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Free ebooks ==> Frankie 165 would be able to read more fluently by giving him material about flags of the world: flags from different times in history, flags used for different purposes. Soon Frankie’s interests expanded to heraldry as a direct result of the readings she supplied, which led to all sorts of possibilities and was enormous fun for him and his classmates. Not long afterward, Frankie was drawing heraldry designs for his friends, and they were plastering them all over the school. Each class became a different castle with its own coat of arms. Eventually, this changed into an interest in knights of old, and Frankie and his friends started playing at his house for hours as knights of the round table, pretending to slay dragons and rescuing fair maidens. I also remember Ben, who was fascinated with sports statistics. He would wake up at 6:00 A.M. every morning, and the first thing he would do is go downstairs and turn on the sports channel to find out the latest scores. He could recite the score of every game, including from some sports that nobody seemed to care about (like Australian-rules football and fourth division English soccer). During the winter of his second grade at school, his teacher asked him to tell everybody in class the score of the latest Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game. Now, in Canada, this made him an instant celebrity. Soon he was publishing a small newspaper on the computer at school, writing stories about all his favorite hockey players, calculating various statistics (including “goals against” average), and presenting this information to his classmates. The other boys in the class found this fascinating and started to spend more time with him. Eventually he made some friends who came over to the house, and they started a Maple Leafs fan club in their neighborhood. All this was facilitated by Ben’s teacher, who allowed him to pursue his interests in class instead of the standard curriculum as set out in the lesson plans. He learned the same material but did it in his own way, using his own interests and obsessions. Such gifted teachers are uncommon, but with the rules and regulations concerning special education and the necessity of individualized educational programs, there is more and more opportunity for these kinds of creative avenues as a teacher. In these types of learning environments, Frankie and other children with ASD can become motivated, will pay attention in class, and will be interested in going to school. By modifying the learning curriculum to take account of a child’s eccentric interests and preoccupations, it is possible to educate children with ASD more effectively. Eccentric interests and preoccupations represent activities with a high motivational value, ways of getting the child’s attention and of pro-

166 A MIND APART moting more social interaction with adults and with other children. By starting with the child’s interests and building on them, it is also possible to promote more appropriate social and communication skills. For example, many children with autism love to watch a top spin. The enjoyment elicited by this activity can become a vehicle for social interaction: An adult spins the top; several children can participate in the activity; they can take turns spinning the top; the teacher or parent can talk about the colors and can demonstrate pleasure as the top spins; the teacher or parent can encourage the child to ask for help in spinning and use words like “fast” and ”slow” to describe the speed of spin, and so on. The child is motivated to participate, happy and excited. It is an opportunity to enter the child’s world at his or her own level and to bring the child up a developmental notch. This is incidental learning in a natural environment, and it is a very effective form of teaching for some children with ASD. There was a time when Heather (the little girl with the bathing suit from Chapter 2) was having a very hard time going to school. She put up a lot of resistance from the moment she woke up all the way to the schoolyard. She would dawdle getting dressed, stop and look at every broken twig along the way, and then stand still before the school entrance, refusing to go in. Once in the class, she would hide under the desk and make a racket to force the teacher to send her to the principal’s office, where she would be put in a “quiet” room for a while, then forced back into the classroom or, if she was unruly, sent home. This was becoming a real problem, with Heather being sent home more and more often, which made it very difficult for her mother, the sole breadwinner, to be available at work. At a school meeting, her mother suggested that the teacher let Heather design Easter cards first thing in the school day, as she loved greeting cards of every type. This was a highly motivating activity for Heather at home, where she spent hours drawing different kinds of cards, depending on the time of year. Perhaps, if she were given an opportunity to draw cards, she would find it easier to go to school in the morning and would arrive in a better mood and be more attentive to learning. So during the week, as soon as Heather woke up, her mother would start telling her that at school she would be able to draw Easter cards first thing before starting class. Heather looked at her mother quizzically, not believing her good luck. Each day that week, Heather worked in her private space, drawing all kinds of Easter cards, making one for each child in the class and one for her teacher and principal.

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