or blind people; strictly volunteer. (Social Studies, Sociology, Civics, Community Service, Volunteer Work, Elective) Bonus: write about how this experience changed you (English Composition, Journalism/Communications; may be adapted for Creative Writing)
- Write a report on the top 5-10 movies that had you not seen, your life would not be the same. (English Composition, Journalism/Communications; may be adapted for Creative Writing).
- Develop a plan for a device that may bring vision to the blind or hearing to the deaf. (Technology, Science, Engineering, Elective)
- Capture a few select emotions in landscape photography (Photography, Art)
- Develop a plan to convert the animal shelter in your city to a no-kill shelter. What measures would have to be taken? What phases or stages might this need to be broken down into? What kind of timetable would be required for full implementation (and each phase thereof)? (Mathematics, Law, Engineering, Accounting, Elective)
- Purchase a small amount of stock in a company. Decide how much to invest (there would likely be a quite-doable cap) and track your investment. (Mathematics, Business, Life Skills)
- Write plans for buying a home as a group (likely plans only, without any investment) and fixing it up nicely as sort of a Habitat For Humanity effort; alternatively, actually volunteer with Habitat For Humanity (Social Studies, Civics, Sociology, Mathematics, Life Skills, Home Improvement/Industrial Technology/Shop, Mathematics, Real Estate, Elective)
- Come up with an idea for a store that is completely unique; may use existing available products/services, but in a completely unique combination/theme. May design new products/services as well (or exclusively). Write Vision and Mission Statements; design inventory ledger. (Computer Science, Information Systems, Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Civics) Bonus: a store with a disabled, disadvantaged, or otherwise marginalized or under-served population segment in mind. (Sociology, Social Studies, Cultural Diversity) Another bonus: take a poll of the population segment that you’d like to serve to gauge their response to your store. (Same applicability as previous) Other bonus: create a logo that represents your aim. (Art, Photography)
- Capture recent/current pop culture (from the 1980s onward) in a traditional artistic style. One example involves a Van Gogh-esque rendition of Super Mario Brothers at the bottom of this post. (Art, Social Studies, History)
- Take a popular opinion and write a rebuttal. Be sure to support your ideas and cite your sources (English Composition, Journalism/Communications, Political Science, Mathematics/Statistics)
- Create fractal art images (Mathematics, Computer Science, Art)
- Create other digital art (Art, Computer Applications)
- Tutor small children who are struggling in your favorite/strongest subject (Social Studies, Volunteer, Life Skills, Leadership)
- Take your favorite book and adapt it for a screenplay (for theater or cinema) (Theater, English Composition, Elective)
- Hold a mock trial, complete with judge, jury, plaintiff, defendant, reporter, etc (Civics, Social Studies, Theater, Debate, Law)
- Discuss the intersection of two or more various “groups” within the population (Sociology, English Composition)
- Learn basic First Aid and Triage (Health, Elective)
- Formulate a tax collection and allocation plan for your town; how will the funds be used? How will you justify their use in these areas? How will the funds be raised? Which amenities would be approved? Which ones will be cut? (Civics, Government, Political Science, Mathematics, Leadership)
- Re-enact a major event from history (History, Theater)
- Cast an astrology chart for yourself or a friend. Can be any system of astrology – Western, Indian/Vedic, Chinese, Mayan, etc. Provide an interpretation, using existing resource books. (Elective, Psychology) Bonus: write up a compare-and-contrast essay, medium-length, about whether you (and/or your friend) agree(s)/disagree(s) with the interpretation (English Composition)
- Others? 🙂
I don’t know about you, but I have the feeling that these would be a blast, and they would instill a lot of wholesome learning on multiple levels!
And then maybe, just maybe, someday, other kids, especially those on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, might have brighter school experiences than I did. 🙂
(Here’s that example of pop culture intersected with a classic art style, described in Idea #34. Isn’t it awesome??)