Thursday, July 31, 2008

Montessori education for autistic children

Montessori education has been proven to be an effective method of learning for children with ASD.

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. This developmental disorder starts in childhood. There are many reasons for autism. The specific cause for autism is still unknown. Autism is treatable but at present there is no cure. These children could be normalised to some extent with the Early Intervention Programme.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD refers to the whole range of 'autistic style' symptoms with their varying degrees and differing ranges of symptoms and is used to describe those mildly affected to the most profound disability. Autism, Asperger Syndrome, etc are subgroups of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder) have a developmental disorder, which results in them perceiving and understanding the world in a significantly different way. Unless we understand and respect these differences we cannot hope to intervene successfully. Early support for the child will reduce their developmental delays as they get older, which includes appropriate methods of education, therapies, support from the parents and doctors.

Educational intervention remains the primary source of help. Montessori education has been proven to be an effective method of learning for children with ASD. Various specially trained teachers use specially structured programmes that emphasise individual instruction used in the education of these children. Many teachers use a combination of several methods. Some teachers attempt to identify an individual student’s learning style and modify the curriculum to suit the child’s learning style. For example many children with autism are visual learners. Teachers will use pictures, charts and visual representation while teaching these children.

Material developed for children with learning disability are often helpful. Teachers also use concrete materials i.e. Montessori materials for students who learn through the senses and the physical touch. The Montessori Method often uses the multi-sensory approach effectively. Number symbols are introduced in a multi-sensorial approach; arranging concrete objects and then number rods, where it becomes more sensible for the child to relate to the increasing order of numbers, smaller/bigger numbers, equal number and so on.

Tracing of sand paper letters and numbers for tactile and motoric memory lends to use of numbers and words linked with pictures and letters copied under the drawn picture.

The Montessori classroom provides an excellent environment for these children to develop social and communicative skills, which otherwise they would find very difficult to learn. Many activities provide daily opportunities for social interaction. The teacher should be on hand to help the child’s interaction. For e.g. she may need to provide the encouragement and the words that the child needs to join an activity or verbal support in sorting out a conflict.

The interaction helps the development of social behaviour, the set of ground rules which all teachers and children are expected to adhere to. These rules are regularly discussed and practiced through games of grace and courtesy. And they are very important for children with autism who will take longer than most to learn social requirements. E.g. Turn taking skill, greeting, speaking slowly, asking to be excused, and maintaining physical distance while talking.

The Montessori language and grammar materials are heaven-sent for teachers of children with autism. The reading and writing of 'command cards', for example, shut the door, open the windows when demonstrated give children opportunities to watch others speaking and acting out, using appropriate actions, intonations and behaviours to express what they understand from the words on the cards. (The Montessori Elementary Material, Maria Montessori)

In a crowded and noisy group, children can be distressed, so the quiet and calm atmosphere in the class room allows these children to participate in more relaxed circumstances and at their own pace.

These children tend to follow a rigid routine becoming very distressed when these routines are disrupted.

Montessorians know it is good practice to keep a simple daily schedule. Prepare children well in advance for any change in routine. Routines such as school trips, cultural materials such as time lines of the school day, calendars and clocks all provide a concrete representation of time and therefore an accessible reminder of the child’s routine.

These challenged children don’t generalise very well and a technique used to accommodate this characteristic is by giving them opportunities to practice skills in real situations e.g. a real apple is preferable to a wax apple just as real stories and songs to develop concepts.

The multi age group and non-competitive atmosphere advocated by the Montessori system values and encourages all children, not just those with special educational needs such as autism. The curriculum is taught based on the development of each child.

Research indicates that children can learn to overcome some of their autistic tendencies. Thus Montessorians have the skills to help them to do so.


Michaela said...

Can you cite the studies proving the Montessori way works for ASD children? I have doubts about such a result. Reputable ABA providers in my area rule out the Montessori school completely when it comes to choosing a mainstream school for the higher-functioning kids. My (typical) child went to a M. school for 2 years; it's very child-lead. My autistic child would not have initiated learning with the teachers and would have been left behind. Also, there is not much in the way of group activities; this may be comfortable for kids with ASD but certainly not helpful, as their (slow) social development would be impaired.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Montessori materials lend themselves well for children with mild forms of autism. However, having one special needs child in a classroom of 25+ of non special needs children doesn't work unless that one child has one on one attention from a special needs trained teacher.

Montessori Education for Autism said...

Do you have any research to back up your information about Montessori and autism?

Anonymous said...

My 9 yr old has PDD-NOS. He is in a Montessori school and it is a disaster! Everyday is a let down because he cannot focus to complete the enormous amount of work required of him. Meeting after meeting with this school and the answer we get is that he needs to have responsiblity and get his work done. It is horrible!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Montessori began her work with special needs individuals and then transferred it to average 3-6 year olds.

Anonymous said...

I have 2 ASD children that attended Montessori schools through elementary and they did very well. When we were forced to transition to the traditional classroom we had a ton of problems, the biggest one being that traditionally trained teachers do not respect the differences in children like Montessori trained teachers do. And I would like to share that I am a traditionally trained special education teacher.