Is Dis-engagement normal?

People may wish to read a very recent SLD forum post, which is in italics, and my response, which is not, both below. I am becoming increasingly interested in this issue of non-engagement in the formal education system. The traditional response seems to be an automatic rejection of the learner’s point of view by the education system as it stands, and I wonder whether we ought to be seriously reviewing this approach. It would not be difficult to imagine this young man in five years time as now having a label of ‘mental health’ problems as seemingly do all of the children who express what used to be called Social Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD) and is now called Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs (SEMH) in the UK at least. I find it VERY disturbing that overt rejection of the norm is now automatically described as madness!

We have a student with a diagnosis of ASD and Tourette’s.  He is working at about L2/3 NC level (old money) – he is 13 ½ .

The Tourette’s developed in the last couple of years.  He has always been very distractible but this is increasing to the extent that he can only focus for a few seconds at a time.  For example he often can’t get through a whole sentence without losing focus and retreating into his mind.   He can attend for long periods of time on favoured activities (talking about video games, drawing).  These favoured activities may be interrupted by tics and some noises but only for a few seconds.

He has tics and some noises associated with the Tourette’s but he is also almost permanently playing out a fantasy video game in his head that has accompanying noises and hand movements.  He describes this as dreaming the game and sometimes he enjoys this and may laugh to himself and sometimes, when asked to focus, he might say, with a little distress, ‘but I just can’t stop the dreams’.

He is also developing what might be OCD type behaviours (tapping books on table several times, touching hand rail in a particular way) and whilst I am on my steep OCD learning curve I wonder if there are any strategies to inhibit the development of OCD?

We are struggling to unpick what is an ASD type internal world/special interest, what is Tourette’s and what is OCD.   We are waiting for a follow up on the Tourette’s diagnosis.

We use visual timetables and a work schedule, motivators, time out, breaks, social stories and other visuals to try to alert him to his lack of focus and ‘game playing’ but as we aren’t entirely sure what is internal world stuff and what is Tourette’s I am worried we may do more harm than good.  We have also tried to work with his parents to change the amount of time he spends on computer games at home.

Has anyone got any ideas about how we can unpick what is causing his huge difficulty and any strategies to help this boy spend enough time in the real world to learn.

Thanks

J.

 

 

Hi J

This is very interesting and is perhaps a typical example of the wave of very complex learners that all schools (and especially all special schools) have been increasingly involved with over the last 10 years or so. These are the learners that Barry Carpenter calls ‘new generation’ and who are ‘pedagogically bereft’ (Carpenter et al, 2016; Carpenter, 2011), that is, disengaged with and from the education system. It is not that your young man cannot concentrate and attend, he can clearly do that very well indeed, it’s that he does not wish and sees no purpose to concentrating and attending to stuff that for him is boring and meaningless. The problem is, he has a point! Unfortunately the UK education system is set up to condition people to be like ourselves; the subjects are the ones we worked on, the school/class/learning structure is the one known and familiar to us, the outcomes are the ones we want for ourselves, which might loosely be described as ‘helping this boy spend enough time in the real world to learn’. But to learn what, and what for? Clearly, whatever the ‘real world’ is to him does not involve him doing the stuff that you want him to do. So he disengages by slipping into his own world and daydreaming, and the older he gets the more powerful this tactic becomes. Perhaps we should count our blessings as at least he is not displaying extremes of challenging behaviour, as so many others do.

It might however help if we looked at his area of special interest in a different way, that is from his perspective. Were for example his obsessional behaviours directed to a cause that you and the school could perceive as being ‘useful’, matters might be different. I would imagine that Mozart’s, Turner’s and Einstein’s ‘education’ involved very little other than music, art and maths respectively otherwise they would not have become the geniuses that they were. They were allowed to do this because their educators could see these ‘obsessions’ as being central to their lives. They didn’t want their charges to have an education like everyone else and be like everyone else. Our education system demands that we try and make children think like us, learn like us, be like us, have our ambitions and dreams, live in our real world. That is fine for most, but clearly not for all.

It sounds to me that you are doing all the right things in your attempts to steer him out of his preferences and towards a more rounded education with your emphasis on ‘visual timetables and a work schedule, motivators, time out, breaks, social stories and other visuals’. But it will require his co-operation, and it seems that he is not willing to give it!

Student voice must be listened to if education is not just going to be about educating those who are willing to comply. This means listening to behaviours and acting upon what these behaviours are telling us, not merely insisting that everyone does the same. We must give children and young people a reason to belong, and whilst it may be ideal that this happens in the same classroom, in the same school and studying the same curriculum, the evidence tells us that this is not possible, however much we might like it to be so. Sadly, there is a now real question to be asked within our current education system; would we now allow Mozart and Turner and Einstein to focus on their areas of special interest so that they could become the best that they could be and do the best that they could do? Probably not!

All the best

Peter Imray

 

References

Carpenter B (2011) Pedagogically Bereft!: improving learning outcomes for children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. British Journal of Special Education. 38 (1) 38-43.

Carpenter B, Carpenter J, Egerton J and Cockbill B (2106) The Engagement for Learning Framework: connecting with learning and evidencing progress for children with autism spectrum conditions. Advances in Autism. 2 (1); 12-23.

 

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