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Montessori & Special Needs

After learning about Autism and pondering on the Montessori Method I believe, though I do not have proof, that many of the children Montessori worked with had autism. I think this First, because the type of children put in asylums in the early 1900’s were children with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities that no one knew how to handle at that time. Second, because of the way the Method meets the needs of autistic children.

E.M Standing says in his book “Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work” on page 28 “Soon after graduating Dr. Montessori was appointed assistant doctor at the Psychiatric Clinic in the University of Rome. Part of her duty, in this connection, was to visit subjects for the clinic. It was in this way that she was led to take an interest in idiot children, who, at that period, were classed together with the insane.”

This is where she developed her method. Building on equipment and theories of Edouard S├ęguin, Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, and Jacob Rodriguez Periera 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.

On page 30 E.M Standing states, “Under her skillful direction the inferior mentality of these defective children (hitherto classed with the hopeless lunatics) developed to a remarkable and unexpected extent. Such indeed was her success that a number of idiot children from the asylums learned to read and write so well that they were able to present themselves with success at a public examination taken together with normal children.

A chorus of applause greeted this seeming miracle; but Dr. Montessori’s reflections took another course. “Whilst everyone was admiring my idiots I was searching for the reasons which could keep back the healthy and happy children of the ordinary schools on so low a plane that they could be equaled in tests of intelligence by unfortunate pupils.”

Maria Montessori wondered what would happen if this same method were used with “Normal” children what would happen 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.

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

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