Friday, March 8, 2013

Deriding the Need to be Held Socially Accountable; When Parents are the Problem

There is an interesting article in The Atlantic, "Are Grading Trends Hurting Socially Awkward Kids," about how many students on the autism spectrum are being downgraded because they lack the social acumen so necessary in today's academic environment. Needless to say, the majority of the comments are promoting the unhelpful belief that this is simply an unnecessary way to grade a student and it is "unfair." That ubiquitous term for everything that someone believes is directed at keeping them from succeeding, instead of accepting that it is their own lack of drive, verve, work ethic or desire that keeps them from moving forward. Sorry folks but I disagree vehemently with this notion of "unfair." Here is the comment I left:

I am the parent of two aspies. There is nothing wrong with teaching our children social skills as long as there is allowances made for their issues. Truth is as elementary children my boys received low marks because of their social issues. What it did was provide an outline for their IEPs and how the school was obligated to help them. They were provided paras that would assist in facilitation of social interactions especially in group dynamics. Furthermore, in college we are able to provide them with the same sort of support so that they can appropriately participate. And yes they have been downgraded because they did not behave appropriate in a college class. Emotional and social IQs are just as important in life (in many ways even more important) as understanding the concept behind calculus.
The reality is that this is a social world and our children need to learn how to participate. Simply because it is a deficit/disability or that it is hard does not mean that it is not necessary. While my boys may not be gregarious enough to become President of the United States, they must learn how to interact with other human beings especially in today's business world if they ever want to be able to have a career and the future of their choice.

I find it ironic that these same people who deride social skills requirements for grades find that it is alright to downgrade someone simply because they cannot muster the same intellect in physics, lets say. A requirement is a requirement and everything is not about regurgitating facts. 

The issue is not that social grading or requirements are unfair to those on the autism spectrum. It is unfair when the school does nothing to support or teach these skills to those with social deficits. I remember sitting in an IEP meeting for a child as an advocate and they weren't going to provide that child with a para during lunch or recess implying that the social skills required for these periods are not considered an educational issue. I chimed in that they most certainly are, since social interaction is a requirement for success both in school and life. "Being social" is a major life activity and they needed to provide support for that child. They did relent eventually and provided that child with support for those periods.

In fact because of the social deficits that the boys deal with, the public school provided them with a para to help facilitate the social aspect of their education. I provided the para during college so that they continued to learn how to function in an unstructured social environment. Did they lose points in classes because they did not behave appropriately or refused to participate in group activity? Yes they did. Was their behavior due in part to their autism and their annoyance with things social? Yes it was. Was it fair to downgrade them? Yes it was.

Oh no, how awful of me? Well requirements for education are requirements. In today's world you cannot sit in a little cubicle and just do your work. You need to know how to talk to people. You need to know how to interact appropriately. You need to know how to give speeches and presentations. You need to understand how to make yourself heard and even know how to advocate for yourself in an office. But you also need to know how to do this with respect, dignity and in a way as to not insult those around you.

One of the classes in which CM1 lost points was in an art class. He refused to participate in the art class discussions of other student's work (this was a class requirement). And when he did join in his criticisms were not constructive but quite mean actually. Yes we had provided a para, but unfortunately that para was not very helpful. CM1 would not listen to instruction and resented having to participate. Could the para have done better? Perhaps. But that was not the teacher's issue nor her fault. It was ours for hiring the wrong support person. CM1 lost half a grade for the class. OK he ended up with a B+ (not exactly shabby). Yes he had received an A for his artwork but he did not meet one of the main requirements for the class. He received a C for behavior and participation. If it had been a job he could have been fired. It was a learning experience. A teachable moment. Something he needed to learn.

The same thing happened with CM2 in a class. In his sociology class he received a B for the course. He had academically earned a B+  but received a C for behavior and it brought down his grade. We tried to use it as an teaching tool for him too, so that he learned to understand the importance of appropriate interaction and behavior. Sometimes he gets it and sometimes he still doesn't. But at least it is embedded into his psyche that this is important.

Now most of the professors have been pretty lenient at the college and understand the boys issues. But if participation is required then it has to be done properly. CM1 just gave a presentation in his polisci class (very appropriately done) and CM2 has to participate in his creative process/dance class. CM2 had to participate in group work during last semester's math class too.  If there is group work, they need to work properly with others and learn how to coexist in a group. They need to understand social relationships and the social contract. (Hint: CM2 does really well in a group scenario when he is the only male and everyone else is a pretty female...just saying.)

School is a safe place to learn all skills, especially social skills before venturing out into the real world. No one is going to give our children second chances nor allow them any leeway if they cannot manage the social aspect of a job. Teaching them how to manage the social part of the real world begins from day one. Schools are not wrong in requiring social, behavioral and emotional skills as part of their education criteria. What the problem is, is if the schools do not support nor teach these skills to the students that need them and only downgrade them for their deficit.

It is also not helpful when parents, thinking that they are being supportive of their children, decry the social aspect of an education. (They remind me of the parent who refuses to acknowledge that their children can do anything wrong..the "not my child" religion adherents) They would allow their children to be infantilized simply because one aspect of an education is hard. If their child needed tutoring in physics they would hire a physics tutor. Well they need to hire a social tutor for their children who need that help. Everything is not about hard facts in life. Real life is much more nuanced than that.

The wider world is a huge social place. To decide that your child does not need social skills and that it is not worth their time and effort to learn them, takes from a child the right to decide their own future. What anyone understands from my blog, is that it is your obligation as a parent to make sure that your child can be anything they want to be. It is up to you to make sure they have learned all the skills (social included) necessary so that they can have the future of their choice.

Shame on the parent who only makes excuses for their child instead of doing the hard work of parenting.