Musing on ASD

I have had a couple of conversations this week with parents seeking help with learning for a child with autism, so I thought it would be worth exploring it a little more.

Autism is a condition where the individual has some combination of difficulty with social interactions, has some degree of obsessive interest and behaviours, and sensory sensitivities. People diagnosed with autism sit somewhere on a spectrum according to the level of difficulty experienced.  

Most often schools are a really difficult place for children with autism. In school a child is pushed by the system to be compliant with group structures and rules and this often runs counter to the drives and sensitivities of the child. Other children can find it difficult to be sensitive towards a child with autism and so the child can end up being ignored or bullied.

While some schools have a deep understanding and sensitivity of the needs of an autistic child and actively run programs across the school to support them, most schools merely try to cope. This makes sending an autistic child to school heartbreaking for the parents and stressful for the child.

If you have a school child who has been diagnosed with autism, the good news is they can learn and they can integrate with other children. Like any learning difference, it can be a barrier to some learning, but you can help your child develop techniques to overcome barriers. It requires extra work and patience by you and by the school but it can be done.

  • Start by visiting https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/content/schools.  They can provide help for you and the school.
  • Have regular school meetings. Make a list of items ahead of the meetings and make sure the school knows your list before the meeting starts (that will give them time to prepare with ideas and solutions).
  • There are Facebook groups for parents who have autistic children. Join them and share ideas.
  • What you do at home is super important for helping your child. They will need extra help and coaching in coping and the one on one time you give them at home will be invaluable. (see an example here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEEBcaplgNo).

If your child goes to school with a child who has autism, take the time to talk to your child about it. It is important to help your child to understand that the child with autism might just have some difficulty with socialisation and needs the patience and support of your child. I remember talking to a tearful mother some years ago whose child had autism. She had tears of joy because her socially awkward child had been invited to a birthday party. The invitation meant an awful lot to the child as it was the first one. Her child was thirteen years old.

One simply trick that makes fractions easy.

Why does my child have so much trouble with fractions?

Of all the areas of maths that cause problems for the young learner, fractions causes the most and I have often seen students in middle and upper secondary school still struggling to understand them. Fixing one simple misunderstanding can solve this.

When children start to learn about numbers, they do so by counting and recognizing quantities (e.g. ‘How many apples are there?’, ‘Can you count to 10?’, etc.).  Kindergartens and schools reinforce counting quantities and digits are formally introduced.. Over and over our children are told numbers tell us how many things there are. This is all important and good…. Until we start with fractions.

Fractions are a way of describing things that are less than one. The tricky part is the bottom bit of a fraction (the denominator). The denominator stops being a normal number and tells us a size instead[i]. For example the ‘4’ in ¼ tells us that the whole object (e.g. cake) should be divided into 4 equal parts (the size is 4).

When we learn, we tend to use what we know already to make sense of new things. For young children, who have been told over and over that a number is a quantity they can count, the denominator is seen in the light of what they have learnt already. This prior knowledge tells them that the denominator is a quantity because it is a number.  This leads them to all sorts of odd results. For example, ½ + ½ = 2/4 (because you can add quantities together).

If your child is struggling with fractions, sit down with them and explain how sizes work in fractions (using clothing sizes as a comparison can help). Once they understand that the denominator just describes the size, the rest becomes easy.


[i] For the purists, we know that the denominator uses quantities to describe the size and does not change from a normal number in this sense, however, for clarity in young learners it is far more important for them to understand the concept of a denominator as describing a size.

NAPLAN: Parents are giving it a thumbs up but should they?

NAPLAN: Parents are giving it a thumbs up but should they?


https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/parents-back-naplan-as-guide-to-childrens-progress-says-research/news-story/c9bbcedb6d03e5f8b01e3e852f73cbc5

Parents backing NAPLAN as a guide to children’s progress is a very understandable thing. As parents, we are sometimes unsure of whether the school is giving us the honest information about our children. Having an organisation external to the school doing a check gives us an independent measure of both our child and the success of our school. It seems simple, but the concept of NAPLAN has a raft of unintended consequences that should be considered.

NAPLAN is Inaccurate

The NAPLAN test uses a small number of questions to assess students on a particular week each year. The nature of this means that individual students’ results can be inaccurate. The child may have had a distracting event in their life that week, or they might be a little unwell, or they had a late basketball game the night before, etc. It might also be that one class just happened to focus on one of the areas in the test the week before while another class was going to do it next week and this also skews the results.(See here for more: https://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?tag=misleading-naplan-reports.)

As the number of students goes up, the overall accuracy of the results improves as these anomalies get absorbed in the larger numbers. NAPLAN gives accurate information for a state or the country as a whole but is less accurate at a school or individual level.

NAPLAN Causes School Panic

Because school results are readily available to parents, schools have become very concerned about NAPLAN results. Apart from the inaccuracies outlined above, it is right that schools should be concerned, but what schools actually do about this is sometimes alarming.

If a school is worried about poor NAPLAN results, you would think it would lead to them reviewing their teaching and learning practices and making long term plans to improve things. The NAPLAN tests could then be used as a benchmark for the success of those changes. This would be a fantastic result and does happen in some cases. (See here for more: https://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=http://scholar.google.com.au/&httpsredir=1&article=3074&context=ecuworkspost2013.)

For many other schools, though, this worry only makes things worse. The school, worried about losing students, tries to game the system. They do this by spending weeks before the NAPLAN tests giving their students practice on sitting the tests. This gaming of the test leads the school to get inaccurate results and the NAPLAN test grows to become a stressful event for the student. (Read more here https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1017709.pdf.)

Students see themselves as failures
Our schooling system uses a method of teaching where all students are expected to be doing the same work based on their grade level. There are many reasons for this, with the main one being economics – it is just too expensive to provide appropriate learning to every student individually. The NAPLAN testing measures students’ progress in this system. To be fair, it does measure across several levels, but this does not help struggling students much. Struggling students exist in this system that constantly tells them that they are not smart because they are not at the level of other students in the class. For such students, NAPLAN testing gives them an external opinion that confirms their self-belief that they are just dumb

My child can’t understand their homework… Neither can I!!

So here you are, your child is sitting staring at their maths homework and not understanding how to solve a problem. You can see the frustration building and you want to help. The problem is you can’t solve the problem either!

While it is understandable that a parent can feel inadequate in such a situation, it is my belief that this is one of the greatest opportunities for a parent to assist their child to become a good learner. Here are some reasons why:

(more…)

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