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Teaching Students With Autism About Their Learning Strengths And Weaknesses
Teaching students with autism about their learning strengths and weaknesses
Michelle Garcia Winner
Over the years, I observed so many students get upset by the fact they had “autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome” or “ADHD” and in as much as they could verbalize these terms aloud they still didn’t seem to understand what their learning challenges actually were.
I also observed many adults explaining to students that the reason they were having difficulty socializing, studying, and learning was that they had “autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome”, or “ADHD.” I thought this was a really abstract way of explaining to a student with limited abstract thinking how best to understand their own learning challenges. I also have observed that for many of our smart but socially not-in-step students, that they were using their label as an excuse for not working at learning new ideas; they interpreted the fact that they had a diagnostic label as a reason to not continue to learn.
I was also inspired by the writings of those who describe learning abilities and challenges given the framework that each of us have strengths and weaknesses with regards to our own brain’s design of our multiple intelligences (See books by Dr. Mel Levine and Howard Gardner).
Strengths and Weakness Lesson
I have done this lesson with students as young as 8 years old and as old as they come.
The lesson is very simple. To save explaining it all with words, see the below chart:
Here are some basic things I do as I develop this type of chart with the student:
1. Each chart is completely personalized for the person I am developing it with. It does not work at recording actual test scores showing actual competencies. The chart is about how the student perceives their own strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, you can create any categories you want.
2. Determine ideas for posting on the chart by taking time to talk to the student and listening to what they enjoy doing and what they feel they do well.
3. Always start by graphing out the strengths. It is good to have many perceived strengths. Again, strengths are not about listing academic tasks exclusively. If someone says they are really good at playing a specific computer game or Legos then we write specifically that into one category.
4. It is also important to find some areas where the student perceives they are just OK at that task, not good, nor bad. They perceive themselves to be similar to the average person in that area of functioning. With kids, you can use language such as:
a. “First tell me what you think you are really good at compared to other kids you know.”
b. After you have listed 3-5 then say, “Now tell me something you are OK at, that you a...