Special education isn’t designed for “kids who have both an intellectual disability and a sharp intellect,” writes Education Post‘s Beth Hawkins. Her 14-year-old son, who’s on the autism spectrum, “has a voracious thirst for knowledge.”
His favorite author is H.G. Wells. He loves Japanese calligraphy. Last year he produced a documentary about William Higinbotham, a member of the team that produced the first nuclear bomb and the inventor of the first computer game.
Corey also has Asperger’s. He can’t tolerate the noise a pencil makes on paper, intuit when sarcasm is inappropriate or easily turn his attention from one activity to another. Until this year, the vast majority of the interactions I had with his teachers were essentially discussions about how to make him into a compliant, neuro-typical kid.
A special-ed teacher suggested he might go to a not-very-selective college with a program for autistic students, she writes. Corey is set on the highly rated Macalester College.
To get there he’ll need help persisting when confronted by rigor. The resulting sense of mastery would be liquid gold in terms of motivation. But the only tool in many schools’ kits for managing these tough moments is to remove the challenge.
In Corey’s case, this meant frequent trips to an isolated room where, under the guise of “social skills,” he played board games. No wonder he hated school.
Corey now attends a “public charter school organized around entrepreneurship where a number of students like him are excelling,” she writes. Working with adult mentors, Venture Academy students “decide how they learn best.”
Hawkins hopes K-12 schools will raise expectations, inspired by the increasing number of colleges and universities that are offering supports for students with autism.
Most students with academic disabilities can meet the same expectations as other students, writes special-ed teacher Mark Anderson. He opposes a New York proposal to water down high school diploma requirements for students with disabilities.