Monday, June 13, 2011

When annoyance turns into a learning experience

When I began this blog last year I wrote several posts about my background. I wrote about how prior to starting to train in multi-sport the only "sport" I had been successful at was martial arts and how I have a natural ability to pick up techniques. I also wrote about how it is still a love of mine and I would like to continue my training and maybe compete again given the chance.

Last January I began teaching a children's karate class at a for disadvantaged kids at a near-by community center. The organization it is through started with the purpose of providing karate and cheer to children who may not be able to afford it. I use the income from teaching this class to pay for multi-sport expenses.

Last semester I had a child in my yellow belt class who routinely did his own thing, barely paid attention, and over exaggerated every technique to a ridiculous point. I was at a race for belt testing and the instructor who conducted the tests for me passed him to green belt.

My green belt class is my favorite class, they have high energy, they pick up things fast, and we have a lot of fun. I was already thinking about how having him in that class may change how the class ran. I decided that I would sit the class down and without pointing him out talk about focus and how starting this year there would be penalties for not being focused or doing your own thing.

I started the class and as we did warm-ups the kid acted like he couldn't do push up or sit up. He just laid there not trying. We then reviewed basic kicks and he kept falling down (he been doing these for a year, nothing new) so I told him some things to do at home to make it better. Later in the class we were doing sparring drills and I would demonstrate the drill and they would take turns doing the drill on the bag I was holding. When it was his turn he walked up and did something completely different. I then stopped him and was giving step by step directions for the drill. Half way through my instructions he would stop listening and do his own thing. I sent him to the back of the line when he stopped listening, it had been my intention to make him do push ups for not listening, but I wasn't ready to do this yet.

After the class, I discussed with his mom about what i told him to do to help his kicks. She then told me that was probably because of his Aspergers. I nodded my head and said ok, with a calm face. In my head I blew up, thinking to myself WTF!!!!!! WHY HAS THIS KID BEEN IN MY CLASS FOR 6 MONTHS AND YOU HAVE NEVER TOLD ME THIS!!!!!! I have been thinking it was ADD, laziness, and/or poor home training. Now I need to readjust because punishing him with push ups just doesn't seem fair to me.

I plan to take my lunch hour today to research Aspergers and Autism and see if there is a way for me to adjust my teaching methods. This completely blindsided me, but I think it is a good opportunity to learn and grow as an instructor.


Kate said...

I'm a special ed teacher and have a cousin with Asperger's as well as having had a few students with autism spectrum diagnoses.

One thing that is typical of people with Aspergers is poor gross motor function. Another is that sometimes verbal directions are difficult. Visual supports for what he's supposed to be doing might be helpful (like pictures for the step by step directions you were giving...I'm not sure what your set-up is like, but if you did the drills somewhere where there was a wall nearby, you could just post the pictures on the wall so they would be there to help but kind of unobtrusive).

Along with visual supports, another thing that could be helpful is a posted schedule for what you're doing that day in class. Knowing what's coming and seeing the progress marked off might help him to be able to stay "on" because he sees the plan and where it ends.

This one takes more of your time and might or might not fit with your schedule: any time you're introducing something new, try to give him the opportunity to practice it with you/walk through it ahead of time. Maybe at the end of the class before the new thing, keep him for a few minutes, show him/help him do it, and send him home with a picture of what he'll be doing. Learning and doing something new can be challenging and initimidating to all of us, so imagine how stressful it might be to someone with social deficits and possibly poor motor skills to have to perform like that in front of others.

One final suggestion. When he comes up or when you're doing things with the class that you expect him to do, try and give a specific direction (like "We're going to do 5 ___"). Again, knowing exactly what/how many are expected of him might help him keep on track better than when he doesn't know when his task is finished.

All of those are just suggestions. You may be doing some of it, or it might not work at all for your class format. Since I don't participate in martial arts, I don't have a clue how things are set up. It sounds to me like you're looking at this with EXACTLY the right mindset. I'd encourage you to check out this blog as well:

It's written by a man with Aspergers who works as a community education specialist to raise autism awareness. His blog has definitely given me valuable insights into the way that my students with autism spectrum diagnoses might experience things.

Good luck!

LB said...

wow, i cant believe that mom didnt tell you this. as a mom with a special needs child, i am upfront with everyone, especially teachers about her condition (joubert syndrome). but is it great that you are working on finding a way to help him instead of just feeling inconvenienced by his condition. ive tried to get haley into dance classes and the places i emailed and asked if they could accommodate her have just ignored my requests, as if to say "i dont have time to work with your special needs child" so as a parent of a special needs child, i thank you for wanting to learn how to better serve this child's needs. awesome!

i have also thought about some sort of martial arts class for haley to help with her balance, coordination, and strength. someone suggested taekwondo. what do you think?

Molly said...

I'm surprised the Mom didn't let you know about his Aspergers, but I think it's great that you're researching how to help him. Not too many people would do something like that.