Charlotte Mason Methods for Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome Presented by Nicole Caldwell, M.Ed. Autism Specialist, The Flint Academy
About Charlotte Mason • The Charlotte Mason educational method places emphasis on developing a natural love of learning in children, and providing them with a high-quality education to stimulate the mind. It has been described as leading students to a self-education. • Charlotte Mason advocated the study of core subjects (math, science, reading, etc.) as well as the humanities of literature, poetry, music, and art. She believed that children should study these subjects in an authentic way: through exploring nature, reading personal narratives of history, looking at actual works of art, etc. • Some specific elements of the Charlotte Mason educational method are described in the following presentation, with recommendations to accommodate students with autism.
Characteristics of Autism • Insistence on sameness; resistance to change • Difficulty in expressing needs, using gestures or pointing instead of words • Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language • Laughing (and/or crying) for no apparent reason; showing distress for reasons not apparent to others • Preference to being alone • Tantrums • Difficulty in mixing with others • Not wanting to cuddle or be cuddled • Little or no eye contact • Unresponsive to normal teaching methods • Spinning objects • Intense attachment to objects • Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain • No real fears of danger • Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity • Uneven gross/fine motor skills • Non-responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf, although hearing tests in normal range Reference: Autism Society of America
Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome • Problems with social skills: Children with Asperger's syndrome generally have difficulty interacting with others and often are awkward in social situations. • Unusual preoccupations or rituals: A child with Asperger's syndrome may develop rituals that he or she refuses to alter, such as getting dressed in a specific order. • Communication difficulties: People with Asperger's syndrome may not make eye contact when speaking with someone. They may have trouble using facial expressions and gestures, and understanding body language. They also tend to have problems understanding language in context, including use of idioms and slang. • Specific interests: A child with Asperger's syndrome may develop an intense interest in a few areas, such as sports schedules, weather or maps. • Coordination: The movements of some children with Asperger's syndrome may seem clumsy or awkward. • Skilled or talented: Many children with Asperger's syndrome are exceptionally talented or skilled in a particular area, such as music or math. Reference: http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers-syndrome
Literature and Poetry • Children should be exposed to quality literature and poetry from a young age. • Children should read full, unabridged versions so that they can experience the original beauty and quality of the language. • The focus is on enjoying poetry, rather than “studying” it. • Literature and poetry should be integrated into all school subjects.
Literature and Poetry Accommodations • Use illustrated editions of poetry books. • Use relevant clip art or photos to accompany written or read-aloud poems. • Review definitions of any difficult or confusing words before reading the poem. • Review meaning of any idioms, metaphors, or slang terms before reading the poem.
Handwriting • The study of handwriting begins when students learn to copy letters. Charlotte Mason preferred that a student complete a few neat and correctly formed letters at a time, rather than a lengthy handwriting page that leaves the student tired and the handwriting sloppy at the end. • For older students, handwriting can be practiced by copying book passages or poetry into a personal copy notebook.
Handwriting Accommodations • Use tracing sheets (such as http://www.mymoondrops.com/info/spelling.html), • Place a copy of the passage to be written close to or on a student’s desk rather than on the board at the front of a classroom, • Allow students to copy passages about a topic of interest (airplanes, astronomy, trains, etc.). • Make sure that students are practicing correct letter and number formation in early learning, as these habits are very hard to break after they have been learned.
Science • Children should be taken outside daily to observe and experience nature. • The teacher or parent should ask children to describe something nearby (such as plants, animals, or insects). Teachers and parents should also model this for children by describing things in nature to them. • Children should be taken on nature walks and permitted to observe with minimal direction from adults. • Children keep nature notebooks, which may include records of a child’s observations, sketches, records of weather or temperature, nature poems, and pressed flowers.
Science Accommodations • Allow students to record information in their nature journal of science elements that are particularly interesting to them (you can relate trains, weather, and other interests to science topics), • Frequently model descriptions of items in nature starting with just one or two descriptions at first (“the butterfly is orange and it flies”). You could make cards with pictures and this sentence to review and practice before the child makes descriptions on his or her own, take photos during nature walks and outings to use when discussing the events later or to post in nature notebooks.
Math • Teach students concrete before abstract: use manipulatives, including counters, blocks, and other objects to model concepts. • Use narration to assess a student’s comprehension of the material: “Tell me what you know about ___________ (concept).” • Focus on real experiences: use real money when possible, weigh and measure actual objects, etc. • Use short lessons: 15 – 20 minutes for elementary students, 30 – 45 minutes for junior high and high school students.
Math Accommodations • Many of these math methods do not need modification. • Using manipulatives for visual support and to build concrete understanding will often be very helpful. • Using real objects and money is also beneficial to promote generalization of skills. • Prompt as needed when teaching, and then fade out the prompts.
Art and Music • Expose children to classical music and quality artwork. • Use actual-sized prints of the pictures, not textbooks with small copies of the pictures. • Children study a piece of art for 10 – 15 minutes, attempt to copy the painting by the classical artist, and then at another time try to draw it from memory. • Encourage children to draw favorite reading passages. • Use high-quality art materials. • Play classical music during art reproduction, sketching, and nature study times.
Art and Music Accommodations • The website Enchanted Learning (www.enchantedlearning.com) has coloring sheets of many famous paintings that could be used for students who may have difficulty copying the paintings from memory. • Classical music could be played for students while they are engaging in a favorite play activity so that they can enjoy the music and associate it with a fun activity.
Social Studies • Children should use books, plays, poems, essays, and paintings to study history (first person accounts are preferred to textbooks). • Children should study the history of their own nation, as well as other nations. They should compare what was happening in various nations at the same times in history. • Travel books can be used for the teaching of geography. • Before beginning the study of maps, students should practice the concept by making a map of their rooms.
Social Studies Accommodations • Use lots of pictures (of historical figures, places, and countries), • Look for illustrated editions of any poetry or literature that you will use. Another option is to use clip art or graphics to make your own illustrations for poetry or story passages, • To expand on the pre-map study activities, make a map of a child's bedroom, a room in the home, or classroom, with a place marked on the map. Hide something fun in that location, and have the student use the map to find it (prompting as needed). This could later be done with a map of the entire school or home. • To begin teaching with "real" maps: make a map of the United States (or your home country) that shows important places to the student (such as locations where relatives live, favorite places such as Six Flags or DisneyLand).
Citizenship and Behavior • Lessons about proper behavior can be learned through reading of literature (Aesop’s Fables and Bible stories are good options). • Charlotte Mason emphasized the development of habits, stating that once developed, the students will continue the habit. It is recommended to develop a few habits at a time, rather than a long list of “rules” to follow.
Citizenship and Behavior Accommodations • Priming and Social Stories: prepare students in advance for expectations of behavior during social situations and special events. • In advance, teach calming techniques such as counting to ten, taking deep breaths, excusing yourself from the situation. • Recognize appropriate behavior: many students with Autism may not know what behavior is appropriate. Punishment of negative behavior does not tell the student what he or she should do instead. • Teach specific social skills: provide direction instruction for social skills that may come naturally to other students.
Links to Helpful Resources • Best Autism Websites for Teachers: http://www.ikeepbookmarks.com/Best_Autism_Sites_for_Teachers • Positively Autism Newsletter and Resources: http://www.positivelyautism.com/ • Paula Kluth’s Autism Website: http://www.paulakluth.com/autism.html • AutismSpot: http://www.autismspot.com/ • Social Skills for Middle/High School Students: http://www.cccoe.net/social/skillslist.htm • Social Stories: http://www.thegraycenter.org/socialstories.cfm • Social Skills for Middle/High School Students: http://www.cccoe.net/social/skillslist.htm
Contact Information • School Phone: 817-277-0620 • E-mail: Nicole@PositivelyAutism.com