In most states, all schools (private, independent, public) are required to provide each student with a minimum course of study. This includes reading, writing, math, science and usually history of the home State.
Why, then, do we regularly encounter students in their teens who have virtually no academic skills, let alone social interaction, engagement, recreational or functional life skills?
Could it be that often, the minimum course of study - for school, for life, is not addressed?
By the time a student leaves elementary school (and particularly when they have been provided an Individual Education Plan since Preschool!), they should have these skills, at a bare minimum -
- the ability to hold a writing implement and draw basic shapes, color, and write basic information - particularly identifying information! Or to use a keyboard...
- engagement in at least a few recreational activities that include peers and adults: not just enjoying activities by themselves or under the direction of a paid interventionist.
- ability to communicate (whether verbally or using aided communication) more than "I want", "I see", "I need" ...and to be able to do it without prompting! The average "typically developing" teenager knows between 10,000 and 30,00 words. Shouldn't any teenager have at least a few hundred?
- a basic sense of numeracy and basic mathematical concepts - like some, more, all, none, a few and so on (and be able to use the vocabulary).
- knowledge of basic concepts of size such as big, little, tall, short - and be able to use the vocabulary!
- add to that list knowledge of and ability to use a host of concept words - for time, color, quality, texture, taste, shape, emotions...the list goes on and on.
- ability to move their body in sync with another person - so they can play games, dance, and just have fun!
- knowledge of their place in the world - town or city, county, state, nation as well as knowledge of government at all those levels. These are people who, in their future, have the right to vote! Do they know what voting is?
- knowledge of their community, especially first responders and safety providers. Where the grocery store, library, candy shop and favorite toy store are.
- ability to identify themselves and the ability to understand, respond and comply, should they wander off or be confronted by authority when alone. Alone, can't speak, doesn't follow instructions, tries to bolt - all of those and more equal trauma and possible injury in today's world.
MUCH of the autism literature today indicates that children diagnosed with ASD do not necessarily have severely impaired intelligence - quite the opposite is often true. However, autistic brains require a variation in instruction that is not often followed. There are also some studies that suggest that rote, repetitive instructional methods actually inhibit learning.
If we as educators and therapists have not sought out and applied an effective method of instruction and produced at least those minimum skills listed above by the time a student leaves elementary school - we have failed our students!
Happily enough - good instructional methods, appropriate antecedent interventions, powerful and variable reinforcers, humane treatment, appropriate social interactions and lots of support often results in an engaged, skillful, functioning person - even when the diagnosis is autism. Let's all set that for our goal!