Autism and School: Down with the BLURB!!

School was hard for me. Super hard. It got easier, much easier, once I reached college, but the first twelve years – rough.

Autism and School

I made it clear through law school, but every moment of that process was tough. As I have already pointed out in one of my posts, for every text book I purchased in law school, I probably bought four study guides.

Just like school was hard for me, it seems to be an ongoing challenge for lots of folks with autism (and lots of folks who are not autistic for that matter!)

Teaching an Autistic Student…Where to Begin?

I see articles discussing how to motivate autistic students to tackle topics that seem to be of little interest to them. These articles tend to focus on issues with the student. Issues like lack of motivation, defiance, lack of intelligence, etc., take center stage.

Because of the focus of this analysis, actions recommended to remedy the problem also focus on the student. Suggestions that I have seen include introducing set schedules, calling this time “study time” rather than “homework time,” bribing the student with their special interest, etc.

This approach saddens me. When I work with kiddos, I save any judgment about the student until I have explored all other avenues – the teacher (me!), the presentation, the material (the amount and level of difficulty), and the environment.  Honestly, I generally look first at the material and frequently my inquiry stops there.

In my mind, with some exceptions, issues with the student should be considered last.

So where do I like to start?

(Check out my Post-Test Study Strategy for Academic Success!)

Why the Autistic Student May “Check Out”

Let me introduce the concept of the BLURB.

Yep, the BLURB.

Nothing makes me want to leave academic material, or any material, more than the BLURB.

The BLURB – that tiny snippet of information about some topic that will be expanded upon in later grades or at some other time. You are supposed to look at this snippet, digest it, accept it and move on.

Some of my school days consisted of nothing more than one BLURB followed by another BLURB. My teachers duly noted the introduction of important concepts via the BLURB (as required) and moved on. They expected me to somehow know that information later. Huh. A very optimistic approach.

Anytime I see the BLURB, I skip over all the other steps and go to the last one. I move on.

Seriously, I leave.

Maybe literally, or if required to stay seated, then I mentally check out.


Because I lack the ability to look at this snippet, digest it and accept it.

I look at it, wonder why I should care about it, fail to understand it, and then possibly wallow in confusion.

Really, a five minute discussion about the parts of a flower doesn’t do justice to the complexity of these amazing plants. In a five minute presentation, flowers actually don’t look amazing at all. Likewise, a war cannot be presented adequately in two or three paragraphs and a theory about the functioning of the mind isn’t accurately represented in a chapter.

So I do what I can. I move on.

Find a Threshold and Meet It

You see, there is a threshold at which I can maintain understanding or a level of interest. Below that threshold, I simply want to walk away – walk away from inadequate/boring information, walk away from information that insults my intelligence, walk away from information presented in a linear fashion, and maybe most importantly, walk away from information that is not useful.

I need enough information to build a network, not a line.

Typical academic material gives me enough to get from A to B to C when what I really want is the entire alphabet, complete with all directions for how to use it, what it is good for and most importantly, why I should care about it. Preferably simultaneously. Yeah, all at once would be so great! (Though I am not familiar with this site, I do like this article on working with autistic kiddos and giving them MORE!)

When criteria such as these are met, and it generally takes me several sources to get there, I can cross the threshold and work to manipulate the information.

Yes, manipulate it, or even better, apply it. I have little interest in just learning the information, no interest in being able to just repeat it back. I want to be able to do something with it.

If I am being really honest, I am most interested in information that readily connects to dots of the intellectual networks that I have already built.

I think of everything I have encountered in life nothing has been more counterintuitive to me than autism. (Here is my post on “The Counterintuitive Nature of Autism.”) I think this context is one example of where autism is exactly that. Counterintuitive.

What if as autists, we are absorbing (or seeking) not less than you think, but more?

Give Them Enough and They Will Give You Enough

What if we gave autists (all students really) more material at the same level or gave them more difficult work? Or if we did correctly determine that the level of the material was off, what if we still gave them more by correcting to easier material, but more of it. Enough to cross that threshold. Enough to stimulate interest. Or maybe, we present the material in a totally different manner than what had been tried and failed.

I am not suggesting that we bury autistic kids in tons of homework or meaningless assignments. I am suggesting that we give kids more information on fewer topics and allowed them to really work with the information.

Because what happens when an autist becomes interested in a subject? Just try to pry them away from it!

I have seen some of the videos that non-verbal autistic kids are being presented. They are being given more. They are being shown what they should focus on, maybe a mouth speaking, and they focus on it and they try to replicate it.

Seeing a person talk to others in an everyday conversation and to expect them to absorb that is to me the equivalent of the BLURB. It is not enough to get them to focus and understand what you want them to do. But, put together a video of a conversation with lips moving, with words coming out, with meaning to the recipient of the information so they can see what they are supposed to be doing and you stimulate interest.

They are getting more.

Watch Discipline and Desire Grow

I almost always read several sources for any given task. I read and keep reading until I have enough that I can begin to build a network or I hit on one that is sufficiently thorough and clearly broken down into the steps I need to be able to manipulate it in a meaningful manner. This extra work takes discipline and it takes desire to complete, but neither of those is difficult when I have crossed the threshold and want to learn the material.

Again, just try to pry me away from it!

As a homeschool mom of fifteen years, I can’t tell you how many times we had to change up the presentation of material in order to effectively communicate it to a student. Rarely did I have to work on behavior issues with the student if I presented material in a manner that they could understand.

So my thought for the day is this, if you or your student struggles to become interested in work, look at the work itself. Is there a pattern to the type of work you/they leave behind? What type of work will you/they engage in? Is the problem maybe not you/them, but the material itself? Is the presentation so thin that you/they can read it, can be introduced to it, but it is not enough to enable understanding or stimulate interest?

The answer may (I am sure it does) vary from one individual to another, but what is the pattern?

Leave comments below to let us know what works (and does not work) for you or your student!

Learning is possible with Her Autism!!!

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