When working with individuals on the autism spectrum, with Downs Syndrome, Intellectual Disabilities or other special needs, being mindful of balancing desired goals with keeping the experience positive opens up a new skill-set level of teaching. If the student can count on an instructional approach that is effectively motivating in a consistent manner, based on trust, and respect, then afterward, the student reflects on the learning experience and is inclined to continue performing at an increased rate of participation.
Case in point, about eight to ten years ago I coached a witty, strong-willed and passionate basketball student athlete with Down Syndrome over at the Greenwich, Connecticut YMCA. Truly, His #BrothersKeeper. His attitude always conveyed a ‘ready-for-action’ impression on me and he soon took on leadership positions as an assistant basketball coach for the rest of the class. #BrothersKeeper would go to each student and help them with stretches, focus on teamwork-building skills on the court during our games with the Dad’s, and basically dominate each game. Channeling his energy into helping others allowed me to raise the quality of my teaching by employing the abstract, soft skills. From an instructional point-of-view then, it is not what I did or taught in a verbal, kinesthetic sense to a student, but it was my recognizing that his communication skills, his ability to be very empathic towards others and willingness to help coach the basketball class (according to my guidance) showed that the teaching/ learning process was working on both the technical and soft-skills level.
- Was this due to the on-going strong rapport between coach and athlete and the overall positive experience recollection of the student?
Abstract life skills, oft times called soft skills, can begin to take precedence over the actual technical skills needed in the activity with this segment of the population, or at the very least be brought into valued focus as the teaching / learning process progresses. Such skills as empathy, respect, humility, leadership, goal-directed persistence (stick-to-it-iveness), and grit, (patience, mental toughness, mental flexibility, emotional control, foresight, focus and sustained attention all in one) serve tremendous value to the student with the special need because they are the foundational life skills needed to accomplish great feats and successes in their lives.
In conclusion, instructors and parents who employ this parameter will find that they can create a great amount of forward-momentum and success in their goal-acquisition of helping empower their student or child in dynamic ways.