Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting Technical with Learning: Open Curriculum for Children with Autism

Since coming back from leave after the birth of my son, I've been engrossed with developing new learning material for my son with autism.  Currently he is doing well in Pre-School, but there are always additional learning exercises that could supplement his education.  The problem is, there are a lot of resources if you want to pay for them, but not many that are open to all parents that need the help now.  

So, I thought I might try to come up with something myself, and see where it leads me.  In order to meet this daunting task, I needed to outline what I wanted to accomplish.  

  1. The Material Needs to be Modular:  Not all autistic children are the same, and not all children need to focus on the same skills.  Modularity helps address differing skill levels for the learner, and therefore allows the instructor (teacher, parent, etc.) to better target the learner's needs.  

  2. Specific Step by Step Breakdown:  Children with Autism need to learn through a very basic breakdown of the tasks.  This takes jobs, tasks, subtasks, skills, attitudes, and knowledge into a whole new level.  This would also help learners find connections and relationships, which I maintain as the ground work of intelligence. 

  3. Easy Adaptation for Existing Routine:  Stability in the life of one that is on the Spectrum stems from routine.  As long as the routine is not too badly interrupted, meltdowns are kept at a minimum.  In order to successfully integrate the learning material into the routine, it needs to be applied to the routine minimally, which also makes it that much easier for the instructor to apply and evaluate. 

  4. Easy Augmentation:  Think of this part of the goal like adding an API for the material that allows for additional media or exercises to be added to the course.  This would be a natural progression for an easily adaptable program.

  5. Easy, Indirect Evaluation:  Most educational materials require a formal evaluation to determine how well a student is learning.  Perhaps you remember your pop quizzes, final exams, and standardized tests?  As children on the autism spectrum are more likely to suffer panic attacks, a non-intrusive evaluation method would be best.  Practical exams that are not advertised as exams are perhaps the best method.

So those are the goals.  Seems simple enough, one would think.  Now it comes down to the skills that need to be taught.  This is where a good relationship with your State Department of Education would be very helpful.  The Utah State Office of Education has an outline for each subject for all grades from K-12, with a special section for K, 1, and 2.  As most parents of a child with autism are generally interested in the first few years, this is the section I will be focusing on initially.  I hope to continue the development throughout the years.  

Beginning with Kindergarten, there are three cores to the curriculum that are expected to be met:  Language Arts, Mathematics, and Content.  Language Arts focuses on identifying written words, and differences between upper and lowercase letters.  Mathematics focuses on quantity, counting up to 30, and learning how to practically add or subtract quantities, recognizing the changes in quantity.  Content covers the gambit for social skills, social studies, science, health, fine arts, and physical education.  

So I'm in the process of building a reasonable analysis that will help me best meet my goals within the given core curriculum expected by the Utah State Office of Education, and have it be geared directly to those parents or teachers that have children on the autism spectrum that desperately want to be taught.  It's all about finding the learning method they can relate to, and helping them down that path.  

It's not much right now, but at least it's a start. 

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