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April 2017 | Volume 74 | Number 7
Differences, Not Disabilities
NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (Avery, 2015)
Equal parts medical history and masterful storytelling, NeuroTribes documents the history of autism—from its early diagnosis as childhood schizophrenia to today's more nuanced understanding of this group of developmental disorders. Silberman describes important players in autism's complicated past, including figures whom history has forgotten (the children in Hans Asperger's Austrian clinic during World War II, for instance) and many we have not (Andrew Wakefield, for one, whose flawed study linked autism with MMR vaccines). He also details the journeys of families today as they struggle to find effective treatments for children with autism spectrum disorder.
In its most publicized contribution, the book also emphasizes the strengths that neurodiverse individuals—those with autism, dyslexia, and ADHD included—can offer a society that caters to the neurotypical. At more than 500 pages, NeuroTribes is a long but essential read for both parents and educators who work with children on the spectrum.
Regular school, more than 40%
of day in a general classroom
Regular school, less than 40%
of day in a general classroom
Separate school for students
Parentally placed in regular
Residential facility, correctional
facility, or homebound
Source:U.S. Department of Education, National
Center for Education Statistics (2016).
A lesson plan created for PBS POV aims to help students in grades 9–12 better understand the experiences of individuals with autism and introduce them to the concept of neurodiversity. The single-period lesson provides reflection and discussion prompts and incorporates clips from the 2013 film "Neurotypical," which explores behavioral and perceptual differences associated with autism. Among the lesson's objectives are to help students recognize and accept that "all people view and engage with the world differently." Find the lesson plan here.
Why are black and Latino students disproportionately referred to special education? Can biased beliefs about these students' capabilities influence teachers to interpret academic or behavioral struggles in different ways? A new study in Social Science Research sheds light on this issue. The findings show that teacher referrals to special and gifted education testing are swayed by a student's race—but it's complicated.
Seventy 3rd grade teachers read case studies describing a hypothetical male student. The vignettes were identical except for variations in the student's race, whether he was an English language learner, and the presence or absence of factors suggesting "exceptionality"—either academic struggles (implying a learning disability), behavioral challenges (implying an emotional disorder), or academic strengths plus sensitivity (implying giftedness). After reading each vignette, teachers indicated whether they would refer the student for special education or gifted testing.
When teachers read a vignette featuring academic struggles, they more often referred white boys for screening than black or Latino boys. However, when the vignette featured behavioral challenges, teachers referred boys of color for testing more often than white boys. When vignettes included flags for giftedness, teachers referred white boys for screening more often than black or Latino boys. In the report, author Rachel Fish offers various interpretations of these findings, which she notes have "implications for … racial/ethnic inequalities in education."
"The Racialized Construction of Exceptionality: Experimental Evidence of Race/Ethnicity Effects on Teachers' Interventions" is available for purchase at www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049089X15301642.
What happens when a high school robotics team decides to teach students with intellectual disability to build and drive their own robots and compete in robotics competitions? They discover that these students can rise to the challenge and achieve more than they imagined.
Watch the story, captured at Sunset High School in Dallas.
On a mission to normalize the diversity of the human condition, educator Chris Ulmer travels the world and interviews "neurodiverse humans." Visit his Facebook page to view a collection of moving and inspiring videos that illustrate Ulmer's assertion: "Once you can look at someone eye to eye, on their level, they will want to learn and grow with you."
"Diverse learners breathe energy, openness, and vitality into our classrooms and curriculum."
Copyright © 2017 by ASCD
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