Cutest Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why Montessori for children with autism?

Why Montessori?

When ds1 was 3 years old, he developed an interest in letters. He wanted me to sit with him for several hours and day and do flash cards. I could only stand going through the stack of cards twice before I was bored to tears. I was at my wits end and decided that when the next school year started he needed a preschool or I would go insane so I started asking around. None of the schools that my friends put their children in felt right. I can’t explain it. I guess it was because the preschools were all faith based in religions that were not my own. Finally during a discussion one of my friends told me about a Montessori school. I asked her what Montessori was and she explained it to me. It sounded like the school taught the way I felt children learned. I visited the school and after discussing with my husband enrolled my son. I loved the concept and I loved what it did for him, ds2 and ds3. When we moved away I tried to find another Montessori school but in my new area the schools were way too expensive. I regret that ds3 could not continue and ds4 was never able to participate in a Montessori preschool. The preschool learning really helped my oldest 2 excel in school and gave them a self confidence that my second 2 do not seem to have.

After enrolling ds1 in the school, I got to know the teacher. We became friends and I began volunteering at the school. Soon, I wanted to learn the method myself and started a course but could not complete it because my family continued to grow and I found I did not have the time required. Because I have worked in a Montessori school, and because I studied the philosophy and some of the methods, I believe it is an excellent method of teaching children and have long since wondered why the schools keep experimenting with new methods when such and effective method was developed in 1900 and has been proven over the last century any hundreds if not thousands of schools across not only the US but the world. Why do we keep trying to reinvent the wheel?

I asked my niece, a high school history and Spanish teacher what she thought about the Montessori Method. I cannot quote her exactly because it has been too long. This is what I remember. She said that kids that came from Montessori schools had a hard time conforming to the schedule of the school and the teachers. She felt they were undisciplined. This is the same problem the school is having with ds5. He refuses to do his work and to move from place to place on their schedule. I wonder how necessary it is to teach are children to move from here to there at the same time and to do what a teacher says when they say it. People do need to respect authority and rules. Montessori teaches freedom within limits. The equipment most be used properly and children are taught how to show respect for others and their work. I am not sure that what my niece says is a detriment. I have to admit not knowing a lot about the Montessori Method after preschool but what I have read seems that the children are taught to work in groups on projects which is what most of the work world is doing. Or at least it is what my husband is doing and team building seems to extremely important.

But these are not the reasons why Montessori.

Before Maria Montessori opened her first Children’s House she worked with children in an “asylum.” This is where she developed her method. Building on equipment and theory available at the time she experimented with new methods of teaching “mentally deficient” children. Her equipment was originally designed to teach children who could not learn in a regular classroom. Several eight year old boys who were considered “deficient” passed standardized test after learning through her method.

Maria Montessori wondered what would happen if this same method were used with “Normal” children what would happen and since “deficient” children were considered behind in age she presented her method to preschool children. After some modifications, (She took out some of the steps) the children did extremely well and Montessori schools were started in many areas and many are open today.

Maria Montessori has already creative and effective way to teach both “normal” children and children with disabilities. Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?

After learning about Autism and pondering on the Montessori Method I believe, though I have not proof, that many of the children Montessori worked with had autism. Why do I think this? First of all, because the type of children put in asylums in the early 1900’s were children with autism, down syndrome and other disabilities that know one knew how to handle at that time. Secondly, the method itself speaks volumes to me. Let me explain.

Children with autism almost always have sensory issues. This is addressed in the sensorial portion of the classroom. Equipment in the sensorial section is designed to education the senses. Much of this equipment can help desensitize autistic children to their special sensory difficulties.

Children with autism have difficulty with self-help skills. The practical life section of a Montessori classroom helps with this area giving the child many opportunities to practice self-help skills.

Children with autism have difficulty with abstract thought. Montessori teaches from the concrete to the abstract. The mathematical equipment shows the step by step process of moving from the concrete manipulative to the abstract of numbers.

Children with autism have difficulty with learning a whole concept. The Montessori equipment for writing has every stroke of writing broken down into shapes which the children trace until they perfect their ability to make the stroke. Then writing comes naturally. Montessori took larger things and broke them down into their step by step processes.

Children with autism often have trouble building vocabulary. Montessori equipment is designed to increase vocabulary. One little girl started at the Montessori school in which I volunteered at 5 years old. She could not speak. After working with the sound buckets (cylinders with a letter on the outside and objects that start with that sound on the inside) her vocabulary increased dramatically.

Families have difficulty exposing children with autism to many varied environments (this comes from experience. It is a nightmare to take my child anywhere.). Montessori curriculum is about different places, people, and environments. Montessori classrooms have animals of different species (bird, reptile, mammal, fish etc.). They have different environments (garden, indoor, outdoor, terrariums, etc.)

Children with autism need to repeat things over and over. Montessori curriculum allows for repeating activities. A wise and observant directress will slowly add steps to the repetitive behavior increasing the difficulty of the task until the equipment is being used to its fullest. Then, when all that can be learned has been, the directress will redirect to a new task expanding the child’s world.

Children with autism have difficulty with social skills. Montessori curriculum includes introducing people, being introduced, how to ask someone to do their work, and other social skills. As the children get older they are put into groups that work together. This builds social skills. My hope would be that “normal” children as well as disabled children would be in class together.

The Montessori Method automatically individualizes the education to the specific needs of each child.

When I tried to research what the Montessori high school was, it had something to do with a farm. Children with autism often identify with animals and vice versa.

Why Montessori? Because the Montessori Method was created to educate special needs children. Some modifications would be required. The Toronto School for Autism uses ABA’s backward chaining model and discrete trial. I believe this probably puts back the steps that were taken out when the method was revised for “normal” children. Because the method is so individualized, mainstreaming would be much easier in a Montessori school then in public schools. Using PECS communication and scheduling would also be helpful. Using the teach method for those who need that kind of structure can easily be included. Using floortime to get into the child’s world and bring him into ours would also be possible.

My opinion is that it fits much better then what I see in the public school system now.

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