Thursday, April 22, 2010

Going back to School: Some things I learned about myself in Recent Adult Education

About a month ago, I attended a Scouts "Basic Leadership 2" course and last weekend I finished off "Basic Leadership 3". The courses are a mix of written and practical work with a lot of group and "bonding" activities thrown in for good measure.

It was an interesting exercise for me because I got the chance to "return to school" but this time with full knowledge of my aspie condition. It enabled me to make some rather profound observations about myself.

More importantly though, I find myself wondering if this is what my son is going through at school.

Group Work
Although the course ran from Friday to Sunday, a lot of people didn't turn up until Saturday morning. My group started off with three people and grew to five.

I coped really well with three people and I was able to participate in group discussions without feeling left out and without accidentally talking over the top of people. I mostly seemed to know when conversations ended and when it was safe to change the subject.

When the group expanded to five, I felt myself having to struggle more to hear and to be heard. It wasn't that the volume was wrong but that conversations tended to get away from me. I simply couldn't keep up.

My group discussion participation dropped to a minimum. I still knew the answers to all the questions and had no problems understanding the question - it was written down. My group was full of very friendly people who were eager for me to participate but I simply couldn't function with them all talking at once.

In the end, I started simply writing down my answers and my teammates would talk for a while and when appropriate, copy my answers. I was able to make non-verbal contributions.

I found myself wanting acceptance from others on the course but I felt so inept in conversation that I quickly fell back to the old staple; the class clown. I was by no means the wittiest person on the course but I can proudly say that I got our instructor to leave the class twice in tears (of laughter).

At the same time, I'm not quite sure if my humour was entirely appropriate or it it was irritating to anyone. Once or twice, I'm sure I overstepped the mark.

If I wasn't bobbing my knee, I was twirling my pen, drumming my fingers or flicking my tongue constantly on the back of my teeth. Sometimes several things at once. I felt much more secure and relaxed while stimming but I knew that there was a good chance that I was annoying people around me.

Eventually, I managed to stopped stimming - or so I thought. It was only after the course, when I looked at my course notes, artfully decorated with pictures of... "Rabbit Baden-Powell", a pack rat being teased by a safety badge on a mousetrap and various representations of our tutors that I realized I was stimming by drawing.

One of my many pieces of doodle-art. This one filled an entire A4 page.

While other people doodle, I produce artwork. I certainly don't draw at any other time. I need to draw and despite appearances, I am listening. Thinking about school and that oft repeated phrase; "put your pens down and listen!", I wonder if we're doing our aspie children a disservice? Maybe they too need to doodle in order to listen more effectively?

Fringe Friends
On both courses, the people I got on with the best were people with obvious disabilities. I'm not sure why. I didn't consciously pick these people, I guess I just found them more approachable. That's not to suggest that anyone on the courses was "unapproachable". They were a group of the friendliest and "down to earth" adults I've ever met. I just think that it's interesting that I should mix best with people who were anything but neurotypical.

Strangely, all of my best school friends were also "different" in various ways.

And the point is...
I think I learned just as much about myself as I did about scout leadership on the courses. Perhaps as parents, we need to try to remember what it was like to be students. Maybe then we'll be better placed to understand our children.


Foursons said...

I had to draw/doodle when I was in school. It definitely helped me to listen.

I also don't do well in group learning situations. I would much rather do the work on my own and then discuss the answers later.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Aspie kids do need to doodle.

(I will not say this as a general point, but having seen your drawings and also Jypsy's doodle, I would tend to endorse it).

And it's great you did non-verbal stuff.

The Rambling Taoist said...

I've never been a good "group" person. For one thing, I usually did all the work which pleased my classmates to no end. I tend to have little patience for people who SAY they will do the work, then don't. So, my default position is to do it myself, then let the group take credit.

Stephanie said...

While I don't have an autism diagnosis, since my boys were diagnosed and I gained insights into my own state of being, I've found that learning is a double-learning experience. I, too, have gained insights that have helped me to adapt better to learning experiences.

Knowing oneself can make a huge difference, especially when you're able to make your own accommodations. Being able to transfer that to help make accommodations for others who are not yet able to make their own accommodations--that seems to be more difficult.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

This is the first time I've ever heard anyone else describe the "tongue-flicking on the back of teeth" stim. I thought I was the only one! I started doing it about a year ago, and I don't think it annoys anyone, but then again, most people are not as blunt as I am, so who knows?

Regarding drawing in order to listen...When my NT daughter was a young homeschooler, she always had to be doing something else in order to listen. Often, she would draw, but sometimes, she would get up and walk around touching and looking at my books, my desk, my bookshelves, or anything else that she could reach. It used to drive me up the wall, because I thought she wasn't listening. Then one day I asked her what I'd just read to her, and she not only told me, but she told me with such an amazingly intelligent interpretation of it that I felt absolutely humbled. After that, I let her do what she wanted while she was learning. A couple of years later, when she discovered the Harry Potter books, you couldn't pry her off the sofa with the jaws of life.

Everyone, whether NT or not, has his or her own learning style. Everyone should be allowed to learn in a way that makes sense for that person.

Kim said...

I have to doodle in order to learn. Back when I was in college, it drove my psych teacher nuts. She just couldn't understand how I could get 100% on every test but one, when I didn't "appear" to be listening in class. Oh, yeah, the test without the 100%: I got a 99% because I forgot to put my name on it. She took off a point for that. At 42 I recently returned to college to get my paralegal certification and doodled my way through the course. One advantage to being an adult learner is that I was able to doodle-up the edges and backs of my test papers and really didn't care what anyone thought about it.

Chaviva said...

Hahaaha I SO do the class clown situations. I'm smart enough to be witty, and other people find it funny even though I might not. :)

Ohhhh and I looooooove to doodle!

father of four said...

A fascinating post, Gavin. Great insight!

bludancer said...

ouch. the class clown part hit home. i was too quiet in school to be the clown, but i use humor so much to cope, i almost do it incessantly. it's probably inappropriate at times. maybe it would be best to rein in just a little.

group learning situations--i always avoided study groups as best i could. there is always just too much going on.

thought-capsule said...

Your discussion difficulties are intimately familiar to me. I can handle a very small group discussion (though I still get jittery), but in a large group I am completely lost. I feel like the conversation moves too quickly from topic to topic, and that I can't "think fast enough". And it's hard to insert yourself into the discussion without seeming rude and interrupting someone.

And the doodling as well, I used to be addicted to it in elementary and middle school, and many of my assignments would have little people (or characters) interacting with the text on the page. I was always reprimanded for this, but it had always helped me to focus.

And I do the humor thing! Never in large groups, but with a few friends or others that find me amusing. I can just keep the laughter going! Looking back, I'm pretty sure many of my friendships formed because I made them laugh so much, to make up for my lack of more serious social skills, like comforting someone when they're sad.