I went last night to hear a speaker at my younger son's school, Michael Thompson. He has written quite a few books about child development and school issues. His talk didn't tie in much to autism issues, but it was very well done and gave me some good insights into the boys. However, one thing he said really struck me. He said something along of the lines of "No-one specializes as an adult in the area that they need childhood special assistance with" He meant it mainly in relation to kids with learning disabilities, like dyslexia, but it seemed to me to be very relevant to autism education. Very few kids with autism will ever have a career in an area requiring great interpersonal skills. Janey probably isn't going to have any career, but in terms of what she will enjoy and have as a hobby as an adult, I doubt it's going to be in the areas she has the most difficulty with. She still needs to learn in those areas. It will be very helpful in her life if she knows how to greet people and to say goodbye to them, to write and recognize her name, to maybe even some day understand money just a little. But she's not going to be doing greeting or writing as a hobby. Thinking of higher functioning kids, there are many that have great areas of strength---perhaps math, or geography, or even something like knowing public transit maps by heart. However, the way the education system is set up, we work far more on the areas that are tough for a kid than the areas that are easy or enjoyable for them. I don't think this is avoidable at the elementary school level. Janey and other kids do need to learn some basics. But I'm thinking about what I'd like Janey's education to look like when she is in junior high or high school---how I can work on her strengths and not spend much time on areas that are not going to be a big part of her later life.
Right now, the biggest strength I think Janey has is in her love and appreciation of music. Anyone who is around Janey for any amount of time knows that she responds to music like little else. She memorizes songs, both melody and lyrics, very easily, and she remembers songs forever. She is discriminatory in her tastes---she doesn't just like everything she hears. She's very partial to bluegrass and country gospel music, and to certain songs within that genre. This week, she's gotten into a song called "Uncle Pen" by Ricky Scaggs, and I have heard it in the car at least 30 times, because no matter what else I try to play, she asks for it again. It's got a complex sound, and a strong beat, and she adores it. I don't know if Janey would ever be able to learn to play music herself, but I want her to be able to access music easily, which with today's technology, is quite easy. I want her to maybe learn the names of types of music, and to learn musical terms, and to just take her love of music as far as it will go.
I think we have long put a lot of store in this country in a well-rounded education. Everyone learns a little of everything. That model needs to be looked at. Not everyone needs to learn everything. I would guess that if we let kids, all kids, pursue their strengths more, we'd be better off as a nation. The time spent teaching a kid who has no interest in or aptitude for math algebra is time that could be far better used letting that child pursue what they are good and love to do. Or if the child adores algebra and is great at it, don't require them to spend large parts of their day engaged in learning something they will never master and will never enjoy. I'm going to try to keep this lesson in mind when looking at Janey's education after she finishes elementary school.