Autism – Networks

Ok, I give! CCK08 is officially killing me! I’m going to try and hang in there. I think the problem is that the topics are so meaty, and interesting, that I want to only do this class and nothing else.

For instance, this post has been sitting in my head for a while. I just haven’t been able to get the words together to do real justice to the idea in my head. So I put it off, and the idea gets bigger. Then I get frustrated. It’s such an evil cycle.

How are people on the Autism spectrum affected by a network? I’m just going to bullet point my main ideas, feel free to pull them apart. I do believe that if we are talking about a new theory of learning, we have the opportunity to investigate this theory for ALL learners. So I think we should take some care to think about how this new theory of connectivism works for folks with learning disabilities.

So here is the list of my thoughts on autism and networks. It is not referenced, I just don’t have time. These are merely the thoughts of a mom with a child on the spectrum:

  • Some learners won’t give any (expected) feedback about being connected to the network, but will learn from the network.
    I say expected because they probably are giving some sort of feedback, but it’s just not at the frequency that the rest of the world is listening for.
    Obvious examples of this would be non-verbal people with savant qualities. These people have an expert level of knowledge or skill in one particular area. Did this quality come from the sky? Or are they plugged into the network somehow?
  • The lack of social awareness may help attach to a classroom network, but being overwhelmed with sensory data may prevent that attachment.
    One of the hallmarks of Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, is that a person with this syndrome won’t understand social cues. They have a hard time making friends (connecting to the network?), are loners, etc. But they usually also have one or two special interests for which they are experts. People on this end of the spectrum are usually very intelligent as well.
    Maybe because their lack of understanding social norms is what helps them excel in school. They are not distracted by the social cliques at school because they just don’t see them. They don’t see the social circles, so they are left out them (excluded from those networks?). But this helps them have more attention for the lessons. So while socially they seem disconnected, they are very tuned into the classroom instruction.
    That is, if they are able to tune out sensory information. Many autistic people have very sensory integration problems. So while they are oblivious to social cues, every sensory cue that is in the room is handled as a major issue to be addressed cognitively. Florescent lights, someone sweeping the hall outside, kids whispering, all of that is hard to filter if you have sensory integration disorder. Since their sensory filters don’t work to filter sensory input properly, autistic kids may be too flooded with information to attach to the classroom network.

That’s all I have so far. Sorry there’s not more hard evidence attached to my idea. What have I left out?

6 thoughts on “Autism – Networks

  1. Please keep posting about autism and asperger’s syndrome. I’m really trying to understand. I would think whatever information coming in on screen would be far less overwhelming than all the stuff happening simultaneously in a classroom – one kid drops a tray of stuff, another kid is asking to borrow your supplies, the teacher is talking but you’re also listening to all the whispering around you, there’s lots of artwork on the walls and lots of emotional stuff happening as well as the most interesting distraction of all, your own thoughts.

  2. I’m just thinking out loud here, based on significantly less personal experience than you have, but I agree with Ruth that learning online might be a better choice for many with Asperger’s. It’s not that learning online doesn’t have any distractions at all, but they are different sensory distractions.

    With online learning, you can potentially control your learning environment to better suit you. You can set your browser to override the fonts and colors of websites so you have a more uniform look; you can turn off images and animation, turning them on only when you need to and can focus on them. I’m not sure about Asperger’s, but with some learning disabilities a screen reading program can be helpful even for people who can see fine.

    From the broader perspective of accessibility (not just autism and Asperger’s), online learning and online networks seem to have a lot of potential for getting people involved in ways that will work for them. If we have more learning that allows multiple ways to participate, letting people choose what works best for them as individuals, that’s a huge benefit for accessibility.

  3. I think I agree with the intent of online learning – to a point. I think there is something to be said for the social network of a classroom, and for kids with issues learning to self-advocate and accommodate for their own needs.

    If we give them all online learning they will probably excel at academics. But by removing the social part that is harder for them to learn, are we doing them a disservice? How will they learn to navigate all the social cues and noise?

    I’m still thinking out loud. I think a blended approach is probably the best way. But how do you get the right blend?

  4. Interesting conversation – it is true that technology helps those with disabilities join the network and provides a path of learning – I think of students with Tourette’s Syndrome – the computer doesn’t record their outbursts or ticks and thus they would appear “normal” in that network.

    I believe the social skills learned in school are overrated – we believe it works because we all did it, but in reality, the immaturity of the students, the parental influences, and being forced to work with others may not be the best learning environment. There are other ways to gain social skills besides attending a ground school. If you are schooled online at a young age, the possibility to “try on” personalities without it doing lasting damage to your social image is possible. Your intelligence, not your hair or clothes or demeanor, shine through.

    For students with disabilities online learning can provide an element of sameness, which puts those students on the same level as the others in the class. For example, a wheelchair bound, visually impaired child can fly as an avatar without glasses in 2nd life. When she meets people there, they don’t know (or care) that she has little motor control or her typing is done with the only two fingers she still controls. They assume that she is “normal.”

    Maybe we are doing children a real disservice by sending them to school to interact with their peers.

  5. This is a particularly relevant discussion indeed.

    I think that children like my daughter (who’s in the autistic spectrum) can transfer the skills they acquire online in a real-world environment. She’s actually learning a lot on how to interact with her peers…by watching videos on YouTube! She can pretend she’s part of the action and memorize cool words or common teen expressions that she then reuses in an appropriate context with kids her own age. The Internet allows her, in a way, to ‘practice’ in a safe environment. I have seen her evolve in the past few months and even weeks. Getting familiar with common teen expressions and behaviors has helped her, I feel, integrate in her Grade 7 class. She seems way happier in Grade 7 than she was in Grade 6. Her classmates are a little more mature – which surely helps – but she is also more confident in her social abilities.

  6. Pingback: CCK08 Short Paper 1: Your position on Connectivism « Insegnare Apprendere Mutare

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