'No Pressure Learning' by Jenny Lockwood continued

HorseBoyPrimeNumbers

Let me give you an example. Rowan has recently been learning about prime numbers. He took on board very quickly the concept of a prime number and we played games and did activities around identifying prime numbers. But when a friend asked him directly whether 5 was a prime number he couldn’t answer. Even though earlier that day we had discovered together that 5 was a prime number and he was excited about it and confident in that knowledge.
For this reason when we teach children with autism we always introduce a new topic or concept slowly without, at first, expecting any feedback from the child at all. Instead we simply talk about the concept in the presence of the child whilst also partaking in an activity that the child enjoys. When the child feels ready they will voluntarily begin to take a more active role in the conversation.
We also never directly test the child. Direct testing automatically puts pressure on someone. Rowan’s fear of failure is so strong that rather than risk getting the answer wrong he shuts down. Sometimes he even says ‘I’m not answering that.’
So how do we ensure that the child has taken something on board without eliciting this response?
We either wait for the child to voluntarily confirm that they know something by talking about it or do what we call stealth testing. Let’s go back to the prime number example. Instead of asking Rowan directly what a prime number is or whether a certain number is a prime number I invented a game which involved cardboard cut outs of his favorite cartoon characters so that he was motivated to take part in it. Each of the cartoon characters was assigned a different number and together we separated them into two piles, one for the prime number characters and the other for the composite number characters. I then ‘ruined’ his numbers by mixing the piles up and when he sorted them back out correctly I knew he had gotten it.
We call this technique ‘drop it, do it, confirm it’ and have found that if we follow these rules and tailor everything we are doing to the child’s interest then we can teach everything from letters and numbers to advanced topics such as learning equations and cell structure. To find out more please visit our website at www.horseboyworld.com or email jenny@horseboyworld.com.

'No Pressure Learning' by Jenny Lockwood

Caroline’s Commentary: Here is another approach to teaching children with autism without pressure from Jenny Lockwood from the New Trails School in Texas.

As I haven’t written anything for this blog for a while I thought I would start by reintroducing myself. My name is Jenny Lockwood and I am the education director of an organization called The Horse Boy Foundation. The Horse Boy Foundation was founded by Rupert Isaacson, an autism dad, whose son Rowan learned to communicate on the back of a horse. The book and movie of this story, both entitled ‘The Horse Boy’, are readily available on Netflix and Amazon. Rupert began inviting other autism families out to spend time with his horses and soon discovered that what worked for Rowan seemed to work for other kids on the spectrum as well. We now work with children all over the world and train other horse practitioners in the methods that Rupert discovered. We also train parents, teachers and schools to work more effectively with children with autism in the home or classroom by setting up an autism friendly environment (preferably outside in nature), allowing the child to move and tailoring everything to the child’s passions and interests.

One of the cornerstones of our method is to never put pressure on a child. Research shows that if a person feels under too much pressure this can cause stress and the production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released by the amygdala in response to threat and it causes one of three reactions in the body: flight, fight or freeze. Children on the autism spectrum have an overactive amygdala which means that their bodies are often flooded with cortisol in response to seemingly benign situations that they have identified as a threat. It therefore follows suit that children with autism are also much more likely to produce cortisol when under pressure and it is this that causes them to shut down in response to that pressure. Exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

HorseBoycortisol

Part 2 of No Pressure Learning coming…
To find out more please visit our website at www.horseboyworld.com or email jenny@horseboyworld.com.

The Creative Art Adventures Club is happening!

Caroline’s Commentary:

In spite of the severe cold and heaps of snow we have had a great beginning to the Creative Art Adventures Club in the winter of 2014.  Here are a few of the children’s paintings from the first club.  We use large sheets of 4′ x 5 ‘ paper taped to the wall which gives them lots of their own space to move freely as they are painting.  These young artists are 5 and 6 years old painting with their parent or support worker.

Braeden'sPainting1Brenden'sPainting2Myah'sPainting1MyahPainting2