Recognizing Differences & Organic Education

John Elder Robinson, a high functioning autistic and popular blogger, talks about how autism made modern schooling an insurmountable challenge for him. He explains that like education, autistic people have been around for awhileHowever society has not done their best when it comes to accepting and integrating neurodiversity into everyday life. Robinson says, “Unfortunately, when they describe us, they forgot to enumerate our gifts. They called us disabled because they saw what we couldn’t do, and they overlooked what we do better than anyone else. We’re only now unraveling the damage that’s done to a generation of autistic people. We’re recognizing that we’re different—not less—and joining the community of neurodiverse humanity—people whose brains are wired differently.”

Robinson argues that our education system does not offer the kind of variety and accommodation for a neurodiverse group of students. He says that we have a total focus on book learning and have largely eliminated the hands on/experiential component of learning. “Learning a trade or job skill at the side of a master or tutor evolved over thousands of years and it works. Automating the process with a textbook may work for some people too, but for those of us who are different…”

Teaching communication and creating more opportunities for vocational education are an important part of setting a student up for success in life. If we look at the system in place now, we see a very rigid structure that is largely based on test scores. For example, a student interested  in cars is advised to tread the educational path towards becoming a mechanical engineer. This means, completing high school, while not learning practical skills, but more so learning how to be successful in college and hone test taking and writing skills; then completing a four year program in college where many of the subjects she will take most likely will not be related to car design, however are required before grad school; then once in grad school, the student can finally really engage in independent work that actually relates to her specific automotive interest. Hopefully by doing all this the student is able to pave a successful life route. But this situation, especially for an autistic individual, is really only happening in a perfect world, because their everyday challenges make life a little more complicated that the school system seems to accommodate for.

Robinson says that if we add more hands on learning at both the high school and college levels, we can encourage teens to focus on their interests and gifts early to teach skills that relate more closely to those interests. He argues, “Keep this as a goal: If a student goes on to college, great. But send them out of high school with solid job skills, no matter what… Let’s build up our community college system, which is the closest thing we have to hands on learning in college today. By moving more students through college on the way to a four year degree, we teach even more real life skills, and increase the odds of a student who can make a living, whether he continues or not.”

According to Robinson, we need to push our schools into discussing how to teach real and usable work skills at every stem on the educational ladder, how to teach people in a comfortable environment, and helping students to organize themselves in a way that nurtures their interests and talents.

High functioning autistic professor, Stephen Shore will be discussing ways to develop employment opportunities through interests and strengths for high schoolers on the spectrum. Peter Gerhardt, founding chair of the scientific council of the Organization of Autism Research, will also be presenting on transitioning from high school to work, underlying issues and quality of life. These two specific presentations will take place on Day 1 of our upcoming International Autism Conference. For more information and registration, please CLICK HERE!

For the original John Robinson post, click here!