WHY ARE WE NOT ABLE TO TEACH?
Ofcourse, before I start to target teaching techniques – one must understand that teaching Autism is one of the most challenging tasks – here we are not just fighting one issue – it is a complex mix of problems that affect the brain so as professionals we fight sensory processes, co-ordination processes, attention deficit disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, hyperactivity or hypoactivity, seizures, regression due to psychological problems, aggression, extremely challenging behaviors, other attached mental illnesses, focus and motivational problems along with a huge disconnect between the professionals and the parents perspectives too etc etc. It is a never ending list and we are suppose to manage it all and also aid cognitive development.
I know of teachers who cannot even teach neuro-typicals effectively because they are distracted with an Iphone, personal maladies, indiscipline, or plain disinterest – so imagine us teaching someone with all the above processing disorders and a system that is pretty much built to destroy instead of create? It’s not easy. And most definitely if you do not have the passion to teach, to inspire or to change – you cannot and must not do this job.
Having said all the above, one must think a few million times before judging or slagging of professionals and their techniques. Because, if you do that then; also have the courage to take over and function better than the professionals.
Now having said this – I am a teacher for Autism and I am writing this piece wherein I myself badger the professionals in the hope that the mistakes we are making can be looked into more deeply so that we can save more and more lives. Teaching is a noble profession and an extremely critical one too – it is sad that teachers are worth nothing these days; but then who is responsible for that? WE ARE – the day we sold this profession for a few pennies – we built a market around it. We chose to disregard process by being lazy and instead focussing on the problems and in-capabilities of the children, thus getting more and more children sent out of schools or to the counsellors. We chose to teach because one could do nothing else, we dishonored the time and space of being a teacher. We lost the magic in teaching because passion creates magic not pennies or procrastinations.
Many times, teachers who work with me assume that I myself am autistic and start to question my processes by stating – “But Akshayee, we are not autistic right? So, then why do we have to do it like this and doing things like this is so difficult and time-consuming.” I have made my mistakes and I state that proudly because it is my mistakes that have been my greatest teachers. In the world of autism where each child is anew, I am one of the very few who will stand on a platform and state that “I understand Autism.” That would be simply foolish – no one can completely understand even a cluster of butterflies, forget Autism.
With Autism, there are no definitives, things will change but yes there is a protocol, there are prescribed processes and there are rules that are made to make things easier for Autism and I stick to those. These processes are definitely not the teacher’s favorites as it does make their lives more interestingly strenuous but in my experience these very processes have always helped the Autistic mind flourish better. And if anyone questions it then I will simply ask them to give me something better and something that can defeat my training. I shall never go against my training and that was an oath I had taken which has kept me safe and comfortable along with Autism for so many years.
This is why we cannot teach today. Unless we do not improve the quality of teachers and the quality of their processes we cannot improve the quality of the students we create. Unless we do not have principles and values ourselves as teachers, we cannot create individuals with values and principles. Unless we do not learn to work with passion and ignite fires in our hearts we cannot achieve that with the children either.
WHO ARE THE ONES TEACHING AUTISM IN INDIA TODAY?
All this above may sound poetic but the reality is that this work requires extreme dedication, a lot of organization, immense commitment, the ability to look beyond oneself and prioritize another, to be able to multi-task and think on your feet in the most pressured circumstances. Now doing these things all together is not simple and many may think that it is definitely doable, because I am able to put it in words, but the truth is that practicing this for the past 15 years, I have sacrificed more than anyone can imagine and live with much to deliberate with too.
Also, I have spent too much time with special and not so special teachers who in the interviews and classrooms will talk about their passion but at the first instance of difficulty they drop teaching like a hot potato and run away in the name of family pressures or family responsibilities or because they realize how inadequate and incompetent they are in adapting to this working style.
It is sad but the many numbers of teachers I have seen who do not know how to use computers, basic office, cannot speak English correctly or spell or even frame a sentence even are so so many – it’s simply shocking but that is the quality of teachers who are the ones that I was forced to choose from to teach one of the most complex and distraught minds we know called AUTISM. I have never understood how an inferior processor can be compatible with an over-bearing, hyper-processing, complex and quirky piece of hardware.
And not to mention that an individual making grammatical errors is still manageable according to me if they have a good attitude. But, a lack of knowledge coupled with arrogance takes the cake. These are the teachers who think they know it all and instead of learning will start to find faults with everyone else’s processes without even having the ability to understand or analyze a process forget trying to devise one.
I have now learnt with experience to steer clear of both these types and I welcome teachers who have a good attitude, are willing to learn and have some semblance of knowledge. I do not find faults with them if they speak bad English or do not have a strong base with the subjects because I am aware that our educational system is to be held responsible for that not these teachers. After all these teachers are a product of the so called prestigious education system of India.
Well the problems do not end here, the other type are those who come and get trained, learn things half way as learning does not happen in 3 or even 5 years; I stuck to a consistent job for 8 years and others for more than 3 to understand and learn. And that is something that most people these days do not do or know that they have to do. I have picked my skills because I was steadfast and consistent with experts.
The simplest thing that all teachers forget is that when u are there to learn especially with an experienced person then u need to spend a lot of time to learn as they are not about to or even able to teach you all they know in a short time. Now these half baked teachers as we know with half baked knowledge do more damage than good as they have not understood the process completely.
The other type are the ones with the half baked knowledge who couple arrogance with it and cause more harm. They are the cocky ones and again create disasters that can’t be amended. Then come the others who with half baked knowledge will go out and aim for only one thing and that is to make money out of other people’s miseries and I am not sure which one I would like to pick.
SO, WHAT THEN?
Well, firstly if we do not solve this facilitator or teacher problem, we will never find a solution.
The discussion above has been about the struggle between teachers who are not equipped, to teachers who may be slightly equipped, to teachers who being half equipped are doing one on one sessions, to teachers who maybe lacking with skills or knowledge – even worse skills and knowledge and finally teachers who are only in it for the butter.
Well this seems like a problem that needs solutions from both the internal and external devices. This system which comprises of the parents and the regulatory boards for special needs must work in sync to find solutions. The first step must always be taken by the parents as they are the most affected. Unfortunately the parents here seem lost as they are not even sure what is happening or what must happen with their child on the spectrum. The social stigma is definitely not something that helps their process of realisation and negotiating further for them becomes extremely hard if not impossible.
Other parents being so desperate and helpless are willing to pay anything to get help for the children and in turn get exploited and encourage bad practices within the community. I have also noticed that many parents do not even share or stand their ground together as a community to fight for their children’s rights. The many differences of opinions, acceptance issues, stigma issues, varying and confusing perspectives and blind egos are what have made things more and more complicated. Ofcourse, the regular grind of trying to make life happen does not make it any easier as these parents are trying to do all of this in India which we all know is a harder system to survive.
The larger system however, then does not care to take necessary steps to fix the problem because the community does not seem big enough to shake the system. It is of course short-sighted this vision of the larger system which instead must be bracing themselves to deal more effectively with Autism considering the exponential rise in numbers in the past few years.
If the community and the larger system do not act quickly and effectively then this teacher problem can never be solved and we will have to continue enabling more and more mushrooms of broken special needs set-ups which will never make effective and sustainable changes for those struggling with Autism.
Leaving one and all with this thought for now with a promise to tackle more questions like if the teachers are trained, what kind of processes need to be in place, what techniques must be used in classrooms, how should a classroom deal with behaviours, social, communication problems while building an effective academic foundation and what and how we can come together to solve this mystery of the academic development of the autistic brain?
Signing Out, Akshayee. Shetty