My Agenda – Your Agenda

Many children with a label of Autism find it difficult to follow and maintain conversations which are not on their own personal agenda. This can hinder the building of friendships and school-based learning. Ben is a 7 year old boy with excellent vocabulary, no friends and reportedly “always doing his own thing” in the classroom. I describe the ideas that came out a consultation with his teachers and parents.

Request for Help


Today I was asked for help by Ben’s head teacher. Ben ( not his real name) is a 7 year old boy who finds it difficult to relate to others in his class and concentrate. Consultation with his teachers revealed that one of this boy’s traits was that he often failed to follow instructions and preferred to do his own thing.

The Assessment

When I met Ben, I saw what they meant by this. He was more than happy to talk to me, but whenever I asked him a question he would preface his response with, “Well, actually….” and then launch into a stream of consciousness that had only a light reference to the question I had asked. As this boy appeared to have a good vocabulary, I asked him if he knew what the word “agenda” meant. Indeed he did and proceeded to tell me about the Agenda tool of Microsoft Outlook.

I asked Ben what I would mean if I suggested we chat and follow “your agenda”. He said that it would be his choice of conversation and topic and that he would decide when to start and stop talking. He could also describe what it would be like if we talked to “my agenda”. From then on, whenever he wandered off the point, I would tap the table and say, “My agenda please” which he enjoyed and which made him laugh, but focus to such a point that he asked, “What was the question again?”. The reason I tried out this tactic was that the notion of “doing his own thing” was too nebulous a concept, and I was looking for a shorthand way of labelling the problem/outcome in such a way that Ben and the adults had a shared understanding of the concept and so that he could self-assess his own talking both socially and in lessons.

Joint Home-School Consultation

I mentioned this to his teachers and parents and they liked the idea. They thought that the idea of “My agenda – your agenda” could be used more widely that just talking and could be a short hand way of saying that at this place and time it is the teacher’s rules or instructions that are to be followed.

Ben’s teacher thought that she might write down the teaching objective under the heading “My agenda” and sometimes let Ben know that the lesson was “his agenda” when the class were given free choice over writing topic, project etc.

Record-keeping

I think that Ben’s teacher’s current strategies are excellent, but needed a baseline measure against which to evaluate progress. We decided to combine self-assessment with recording progress and Ben’s Learning Mentor will be meeting with Ben initially on a daily basis to ask him to rate himself out of 5 on the following points:

  • Getting a balance between my own agenda and that of my teacher
  • Helping other children
  • Showing interest in other children and their work ( maybe giving compliments)
  • Concentration

Progress

Watch this space for news of how Ben gets on……

Now read: Brain Chemistry

Misbehaving on the School Bus

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