Whichever way you look at it, we’re guessing you’ll decide that teaching Maths for life in 12 weeks or even 20 weeks would be impossible! In A Nutshell – It takes years to learn Maths.
Mathematics and Science are important academic skills that are cognitively acquired. Educators recognise that these skills need to be covered adequately and accurately in age-appropriate ways. As such, teaching curriculums have been developed that invest in long term learning; from the basic concepts in Kindergarten to more complex ones in High School. Skills are taught sequentially and systematically so that concepts build on one another. There is inherent repetition that facilitates retention of the skills taught; and application in real life.
It would seem logical then that a long term curriculum that teaches social understanding in the same seamless way other cognitively acquired skills are taught may address their learning style more effectively. Concepts would be introduced sequentially and systematically at different ages and levels of maturity; to ensure that they build on one another. So, for instance, learning about taking turns in Kindergarten, would provide the basis for compromise during the Primary years; and eventually, for being assertive in High School.
Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at the University College London, described the complex nature of social functioning perfectly during an interview on ‘The Social Brain’: “Autism has really made us much more aware of the complicated processes and computations that are necessary to function as social beings.” (Australian Broadcasting Company, May 2013).
Given the nature of how social skills are acquired for children and young people on the autism spectrum as well as the complexity of the processes involved, it would be safe to say that teaching social skills in 12 weeks or even 20 weeks would be impossible!
In A Nutshell – It takes years to learn to understand and function in the social world.
Today, we have a greater understanding of how individuals on the autism spectrum think and learn and what contributes to positive outcomes. We are in a better place to engage their learning in ways that address both their strengths as well as their challenges. Thanks to improvements in specialised support, able children on the autism spectrum are benefiting from access to mainstream academics. We work with their interests to help them achieve professional or vocational skills and qualifications that prepare them to enter the workforce.
Yet most studies of adults on the autism spectrum indicate that between 75% and 85% do not hold a full-time job. Research shows that they face significant challenges in not only gaining but also in maintaining employment.
Patricia Howlin, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Child Psychology at King’s College, London in her foreword to ‘Autism and Work’ stated: “It highlights the unacceptable situation with regard to employment for people with autism, and the challenges they face in finding or keeping appropriate jobs. For, despite the difficulties associated with the condition, many individuals possess particular strengths or areas of skill that have considerable potential in the workplace. Such a waste of potential is inequitable and highly discriminatory.” (Autism-Europe, 2014)
Some of these challenges lay in their inherent difficulties with communication and social interaction. They struggle with the social dynamics of the workplace; such as, understanding and responding to their employer’s directives, and getting along with colleagues.
At present, many social skills programmes are available for children and young people on the autism spectrum; however, most of these are largely topical and have a short term focus. As individuals with autism tend to think in parts, they have difficulties integrating individual aspects of learning into a broader context. We can assume that topical teaching may therefore result in the learning of concepts in discrete parts; but not necessarily allow for their integration and generalisation into the larger picture of social functioning in real life. As with an academic skill, unless our social teaching allows for concepts to be consolidated across time, they are at risk of being misunderstood, misapplied or simply forgotten. We could also presume from this that teaching social skills using a relatively short time frame may limit the permanence of skills for the long term.
A social learning programme of this nature would require a depth and breadth of teaching materials that adapt to changes in maturity of a child to that of a young person. There would need to be diverse presentations of a concept to allow for repeated learning while at the same time sustaining the interest and engagement of an able child.
In 2000, we began to develop such a curriculum aimed at embedding a sequential ordering of skills within a long term scaffold of social learning. As we worked through teaching topics, an emphasis was placed on how the skills connected and built on one another
The programme established a framework for learning social concepts and skills that were sometimes in advance of needs. The curriculum ran parallel to responding to individual social learning challenges as they arose. What we observed over time was that as the children and young people matured, they were better able to manage the changing social challenges they experienced with a social scaffold in place. Concepts that had been taught earlier could be reviewed and because they were familiar