Aspeis need to know what their assignment actually is

Lately, I have neglected posting on the topic of Aspergers.  Still, judging by the relative traffic among my posts, there is a need for more information there:  both Aspies and educators are still looking for help.

Last December, I received the following comment:

I have an Aspie student, and when asked to produce 2 sentences about a topic in class, will just sit and think the entire period producing nothing… (I do believe that he is thinking about the topic). The topic has been given to student prior to class. Is this an unreasonable task? This is an 7th grade gifted autistic student.

I understand the perfectionism issue and that they may be unsure that it is good enough to put on paper, but in an educational setting I would like some suggestions to assist the regular Language Arts teacher. This is a graded assignment to be done in class.

Thanks in advance for any ideas you may have.

Deb Herr
Special Education Teacher

While I gave a quick reply at that time, this is a very important point which deserves a lot of attention.  So, I had attempted to write up a proper response.

It wasn’t right – so I edited t.

Then I fixed it up some.

Then t needed shortening down a bit.  So, I cut a bunch of stuff out.

Too much of the key ‘stuff’ was gone.  I started a re-write.  From scratch…

…and so on, and so on.

It is now October.  I have still not published the post – it is not ‘right’ yet!!!!

NO, I am NOT joking!

So, now, I will publish the draft I have, without re-reading it, with all the flaws, errors, sentence fragments and all – or I will NEVER publish this…

Here it goes:

Both my sons are in the gifted program.  One has gone through grade 7 several years ago, one is going to get there in not too distant a future – so, I am familiar with the level of development of a gifted Aspie of that age group.

Just to be sure, I asked my older son if he remembered being in that situation himself.  He did…and was in perfect agreement with me as to what thought-processes this student would be going through: trying to figure out what the assignment means!

Being in the gifted program means the student is smart.  By the time they get to grade 7, smart Aspies understand perfectly well that when a teacher asks for ‘any two sentences on a topic’, the absolutely last thing this means is any two sentences on a topic’!

Experience would have taught them that…by now.  And not in a nice way.

But, it would not have taught them what it is that the teacher/assignment does mean – or how to guess it….

So, I think it most likely that the student spent the time trying to figure out what the assignment actually was!  And, with so little information provided to the student, I really don’t see how anyone could figure it out!

Therefore, my answer is that yes, it is unreasonable an Aspie or an Autie gifted student, in grade 7, to complete an assignment of ‘writing 2 sentences on a given topic‘.

Reasons:

  • The assignment is non-specific.
  • The parameters are not defined.
  • The goals of the assignment are not known.
  • The expectations are unclear (or, in this case, clearly misrepresented).

BUT!!!

There IS a solution!

Aspies – and high-functioning Auties – are very good at meeting very specific goals.  I know that teachers are not used to approaching teaching this way, but, they would get WAY better results from this class of students if they were absolutely clear with them what the point of the assignment is, what the goal is, and what the evaluation criteria will be.

This worked for me – and my sons, as well as a few other kids I worked with:

First, we establish that in order to produce marks, teachers have to produce metrics:  marks which measure the student’s skill-set development in several areas.  This may seem like a game, but, because teachers have to work within such a large system, metrics were required.  And, these metrics are used to evaluate the student.

To an Aspie/Autie student, this can be an important revelation.  It is not an intuitive leap, to conclude this, because we usually believe what we are told – and from the earliest age, we are told that the point of school is to learn.  But, of course, it isn’t!  The point of school is to PROVE what we have learned… There is no place in school for ‘learning’ without proving (through earning marks) that/what one has learned.

Explaining that the point of doing assignments is to ‘earn points/marks’ can be liberating for an Aspie student.  After all, ‘getting on the high-score board’ is possible, even if one has not yet ‘defeated the boss’!

Once this groundwork has been laid, it is important to explain both the teacher’s goals for this assignment (what the teacher will be measuring for the needed metrics) and the student’s goals (what bits of what will earn points/marks).   This bit can be hard on teachers, because they have to explain both the explicit goals and the implied ones – most teachers do not go through this step explicitly themselves.

Yes – most assignments at the grade 7 level come with a ‘marking rubric’.  At least, in my area they do.  But these are so filled with vague notions and ‘weasel-words’ that they are worse than useless!  “The student demonstrated some understanding…. The student demonstrated good understanding…”  What the hell does THAT mean?

What is the difference between ‘little’ and ‘some’ and ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ in this context – and HOW is it measured?

Obviously, I can tell that ‘excellent’ will get a higher grade than ‘poor’ – but how do I know what demonstrates ‘excellent’ and what demonstrates ‘poor’ – or any of the other non-specific terms used – in this particular instance, to the satisfaction of this particular teacher?

If the teacher cannot stand there and provide a specific, accurate answer on how the grading will be done – how can the student be expected to guess what expectations to perform to?

This is so much easier for maths and sciences.  When a teacher assigns a problem, the student knows not just WHAT ‘the right answer is’ – she/he knows what form the answer is to take.

This is woefully not true of ‘soft’ subjects.  Not only do different teachers consider completely different ‘things’ to be ‘the right’ answer (try writing up interpretation of renaissance poetry for a ‘born-again’ teacher), the format itself is undefined….  Yet you are judged how your performance measures up to something the teacher cannot quantitatively define:  expectations!

It seems criminal that ‘educators’ are blind to this…

Aspergers and writing: ‘build’, not just ‘revise’

‘Everyone’ who is familiar with Aspies knows that most of us struggle with writing.

Not all of us – Aspergers affects each person a little differently and to a different degree.  And, it affects males and females a little differently, too.  Perhaps that is why my post  ‘Aspergers and writing’ continues to get so many hits.

Today, I got a comment on it which raises something important.  That is why I’m posting this comment – and my quick reply to it – as its own post here:

Your comments about perfectionism and the difficulty Aspies have in putting words to paper make me wonder if this is why it’s so difficult for Aspies to revise what they’ve written: that once they get something down on paper they have committed their ideas to writing and there is no other way to put it. As a writing teacher, I often run into a wall when I ask my Aspie students to revise and I wonder if you think this explanation is accurate.

My response was:

I think that you are on the right track. I would like to nuance it slightly, if I may.

There are several things going on.

It is not that the Aspie may not be able to think of different words to put things into: it may be true at some times, byt certainly not at others. For example, many Aspies are very verbal – and they can say things out loud in many, many different ways. As a matter of fact, you may have a hard time shutting them up – they’ll describe the same things in so many ways.

The problem comes whith ‘investing’ into writing the words down. They have been ‘selected’ and ‘sweated over’ – why do you want to change them?

This constant ‘revision’ most writing teachers insist is part of ‘proper writing’ reduces me to white-hot fury! It it’s worth writing down, it’s worth doing it RIGHT THE FIRST TIME!

Once an Aspie HAS written something down and you are asking them to ‘revise’ it – you are asking them to take something that is ‘right’ and change it….obviously, if you take something that is ‘right’ and change it, you make it ‘wrong’! Then, when they hand in the version you forced them to change from ‘right’ to ‘wrong’, you give them a bad mark…

No wonder we don’t want to ‘revise’!

OK – that was the ‘emotional’ response.

Now, for more ‘reasoning’….

There is a problem – an actual physical problem in the neural connections – in the brain which makes it difficult for MOST (not all – we are all individuals), especially male, Aspies to write. Physically write.

Forcing us to ‘write’ and endlessly re-write the same sentences over and over is mental torture to us. It rubs our noses in our failure. So, we avoid it like the plague. If it’s a computer file, we’ll be less freaked out by it. But asking us to hand-copy out the same bits over because other bits had changed is unreasonable.

I actually can tell – byt the style of writning – if something I ‘produced’ was first spoken and then trans-scribed/typed into the computer, or if I wrote it on a piece of paper in longhand and then typed it into the computer, or if I directly typed it into the computer. Honestly, my sentence structure and syntax are significantly different in each one of these styles of ‘writing’. Perhaps you could experiment with your students on this theme….

But!

This is the way I helped my kids ‘get over’ the whole ‘revision aversion’ (I could not very well undermine the teacher, right?).

I explain that the teacher is trying to teach them how to build a piece of writing ‘from the ground up’. It is a particular methodology to teach, and marks are awarded at each stage: sort of like when you learn to swim, they first teach you to put your face in the water and only later want to see you perform the full butterfly stroke…

So – first ‘version’ is NOT supposed to be ‘a written story’ or ‘a written essay’.

Instead, organize your thoughts and put 1-2 words for each paragraph: enough to ‘record’ the ‘main idea’ or ‘main thrust’ of what this will say. This will be handed in as ‘brainstorming’ – teacher needs to get it to keep a record of it, so they can prove what they gave you the marks for if someone audits their work.

On the next ‘version’, you go to each one of the paragraphs and put in 1-2 words for each sentence you will write in the finished piece. Check that each paragraph still has the same ‘focus’ as the ‘brainstorming’. This will be first draft – again, marks, teacher keeps for records…

In between each step, take the teacher’s feedback and incorporate it in – again, this needs to show up. It’s the teacher’s job to give you feedback, so it’s important for the records they keep to reflect it. If you don’t, they’ll think they are not teaching you right, be sad, not like your work….pick your sentiment.

On the next ‘version’, you write BARE sentences for the 1-2 word things. Make sure all ideas are there, but not really all the descriptions, and not nicely or fancily. You’re hitting the highlights. That is the next draft.

Finally, you take your draft and connect up things, dress up the sentences, and so on.

It’s a method of constructing something. Teachers must document they taught it to you.

This way, you’ll show how you built the written piece. It’s not so much ‘revision’ or ‘revising’ it – that is a very poor label for this. But, that is the label we are stuck with.

Does this help explain the thought process?

Segregating boys in schools will do more harm than good

A while ago, I wrote a post opposing sexual apartheid as the solution proposed to ‘fix’ our educational system.

To recap:  the ‘problem’ – as it is presented to us: there are too many female teachers, so the classrooms are geared towards ‘girl learning’ and the boys are falling by the wayside….and the proposed fix is to establish boy-only classrooms or schools, staffed preferably by male teachers, so ‘boy learning’ can take place.

On the surface of it, this sounds like a relatively reasonable solution.  One of my wisest readers/commenters, CodeSlinger, thought it might be and said so in the comments.  And, we also exchanged a few lively emails on the topic, too… because, frankly, I think segregating boys in schools will do more harm than good.

Don’t misunderstand me, please.  I agree that our education system is broken and the way it is failing is more quickly and easily visible when one looks at the ‘statistics’ of our ‘boys’…. but I think these stats are just the tip of the proverbial ice-berg.  I propose that ‘our boys’ are the ‘canaries in the mine‘ and that  moving them into a ‘canary-only tunnel’ will not help things.

Where to begin….there are so many reasons!

For the sake of the discussion (and to keep this post at least somewhat focused), let’s put aside the facts that:

  • Segregation of a specific segment of our population has never, ever, in human history, resulted in ‘a good thing’ (for the segregated segment, that is).
  • Some ‘girls’ have more ‘male’ brains and way of thinking/learning than many ‘boys’, and vice versa – and these kids would really become victims in a segregated educational system: not just of not being able to learn in the manner presented, but also through social ostracism of ‘being like the other’ which is so different, it must be segregated.  Again, boys would suffer greater damage from being considered ‘effeminate’ or ‘girlie-boys’ than girls would for being considered ‘tom-boys’.
  • A segregated system focuses on ‘gender-specific’ subjects (the expert-designed plans even boast of it),necessarily leaving out others, which denies students opportunities bef0re they are even discovered…
  • It hides the problem, instead of fixing it.
  • It is unconstitutional!  And just plain wrong, immoral and ( insert a strong derogatory word of your choice here)!

Instead of re-stating my position, I’d like to quote from an email I sent to ‘CodeSlinger’ when he – quite rightly – pointed out we must do SOMETHING to help ‘our boys’!  I wrote:

The only thing that strikes me about this is that it makes you appear a little idealistic: do you think that the very same people who have so successfully and, I think, quite intentionally marginalized boys in the integrated classrooms – and it WILL be the SAME people who will be in charge of the segregated system – do you think they will not use the opportunity the segregated system will provide them to even further damage our sons?The goal is to marginalize anyone who would have the backbone to stand up against ‘the system’. If the boys are segregated, in the name of ‘helping them’, they will be given ‘physical activity’ to help them ‘burn off their energy’, but not the skills to become educated enough to be listened to if they speak out. It will be the beginning of creating an underclass of men: either too whipped to dare stand-up, or effectively indoctrinated to think they are not competent to pay attention to anything beyond sports. It’s their nature, you see….

 

Can you see what I mean?

Do you not see how ‘segregating’ boys would be an incredibly useful way to ‘weed out’ any who have the backbone to ‘stand up’ for ‘themselves’ or for what they think is ‘right’ – to more effectively marginalize  the very people most likely to stand up to an oppressive authority?  In a society which is completely reliant on listening to ‘experts’ and pays little heed to self-taught or self-educated individuals, or people who are not academics, this would prevent any such ‘independent voices’ from being given any credence.

There has already been talk that ‘boys’ would likely ‘benefit’ if, from early on, their education were geared towards ‘trades’, because ‘boys’ are ‘better’ with ‘hands-on’ learning than ‘book learning’…

Can you not see how this would be the first step to creating an underclass?  As if my point needed further proof, one of CodeSlinger’s own links (in the comments) is to an article which sums up a Dr. Spence’s document, which he prepared for the Toronto school board to engineer these ‘all-boy-learning-environments’:

His vision document calls for a “less is more” approach to goal-setting …

How much more proof do we need that this is – whether by design or error – going to result in raising a generation of boys to be our society’s underclass?

Of course, there will be a group of boys who will be ‘protected’ from this psychological destruction:  Muslim boys. They will be the only males in our society who will be insulated from this psychological destruction from kindergarten on – and they will be the only males who will dare to speak up and affect the evolution of our society.  But, that is a different story…

Yes, our educational system is broken.

Yes, it is failing boys more than girls.

But we ought not presume that co-incidence implies causality – or, that change for the sake of change will be a good thing!  We could make things much, much worse…. and that is a gamble we cannot afford to take.  Not with our sons….

The negative impact of ‘spanking’

Pun 100% intended!

OK – this is usually a very heated debate, which has bubbled up to the surface (yet again) because of the release of a new study which claims to prove that people whose mothers reported spanking them grow up to have a lower IQ.

Those who would discredit this study have been quick off the mark:  and, I really don’t know if the study is any good or not.  That is why I am not linking to it:  while I have a lot to say about the topic in general, I do not wish to get ‘boxed in’ and limited to this study.

BUT…

…here are a few thoughts for your consideration which listening to the discussions this topic has raised have popped into my mind.

1.  Whose intelligence is being measured, anyway?

The study said that mothers were to self-report the discipline methods they used on their kids over a certain period.  Then, years later, the now-grown-up-kids intelligence was measured – and those whose mothers had reported not spanking averaged higher on the IQ scale: is this an indirect IQ test of the mothers?

We know that people who are intelligent often have kids who are intelligent. Could it be that more intelligent mothers do not resort to spanking their kids?

2.  HOW could ‘spanking’ affect ‘intelligence’?

‘Intelligence’ is defined many ways by many people:  however, the definition I like most defines ‘intelligence’ as ‘an ability to learn’.  In my never-humble-opinion, this means that there are three major components to ‘intelligence’:

  1. The genetic potential:  as in, how good the ‘blueprint’ for one’s brain is
  2. Nutrition/health: the proper building blocks must be provided in the food to ‘build’ the brain to the best potential of the ‘genetic blueprint’ – illness can interfere with this process
  3. Desire to learn

It is the third one that I think can be affected by spanking.

After all, spanking – corporal punishment in general – tends to discourage ‘asking questions’.  And, ‘not asking questions’ – whether out of fear or habit – will necessarily limit one’s intelligence.

So, without passing judgment on this particular study:  I find it plausible that spanking a child can, indeed, lead to that person not growing into their full intelligence potential.  Not proven – just plausible.

Now, having set this ‘study’ aside, I would like to make a few comments on using corporal punishment to discipline children – in general.

This issue is very emotionally charged for people, for all the obvious reasons!  Therefore, any discussion of ‘spanking’ becomes extremely emotional, early on into the debate.  So, how do we approach the issue and discuss it, without sinking into the emotional quagmire?

Personally, I think it is best to ‘remove’ the situation from the ‘particular’ to the ‘general’:  do we, as a society, approve of corporal punishment?  Not just of ‘children’ – but of every citizen/resident.  Do we, as a society, approve of using caning or whipping or other forms of corporeal punishment?

For example, should an employer discipline an employee using corporal punishment?

Why?

Or, should nursing-home care-providers use corporal punishments to’ teach’ their elderly patients, who may have diminished mental capacities and might not understand long explanations, to comply with the nursing home’s rules?

Why?

Now, regardless of what your answers were, ask yourself if you think that a country’s laws ‘ought to’ protect every individual equally.

I think they must!  Our very civilization is founded on the principle that all people are equal in the eye of the law!

Or, at least,we ought to be…many of our lawmakers have been forgetting this bit lately, giving some groups privileges over others.  So far, these privileges do not include the right to inflict corporal punishment…. so why are these already existing laws not enforced when the victims are the most vulnerable members of our society:  children?!?!?

As my favourite philosopher wrote, a person’s a person, no matter how small!

P.S. Before anyone raises the ‘hot stove & other immediate dangers’ objection, arguing that it is important to make kids avoid ‘immediate danger’ so it is acceptable to hit them to make them comply with associated rules…  That is the worst possible argument EVER!!!  ESPECIALLY in situations of potential ‘immediate danger’, it is really, really important that children – from the moment they learn to crawl – are taught to UNDERSTAND what is dangerous, instead of being taught to OBEY rules!

How could replacing the understanding of danger (and, even infants can learn to understand danger!) with a mere arbitrary-sounding rule keep a child ‘safer’?  Rules will be broken… so making rules to cover dangerous situations is setting the child up for failure!  A dangerous failure, to boot!

Why not just take the easy way out and teach the child to understand the danger?  It’ll make them safer – and might just increase their intelligence in the process!

Aspies and careers

Many parents of kids with Asperger Syndrome worry about what will happen to their child once they have to go out into the great, wide world and fend for themselves.

Ok, so all parents worry about this!

But parents of Aspie kids have some very particular concerns:  we tend to be ‘anything but middle ground’ people!

And, let’s face it:  our school systems are teaching a series of skills (a sort of a skills ‘tool set’) which will enable ‘middle ground’ kids to succeed.  And that is understandable – aiming at the ‘middle-ground majority’ will definitely provide a statistically successful outcome in that the most kids will learn how to succeed the most; the old ’80/20′ rule (80% of results are obtained by 20% of the effort, but the remaining 20% of results will demand 80% of the effort to get them ‘right’).

This is not at all helpful when you (or your kid) falls outside the proverbial ‘2 standard deviations from the mean’… and need to learn a very different set of tools in order to succeed in life!  Many Aspies have a difficult and frustrating time in school and they are not ‘getting as much’ out of it as their peers do.  Therefore, many parents worry.

Just today I was talking to a mom of an Aspie who is worried about his future.  She can see the potential in him – he is truly very, very intelligent!  But, his school marks are not reflecting his intelligence, he often gets sad and sometimes he becomes withdrawn.  To my untrained eye, that sounds like the Aspie (10 years old) might be slipping into depression:  it is very common for even child-Aspies to become clinically depressed when they see they are more intelligent and know more than their peers, yet they are not succeeding and people (parents, teachers) are disapointed in them (or their peers mock them for it).

This very intelligent mom (herself an educator) saw the potential in her son, both on the ‘good’ side as well as on the ‘bad’ side:  she could see him as either a professor or scientist – or homeless and destitute… depending on whether he learned to ‘fit in’ to the school system, or not!

That is not so!  Of course, Aspies could end up without marketable skills, poor and homeless!  But then again, everyone could…

There ARE non-academic careers where Aspies DO excel!

All kinds of artisans, or any kind of ‘specialists’ – skilled in a very particular thing – those are all things that Aspies can shine in!  Or, in the least, make a name for themselves and make a living at it.

Think about it:  if an Aspie finds a field in which they are interested, they will not stop before they learn everything there is to know about it, refine their knowledge, build specific rules and procedures which they have extensively tested and found to be most optimal.  They often see ‘solutions’ where others do not.  And, they are (usually) not afraid to tell people how to ‘do it right’…

From goldsmiths who craft the most beautiful jewelry to blacksmiths who make old-fashioned swords and armour (actually very popular these days), true to the ‘old methods’ – or who can make custom metal railing and chandeliers.  From chefs, who specialize in a narrow field of cooking and become most sought out for their skill and knowledge in how to prepare the best tasting bits of food to clothing designers, who look at a garment and see the pattern of how it was made. From cabinetmakers who can replicate period pieces using traditional tools and methods or make the best quality, modern pieces of furniture that ‘works’ or those who can make the most specialized custom kitchen cabitnets to landscapers who feel the best way to pattern interlock bricks and flowerbeds!

And that is just the tip of the iceberg!

Don’t get me wrong, many Aspies do succeed in the world of academics:  I suspect that more Math/Physics/Linguistics/Engineering professors are Aspies that not.  That is why ‘Aspergers’ is often called ‘the little professor syndrome’!  But academics are not the only options open to Aspies when it comes to careers!

We just have to find a field – and we CAN ‘own it’!  We just have to be told that we can…when we are young and before we give up trying to find ‘our field’.  Once we know we can, we WILL succeed:  after all, that IS ‘the rule’!

If we can stick with just one field long enough…

Cross-posted on ‘Xanthippa on Aspergers’

State is Mother, State is Father…

My dog loves the sofa.  He also loves blankets.

He absolutely relishes sleeping on the sofa – and this is one dog that has elevated ‘sleeping’ into an art form. Really – I have known many dogs, and owned a few, but I have never met a dog who relishes sleep like this crazy canine does!

Also, he does not like strangers to sit on his the sofa.  He’ll watch to see if the person gets up for some reason – even for a moment, sneak in behind them, steal the spot and immediately start pretending that he’s asleep, has been asleep in that spot for a very long time, and why is everyone getting all worked up about this?

He also loves to steal blankets:  and has been known to quietly grab a corner and, slowly but steadily, sneak off with the blanket of an unwary person lying down on the sofa, watching TV late at night.

When my son and I came home Monday, he greeted us with great enthusiasm.  He slithered off the sofa, stretched slowly and thoroughly, and wandered over to the front hallway to greet us.  Honestly – this passes as ‘enthusiastic’ from him:  sometimes, he just lifts his head off the sofa’s arm-rest and wags his tail a tiny bit to show he’s noticed you came in.

So, today’s was an enthusiastic greeting!  Then, after he followed me to the kitchen and stopped in front of the fridge, hoping that his beautiful brown eyes would hypnotize me to give him a pepperette, when – suddenly and visibly – a though struck him.

Quite suddenly, he abandoned begging communicating and, with unusual swiftness, he ran to the living room.  OK, we knew when we adopted him that he was ‘special’ and, though incredibly good natured, he was no border collie in the brain department – so I thought nothing of it.

Later, when I came into the living room, I noticed that he was not lying down on the sofa, but on a chair.  And he was not really lying down in his usual way… instead, he was more ‘splayed’:  all four paws spread as far apart as possible, his centre of gravity as low as he could get it.  His head was not resting, but just slightly elevated in a high-strung sort of way.  And his eyes…

His eyes were priceless!  They were ‘big’ – his ‘vigilant look’ (well, as vigilant as he gets) – with lots of ‘white’ showing.  And they were flashing, side to side – in a particularly self-pleased way!

Had his behaviour not been so ‘obvious’, I would not have looked around too closely to see what he was doing.  But, his very demeanour gave away that he was ‘being tricky’:  that he had ‘done’ something naughty and thought he was getting away with it!

It turns out that my son – in a fit of insomnia – brought his blanket down, watched some TV, then forgot his blanket on the chair.  The dog knows ‘bed blankets’ are off limits to him:  but this blanket was not on a bed, was it?  So he lay down on it, spread his body as wide as possible to hide the fact that he was indeed occuppying a ‘bed blenket’ which was currently ‘not a bed blanket’…  The dog was very, very pleased with himself!

So, what does this story have to do with my post today?

Yes, it was a bit of a long segway, and this story took me a few days to write up, but…

Monday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty made an announcement.  Some person whose makes his living ‘educating children’ released a report today, saying that ‘children need more educating’!

Why, that is almost as convincing as a ‘Cure-all’ salesman saying this potion in this here bottle will ‘cure all’!!!  Better buy a few!!!

And, Mr. McGuinty, he is so concerned about the welfare of children, he’ll have to do what is best for all of the children! (Will somebody please shut up the parents of those pesky Autistic kids?  They’re not even photogenic:  no photo-ops from that lot!)

As I was saying:  Mr. McGuinty, he is so caring, he only wants what is best for the children!  And since that report by a guy who gets rich by sticking EVERY child into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ ‘institutions of teaching’, that is exactly what this kind and caring man announced he would do!!!

Aside:  make no mistake!  Our public schools are ‘institutions of teaching’, NOT ‘institutions of learning’!!!  They are centered around the needs and desires of teachers, whose powerful union regularly holds the whole population hostage by refusing to ‘teach’ unless it is ‘on their terms’ – ONLY!  Therefore, schedules, methodology, material and just about every aspect of ‘teaching’ you can name is tailored to suit the comfort of teachers.  Students, who have no union to represent them, are just pawns to be cycled through the system – a pesky annoyance to be minimized and with which the teachers have to put up with as a minor part of this ‘education system’…

So, what is it that this caring, loving man (who is reportedly married to a teachers’ union activist) proposing to do???

He wants to institutionalize our children for 10.5 hours a day, 5-days per week, 50 weeks per year, from toddlerhood on!!!

Of course, the words he used to make his announcement were not as direct as my statement of it is – but the meaning is identical.  His version is all about ‘what is best for the children’!  And he has that ‘study’ (by a guy who, among others, will have an increased revenue stream if McGuinty institutes) this to back him up!

Here is the video – I invite you to watch the body language:

Did you notice it?

The way he shifts his eyes, the way he enunciates certain words, the way he uses his whole body to help him spit out some ‘concepts’?

It’s that SAME body language my not-so-bright (but way more lovable than McGuinty) dog used when he was trying to ‘pull one over’!

This sent me ‘looking for’ what it is that is ‘the loophole’ here:  what is this man ‘pulling over’ on us?

I’ll rant more on this tomorrow….

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‘Xanthippa on Aspergers’ – a new spot for my Aspie stuff

This blog does not have a very tight focus…to say the least!

I bounce around, from current political stuff – global, Canadian and local to me, to a bit of political theory/history (with help from others!), to philosophical/religious stuff…and just about everything in between.

Oh, and I also have a few post about Asperger Syndrome:  my experiences in living with it and some of the perspective from an Aspie point of view, as well as some things that worked when I helped my – and other – kids master their Aspieness and turn it from ‘a curse’ into ‘a gift’.

Well, it seems that some of the things which I tried and which worked for me and mine have also worked for some other Aspies!  And, it has also attracted the attention of some educators of Aspies – and, perhaps, over time, it could become an unlikely resource.

From what I hear, many professionals who work with Aspie kids have great amount of theoretical information available to them, but very little practical ‘stuff’ to go on.  So, reading the experiences of an adult Aspie – even one who is not a specialist in their field.  Perhaps they can read my experiences and see what worked for me, and interpret it at a higher level than I could hope to.

While I think that my ‘Aspie posts’ fit quite well in with my other rants, I cannot but help thinking that my other rants do not exactly fit in seamlessly with my ‘Aspie posts’, so to speak.

Therefore, I have decided to start a blog to house just my Aspie things.  It is called ‘Xanthippa on Aspergers‘.  OK – so it sounds a little pretentious:  but, I wanted the title to retain some of the keywords which get rated high on Google and help people looking for my take on Aspergers…

One advantage of this place will be that the tags/categories will be more specific, so it will be more easily searchable.  And, since none of the political or philosophical or religious rants (yes, I am a tiny bit opinionated) will be there, it will be a little more acceptable to ‘educational professionals’.

Over the next little while, I will re-post all my Aspie things on the new site – starting with the most read ones first.  (Of course, I will not take them away from here!)

In the future, I will post my thoughts on Aspergers on ‘Xanthippa on Aspergers’ – but I will still cross-post them here.

Thank you all for all the feedback and support!

How to write an essay: part 3

Essays are ‘formula-writing’ at its best!  Still, many people go through school without ever learning the ‘formula’…

This series of posts is hoping to explain the ‘formula’ of essay-writing, and break it up into specific, easily comprehended pieces.

Part 1 attempted to explain how to ‘organize’ one’s points prior to starting the process of writing an essay.

Part 2 attempted to explain the ‘skeleton’ of the essay itself and how to get down the ideas/points for each of the main parts.

However, I got a little hung up on the fact that I could not figure out how to import tables into this blog… because I have made all the ‘templates’ in the form of tables… This has slowed me down a little – my apologies.

Since the inability to include ‘tables’ has sidetracked me (to say the least), I have not been as clear as I ought-to have been in explaining the ‘skeleton’ of the essay.  Please, allow me to remedy this by re-stating what the ‘basic structure’ of an essay is and the mechanics of what each ‘bit’ is supposed to accomplish:

Once the main point (title) and point of view have been chosen (or assigned), the rest of the essay needs to be crafted into the essay’s framework:

‘Opening’ paragraph

Role:

  • introduce the topic and explain what point the essay will make.

Mechanics:

  • Introduce the topic.
  • Make the ‘main point’ (of the essay) about it (the topic).
  • Explain how you will prove your point (by mentioning the points in each of the ‘middle paragraphs’=’body of the essay’)
  • Sum up the paragraph/re-state the main point.

‘Body’ of the essay

Role:

  • to provide the ‘proof’ of the opening paragraph.

Mechanics:

  • Typically, the body of the essay will contain 3 paragraphs (this refers .
  • Each paragraph will contain 1 ‘proof’/’support’ of the ‘main point’.
  • The structure of each of these ‘middle’/’body of the essay’ paragraphs will mirror the structure of the essay:  except inside the paragraph, it will be ‘opening sentence’ which introduces the ‘point’ to be made, ‘middle/body of the paragraph sentences’ which presents it and ‘makes the point’, and the ‘closing sentence’ which ties the ‘point’ of the  paragraph to the ‘point of the essay’ and sums up/closes the paragraph.

‘Concluding’ paragraph

Role:

  • Re-state the ‘main point’.
  • Explain how each of the ‘body’ paragraphs proved the ‘main point’. (That is, re-phrase the concluding sentences of the ‘middle’/’body of the essay’ paragraphs and tie them together to the ‘main point’ of the essay.)
  • State that (perhaps alluding to how) the ‘main point’ has ‘been proven’: this‘closes’ the essay.

Now that the ‘greater structure’ of the essay has been re-stated, it is time to address the structure of the individual paragraphs.

These break down into 2 main groups:

  • the ‘opening/closing’ paragraphs
    • their ‘common’ parts consist of:
      • stating the ‘main point’ of the essay – and the ‘point of view’ which the essay will present about the ‘main point’
      • using the ‘proof’/’supporting points’ from the ‘middle’/’supporting point’ paragraphs to illustrate the ‘point of view’ (one’s ‘take’ or ‘twist’ on the ‘main point’)
    • their ‘differences’ consist of:
      • the ‘opening paragraph’ introduces the topic, states the ‘main point’ – with the specific ‘point of view’ – and ‘touches on’ the ways in which this ‘proof’ will be made
      • the ‘closing paragraph’ re-states the ‘main topic’, ties the ‘proof’ from each of the paragraphs in the ‘body of the essay’ to the ‘main point’ (short version of the explanation of how they ‘prove’ the ‘main point’) and state that the point had thus been proven
    • thus, these two paragraphs are ‘mirror images’ of each other:  they both state the same information.  One says ‘it will be demonstrated’ – the other ‘it has been demonstrated’ and the words selected to make this statement need to be different form each other – but complementary to each other….still, the core of both paragraphs remains the same.
  • the paragraphs which form the ‘main body’ of the essay
    • usually, there are 3 paragraphs which form the ‘main body’ of the essay
    • each of these paragraphs focuses on 1 major idea which ‘proves’ or ‘supports’ the ‘point of view’ of the ‘main idea’ which is the focus (point) of the essay
    • each paragraph must be formatted so as to be able to stand on its own, even outside the essay.
    • the first and last sentences of each of these paragraphs must explain how the ‘focus’ of this paragraph and how it relates (supports) the focus of the essay.

In addition, it is important to address the language which is to be used in an essay.

Essays are written in complex sentences with use ‘formal’ language.  This means that no ‘I’ or ‘you’ statements are permitted.

Essays are a presentation of opinions and arguments.  Therefore, all statements such as ‘I think that’ or ‘I feel’ – and similar phrases which define ‘opinion’ are redundant and not permitted in essay-writing.

When utilizing the formal language expected in an essay, it is best to avoid contractions (i.e. write ‘was not’ rather than ‘wasn’t), all forms of slang ans well as colloquialisms.  In most cases, past tense is used.  Of course, this does not apply to any direct quotations which are used as support for the points in the essay.

Hopefully, this will clarify part 1 and 2, while explaining them more clearly.

Note:  this post has been edited to remove some typo’s….thanks to Mrs. Lu for spotting them!
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How to write an essay: part 2

Many students continue to struggle with essay-writing:  unnecessarily so!

Essays are such a structured method of conveying information, they are easily reduced into a ‘formula’ which can simply be filled in with the required information.  In other words, essays follow a very specific, internally repeating pattern.  As such, they are easily mastered – but only if one understands the ‘formula’!

In part 1, I attempted to explain how to organize one’s thoughts in order to clarify the ideas/information which an essay will convey. Lacking a better term, I called this the ‘why’ of the essay:  as in, ‘why’ is the essay being written (what ideas it is meant to convey).

Here, in part 2, I will provide some practical tools for the ‘how’:  the mechanics of the writing of an essay.  More specifically, I will describe the ‘original form’ of the method which I have tried and used and successfully taught to others.  (There is another ‘form’ of this method, which I have developed with the help of my older son who is an Aspie, and which works well for him….and when I write it up, I will link it here.)

Of course, some essays can be very complex:  here, I am attempting to establish the basics.  Therefore, I will present ‘the essay’ in the ‘barest’, ‘most basic’ form (or, at the level most high-school teachers expect an essay to be written).

OK, let’s begin!

When writing an essay, it is essential that the whole work maintains a central focus. (A formalized statement of this ‘main idea’ will function as the title of the essay.)  That is why it is useful to write the ‘main idea’ or ‘focus’ of the essay in a single expression:  in order to retain the focus throughout the essay, it will be referred to over and over.

In its barest form, an essay can be broken down into 2 parts:

  1. Stating the ‘main idea’/’point of view’ of the essay
    • this will form as the basis of the ‘opening paragraph’ (where it will be ‘introduced’) as well as the ‘closing paragraph’ (where it will be ‘summed up’).
  2. Providing evidence to support this ‘main idea’/’point of view’.  Most essays (at the beginner level) require 3 major ‘supporting’ ideas.
    • these will form the ‘body’ of the essay
    • each of these 3 points will become a separate paragraph
    • the eventual ‘focus’ of each of these paragraphs will be ‘how’ this particular ‘piece of evidence’ relates to the ‘main idea’ and supports the ‘point of view’.

Many students find it useful to put their ideas into a chart – either as ‘single words’ or ‘expressions’ or ‘point forms’.  Turns out, I can’t figure out how to insert a chart into this blog…but, if I could, it would look (with different formatting) something like this:

  • ‘main idea’
    • the focus of the essay:
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • re-stating the focus in formal way becomes the title of the essay:
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
  • ‘main idea’ + ‘point of view’ (step 1 from above)
    • this will form the core of the ‘opening paragraph’ as well as the ‘closing paragraph
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
  • ‘supporting evidence’ (usually, 3 pieces are expected)
    • simple list of 3 ‘ideas’ or ‘pieces of evidence’ which support the ‘main idea + point of view’ of this essay
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….

It is a useful exercise to fill this ‘chart’ out before beginning the actual ‘act of writing’ of an essay:  it aids in maintaining focus and disciplines one to keep the arguments clear and concise.  For some students, this will be more than a simple exercise in discipline and focus:  it is the skeleton of the essay which they will go on to ‘flesh out’.

In part 3, I will address the specifics of how the individual paragraphs are to be structured (and the way in which the structure of each paragraph reflects the pattern of the essay).

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Aspergers – ‘reluctance’/’freezing up’ explained

Unless someone has worked (or been) an Aspie, it is extremely difficult to appreciate the ‘reluctance’ factor.

To an outside observer, it often looks like ‘failure to parent’ or ‘spoiled brat syndrome’.  I assure you, it is nothing of that sort.

To the parent/teacher, it often looks like obstinance,  pig-headedness, intentionally not paying attention, rudeness, antagonism …well, you name it.

So, how does this ‘reluctance’ actually look?

Typically, when an Aspie is displaying ‘reluctance’ in a given situation, they will just sit or stand there, perhaps nod their head in acceptance when a task is assigned to them, and look kind of ‘not there’ (or, if this is a reminder/nagging to get something done, they may look extremely ‘guilty’ or ‘remorseful’).

Their face may display anything from ‘blank’, ‘looking bored’ or ‘spaced out’, looking ‘straight through you’ or ‘around you’, from ‘uncomfortable’ to ‘guilty’, from ‘doubtful’ to ‘compliant’ to ‘not really there’. Or, especially the younger ones, may throw a fit.  Or, the more resourceful Aspies may try to talk their way out of it.  But, most will have a submissive or passive demeanor.

Then, once the task is assigned, they will not perform it.

It may look like they are willfully avoiding actually doing it.  Fidgeting,  Staring into space – even if it means sitting at their task for hours, without getting any of it done.  Wandering off.  Changing the subject.  Or, just turning into a lump…

It is important to understand where this ‘reluctance’ comes from.  In this post, I will only address one of the many possible reasons for this ‘reluctance’ – but one I think that affects us more often than we’d like to admit.  (A lot of ‘soul-searching went into this one…)

Most Aspies like things to be exact.  According to rules (their rules).  Just so.

Personally, I would rather not start something if I know I cannot do it right – up to my standard, according to the rules.  Not succeeding fills me with very, very bad emotions of failure and inadequacy (something many of us, Aspies, experience more often than other people).  These emotions flood me uncontrollably and, in a weird way, interfere with my ability to think – and ‘do stuff’.

While we feel the same emotions as other people, I suspect that most Aspies process them very differently. We are not good at it.  We process emotions badly, and we know it.  Having an emotion, and processing it badly, and knowing we are failing at yet another thing – well, that makes us feel bad….so we try to hold the emotions back for as long as possible. (That could be why so many people think we don’t have them.)

Of course, when the emotions get strong, we usually fail at controlling them.  The emotion wins and floods through our system.  It won over us!  More failure, more bad feeling…

Many of us agree that we cannot stand being flooded by strong emotions – whatever that emotion may be.  And this is not just on an emotional level – it is a physical reaction.  Once it ‘overcomes us’, we have a sudden release of hormones into our system….and this is bad. It makes us physically feel sick.  Sometimes just a little ‘shaky’, or ‘antsy’, at other times it is stronger…and worse.  I don;t have the proper words to describe it….but it is, in its way, a physical pain.

Perhaps what is worst of all is that it interferes with our ability to think!

We can still see just how badly we are reacting, but can’t seem to stop it because our brain does not work right with all these chemicals streaming through it.  It is a horrible feeling, because by interfering with your ability to analyze, it is – in a very real way – temporarily cutting off a part of the essence that is you!  It is a partial loss of the self!

So, now that we have ‘frozen’, we are to ‘produce’!  Or ‘perform’!

How are we  now supposed to go and finish that very task we found beyond our abilities when our mind was clear and we were able to reason?

It’s just not going to happen…

Of course, what makes this even worse is that once we have felt that way about a certain task, the very memory of it will ‘push the replay button’ – so to speak.  We dread tackling any task that reminds us of our failures, because we will actually do this ‘guilt-flood of emotions-freeze up’ thing to ourselves!!!

The upshot of this is:  once something made us feel bad like this, we will do anything to block it, not ‘replay it’, pretend it does not exist…  And even if we honestly try to tackle the task, we will certainly not be able to concentrate on doing it, because we will be beaten down by the ‘refrain’ in our head:  “you have failed at this”, “you are behind even the ‘stupid’ people by not being able to do this”, “you will just fail again and humiliate yourself”….

I suspect the obsessive-compulsive bit of our brain (most Aspies have an industrial dose of OCD) just keeps us focused on the fact we are ‘bad’ at this, effectively preventing us from actually focusing on the task itself…

The weird thing is…  Sometimes, a perfectly ‘normal’ thing will – somehow – get ‘linked’ in our sub-consciousness with this ‘bad feeling’.  It could be something completely ‘not complex’ – something we easily perform in other situations.  But, here, in this particular instance of it, it has somehow started to ‘trigger’ this ‘negative reaction’.  And, no punishment, no real-life consequence, could make us go through with it and experience this feeling.

For example:  I love to cook, but I will NEVER follow a recipe EXACTLY.  NEVER.  There is no way anyone can make me be bossed around by a anything – especially a piece of paper!  I’ve been bossed around by… and so it goes.  And, once I get off onto this track, I will not cook anything.  The pain is just not worth it – even though I LOVE to cook.

Perhaps I used a bit of a hyperbole to describe this ‘freezing up’… but, in some instances, this is not that much of an exaggeration.  I hope it was helpful in getting across a little bit of the ‘flavour’ of the ‘reluctance’, or ‘freezing up’ we, Aspies, display in performing (or, rather, flatly refusing to perform) some specific tasks.

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