Simple and comprehensive

Shilpaa Anand

The Sage South Asia Edition has brought out three books on interventions in the classroom for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD and Asperger Syndrome. The books focus on each of the three disabilities and provide guidance, support and suggestions to teachers accommodating children with these disabilities in the inclusive classroom, or an integrated educational set-up. The publication is timely, as schools, educational institutions, media and civil society in India are re-orienting their outlook vis-à-vis disability. Special attention is brought to bear on Autism Spectrum Disorders and ADHD as disabilities that require focused classroom attention. Traditionally, these disabilities are not readily identified as types of developmental disabilities (also known as mental disabilities or intellectual disabilities), thereby posing challenges to the instructor in the non-inclusive classroom as well as an inclusive classroom.

Autism The book on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) aptly carries the sub-title ‘Interventions and Treatments for Children and Youth’. The Spectrum usually includes disabilities related to social interaction, communication and behaviour patterns such as autistic disorders, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett disorder and Asperger Syndrome.

The book is a collaborative effort with contributions from different authors, under the primary author, Richard L.Simpson, a professor of Special Education at the University of Kansas. Autism spectrum disorders are defined in the early part of the book, in keeping with international classificatory bodies and manuals such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (IV), the Autism Society of America, the International Classification of Diseases-10 and the definition according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997 (USA).

Considering the locale and experience of the authors, readers should be advised that many of the instances and suggestions provided are appropriate for the US/UK environment. However, some of the interventions the authors recommend under the sections “interpersonal relationship interventions and skill-based interventions and treatments” can be adapted to different contexts, with the help of specialised training in using this intervention.

A major section of the book is dedicated to describing and evaluating different kinds of interventions that can be adopted by teachers and instructors working with children who have ASD-interpersonal relationship interventions, skill-based interventions and treatments, cognitive interventions and physiological/biological/neurological interventions and treatments.

Briefly, DTT intervention is defined as grounded in behavioural learning theory principles and applied behaviour analysis. This is a strategy to teach new skills to children. To quote, “A trial is considered to be a “single teaching unit” that consists of the following components: presentation of a discriminative stimulus (SD) (teacher’s instruction), the child’s response (R), and the consequence (SR).” The efficiency of this method lies is the teacher’s ability to break down lessons into simple steps so that ambiguous and extraneous use of language (eg. words) can be reduced and instructions can remain concise and clear.

ADHD Another book in the series, Teaching Young Children with ADHD works more like a handbook where you could flip to the section you’re interested in and read on to learn either about teaching writing skills to a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or about medication and ADHD. Its user-friendly format allows the reader to peek into a child’s daily life through the detailed case illustrations. The book is co-authored by special educators and a psychiatrist and is commendable in its attention to detail of the different aspects of teacher-student interaction. For instance, an entire section of the book is dedicated to what teachers should know about medication for children with ADHD. This section is presented in the form of FAQs and functions as a ready reckoner which allows a teacher who is hard-pressed for time to just flip to the question she requires an answer for.

Brenda Smith Myles’ book on individuals with Asperger Syndrome (AS) is in the same vein as the ADHD book, providing illustrations in the form of case studies which delineate the stereotypical characteristics of children with Asperger Syndrome. At a very basic level, individuals with Asperger Syndrome are distinct from persons with Autism in that, they want to interact with others despite their lack of interaction skills. The authors point out that advanced verbal skills in such individuals often mask their communication shortcomings, thereby challenging educators and peers.

Asperger-Syndrome This book concentrates on adapting a child with Asperger’s to the inclusive environment, and offers suggestions which help the teacher make modifications in the physical, social and intellectual environment the child is located in. Of particular interest may be the section titled ‘Academic Modifications’ which focuses on school activities that pose challenges to a child with AS such as fine-motor skills. The author and her collaborators suggest that certain classroom accommodations could be adopted which reduce the challenge faced by the student. For instance, the student may be asked to write only key words in response to a question, where the standard requirement is to furnish details in complete sentences; or, by modifying assignments and tests to include multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions in place of essay questions. As children with AS have difficulty paying attention to instructions that are presented verbally, modifications in instruction delivery style might prove very important.

The authors recommend that the student’s attention may be established through a visual cue like a tap on her desk or by placing a picture prompt in front of her or some form of standardised visual symbol.

The three books answer questions that teachers struggle with, on a daily basis, while working with children with ASD and related disabilities. The information is comprehensive if one disregards the fact that the contexts portrayed and readers addressed are almost entirely western. One can argue that it is not the business of these books to take into account culturally diverse ideas about childhood disabilities, where it might be the case that characteristics classified as ADHD or even Asperger’s are not considered ‘abnormal’ or ‘inappropriate’ in a particular cultural context. However, the language used to present the information is simple and accessible to Indian readers. The authors caution that professional training in specific fields, say ASD, might make the books more relevant to users and applicants. In all, the series is a significant beginning for educators in India interested in learning to engage with students who don’t typically fit the bill ‘developmentally disabled’.

Autism Spectrum Disorders: Interventions and Treatments for Children and Youth; Author: Richard L.Simpson; Sage, New Delhi. 2008. Rs.350
Teaching Young Children with ADHD: Successful Strategies and Practical Interventions; Authors: Richard Lougy, Silvia DeRuvo, David Rosenthal; Sage, New Delhi. 2008. Rs.295
Children and Youth with Asperger Syndrome: Strategies for Success in Inclusive Settings; Author: Brenda Smith Myles; Sage, New Delhi. 2008. Rs.295

The writer is a Doctoral Candidate in the Disability Studies Program,University of Illinois at Chicago. She can be reached at shilpaa.anand@gmail.com.

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