Context a difficult area to assess
“Johnny’s, received A’s and B’s on his report card, we are so proud of his accomplishments, and now we recommend a reduction in his additional services, but of course we will keep the social skills group,” exclaims the smiling school officials.
I’ve watched stunned parents’ receive this news in middle and high school IEP meetings for students with high functioning autism. What they see at home does not coincide with the views expressed by the school. ” What about his writing? What about his reading comprehension? What about the fact that he doesn’t seem able to express his ideas? One of my middle school clients in this position, announces to me, “I haven’t spoken in school all day,” Why this disconnect? Parents are left wondering, “Who will help with these other areas?” They often are left wondering and worrying.
The school officials are not being mean, they genuinely are pleased with the report card grades and know that social language is a deficit for this population, but they simply don’t understand the extent of the deficits that these students face. Although a group is a necessary component for these students, often continued language support is also needed in order to learn the skills they will need to help them use language flexibly in a variety of context. Many high functioning students on the autism spectrum are quick to memorize information, but have difficulty actually using the information in contexts. For many well-behaved students on the autism spectrum one word answers or limited responses, attending to class work, following directions, or at least looking as if you are, is all that is needed to get to the head of the class, lacking the skills needed to function in the wider world.
Students with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome have difficulty using context to adjust their response, but there is no adequate test that can measure this skill and no easy program that can teach it, especially as they become older and their world more complex. Where are you most likely to see students with autism struggling with context? In the halls between class, in the class if they fail to understand an assignment, in the lunchroom, and on papers that don’t quite address the topic, none of these places are areas that tests normally probe. Those unstructured times are when most children are learning how to use context with peers and teachers, but students on the autism spectrum miss these very real experiences. It is limited to think that we only deal with context in “social situations” because as social creatures understanding the implications of context impacts all areas of language including writing, reading and verbal expression.
Before working with this population if anyone would have told me how critical context was, something we normally don’t even think about, I might not have believed them, but understanding and using context is critical for effective communication.
Next week… More information from an article on context blindness summarized by Alicia Guerreiro