Monday, August 13, 2012

The Perils of Pegboarding

If you have a kid with autism then you have undoubtedly been introduced to this educational "toy" called a pegboard.  I must admit that I bought some of these contraptions for my Max early on as I was told "Autistic kids love pegboards."

Yet in our experience, not so much.

When Max was of preschool age we had a TEACCH teacher come into our home to help Max learn some early skills.  If you are not familiar with TEACCH, it is a teaching method which has its roots in North Carolina.  The predominant philosophy of TEACCH is to adapt the learning experience according to how children with autism learn best.  Of course a lot of assumptions are made in how to actually implement this philosophy.  Max's first teacher interpreted this as...all autistic kids love pegboards.  Why?  The theory proposed by Max's instructor is that "Autistic kids are very visual learners and love to line things up."

Only problem was Max had never "lined things up" in his life.

Undaunted by my remarks about Max's lack of fitting into her stereotype of ALL autistic children, this teacher proceeded to gleefully present Max with multiple pegboard tasks.

Max's fine motor skills wowed the teacher.  (Because ya know that autistic kids aren't supposed to have good fine motor skills).  He lined the pegs up by colors.  He imitated patterns.  If this was a pegboard test then Max had surely passed.  But then the teacher wanted him to repeat the tedious tasks.  This is the point where Max had had enough and threw the pegs on the floor.

Here is a simple rule for teachers:  Boredom begets Behavior Problems

As a seasoned special education instructor and behavioral therapist, I had to intrude upon what I felt was poor teaching technique.   Plus  the fact that she was upsetting my child...had a lot to do with what I said next.

Me:  "Why are you wanting to continue a task that my son has already mastered?"

Teacher:  "Kids need to be taught that sometimes they have to do things they don't want to do."

Me:  "Yes this is true.  Sometimes Max doesn't want to take a bath or brush his teeth but he still has to do these things because they are important for hygiene and personal health. But why is it important that he keep putting pegs into a board?  How is this functional?"

Teacher:  "It is important that children with autism learn a routine."

Me:  "Yes everyone needs to learn certain routines but they need to serve a purpose and be functional.  Have you assessed Max on what he does and does not know?  Why begin with a task he already knows how to do?"

Teacher:  "This is just what we do.  All the kids start off this way."

It was then that I began to wonder who had more autistic traits, Max or his teacher.  She was locked into some rigid routine that she could not see her way out of or understand why she was doing it in the first place.

I wondered how many parents actually asked why a certain task or lesson was being taught. 

Here are a few questions to ask about any learning experience for your child:

  • Why are we doing this?  What is the end goal of this task?

  • Is this task or learning experience functional?  Is it going to help my child become more independent?  Is it a building block for further learning?

  • Has my child been properly assessed to find out what he or she can already do? This way we are not wasting time teaching things my child already can do. is not for everyone.
Of course we would love to hear from you.  Have you ever had the experience of having a teacher or therapist under estimate your child's abilities due to his or her diagnosis?  Tell us all about it!  We are here to listen.

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