How Common-Core Education Does Not Work for Children with Autism

You have probably heard a lot about "Common Core" education in the news, since it is something President-elect Donald Trump supposedly wants to remove from schools. If you have children in school right now, you may even be familiar with some of the Common-Core practices in math and reading. This is a very different approach to learning what you learned in school, and while it may work for some children, it does not work for all. High-functioning children with autism or Asperger's have a very difficult time with this, and here is how it does not work for them.

Learning Differences

Children all learn differently. It has long been documented that adults and children alike have learning differences. Some are fast learners, and some are slow. Some learn by sight or hearing while others learn by touch or by doing. For high-functioning children on the spectrum, learning strategies can be all of the above all at once, but you have to slow down the input, or else they become quite overwhelmed. Additionally, most high-functioning people with autistism are logic based or literal in their thinking, and that means that many of the techniques of Common Core are too abstract for them.

Reverting to "Old School" Education for Children with Autism

As an example, you have to understand that Common Core math requires that a child break down sets of numbers in ways that are more complicated than the straightforward math you had in school. "Ones" are represented by squares, and "tens" are represented by "tens sticks." (Variations on the symbols used to represent tens, ones, hundreds, and even thousands are influenced by the teacher's decision to use these methods.) To the child with ASD, this makes very little sense because the representations are neither literal nor concrete. For them, it is far easier to reintroduce the columns method of ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands when showing addition, subtraction, and multiplication. The "old-school" methods of learning math make sense to them because they are concrete and literal and represent math facts that are not as abstract.

Adapting the Lessons—or Not

The biggest problem with Common Core is that this is the way teachers fresh from college are expected to teach. The school districts dictate how these core subjects are taught, thereby tying the teachers' hands (i.e., teachers cannot teach another way because the district dictates how things will be taught). The teachers usually do know alternate methods and approaches, but they are often not allowed to teach methods other than those of Common Core.

Furthermore, teachers cannot adapt their lessons to teach another way to children with ASD unless doing so is in the children's IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans. So children with autism are often frustrated by what they are supposed to be learning versus what makes sense to them. As a parent, you can use what you know to help your child with his or her schoolwork at home, and then the school can try to integrate their tools at school, at least or until Common Core is removed from public school teaching.