Kamila Kaczmarczyk has graduated from the English Unlimited Teacher Training College, under the academic care of University of Gdańsk, Poland. At present she is working as an English teacher at the state school and doing her MA in English Philology at the University of Gdansk, Poland. E-mail: email@example.com
Case study: Kamil- an autistic boy
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Nowadays, nearly every classroom contains an amount of learners who are faced with a physical, educational or emotional disabilities. A good teacher should be able to teach those students efficaciously and make the learning achievable and successful. However, it is often considered that second language learning for a child with autism, for example, may throw into confusion person who already has difficulties controlling their mother tongue and that it can dissipate valued time that could be spent more beneficially on teaching 'more significant' skills. Despite this, it is important to provide every possibility to increase and improve the range of learning experiences approachable for these children by incorporating them in a different varieties of activities throughout life. One of these activities is foreign language learning. Moreover, children with special needs should have the same right as other children to experience and enjoy foreign language learning.
Asperger on the basis of his own experience understood how important is the teacher’s attitude to the autistic person. In 1944 he wrote that those children often show amazing sensitivity to the teacher’s personality. We can teach them but only people showing understanding are able to do it. Furthermore, emotional inclination of a teacher has huge influence on the child’s mood and behaviour.
My adventure with Autism started in 2006 when I decided to write my BA thesis concerning this matter. First, I went to the headmaster of primary school number X in Gdynia and asked him for the permission to observe lessons in integrating class. I had a chance to talk to the parent of an autistic boy because she was often present on the lessons. Mother turned out to be a very nice and helpful person. She lent me a lot of books about autism and found time to answer every of my question. We made friends easily and we are still in contact. The teacher was also willing to help. At the first two English lessons I was sitting at the back of the class observing Kamil’s behaviour, reactions and the teacher’s way of conducting the lesson. Then I sat next to Kamil to have a closer look at everything and help him if needed. In this class I could also see how other children with special needs are acting in the school environment. The class included an autistic boy, a girl with Down’s syndrome, a boy with paralysis, one boy slightly mentally handicapped and a boy with ADHD.
Children were using ‘English Adventure 2’. Kamil sometimes responded to the lessons especially when there was a song, chant or a dialogue used. He always waited for the teacher to play a CD player. On some occasions he was impatient and stood up, walked to the CD player to put some track on. The boy often sat at the teacher’s desk during the lesson. The teacher was used to it so she did not make a fuss. Nevertheless, when Kamil was too annoying the teacher walked him to his desk and if it was not effective Kamil’s mother or a supplementary teacher calmed him down. Fixation with particular objects is one of the main features of ASD. In his case it is a strong interest in CD player. The other thing I noticed was that whenever the teacher was showing something Kamil often was pointing at the same thing in his coursebook. When they had a lesson on body parts teacher was naming and showing the parts and the learners were supposed to show and repeat the names. Kamil with little help showed his parts together with the rest of pupils. Additionally, at the lesson there was one activity that Iparticularly liked. Namely, pictures of the parts of the body were fixed to the blackboard and learners came to the board, chose the proper name and stuck it under the picture. This task was well-matched specificallyfor Kamil. Indeed, it is good when autistic people are presented with the image together with the written word. Although the teacher was sharing attention between all children I observed that sometimes Kamil did not know what was going on in the class and that he needed more individual attention and support. During my presence in the classroom I was the person who put Kamil on the right track. He was rather cooperative, for example, when I asked him to repeat certain word he did it. At the time at which Kamil received support he was able to keep up with his peers.
During those observations I familiarized myself with function of integrating classes, problems of children with special needs and adaptation of the school for those kids. Finally, I have learnt the adequate treatment to children with disabilities and the sensitivity which every teacher should possess. I thoroughly approve of the fact that there is a woman who comes at the end of the lesson and takes some disabled children to the canteen, cloak-room, reading-room or to the speech therapist’s office depending on child’s schedule. In my opinion there are still some matters that need consideration, for instance, one supplementary teacher is often not enough for the class with twenty-three pupils.
Case study: Kamil – an autistic boy
Kamil is an eight-year-old boy with autism. He was 1,5 year old when suddenly his speech disappeared. His communication skills vanished all at once. Then the mother noticed the disturbance in the area of social communication., stereotypical behaviours and lack of community adaptability. Other noticeable quality was reluctance to maintain eye contact especially with the strangers and climbing up the furniture to the very top. What is more, his play was schematic and long-lasting. Kamil arranged toys in particular, repetitive sequence. The boy was three when the doctor diagnosed him as having autism. He now uses gestures, words and simple sentences. The boy lacks the interest in his peers. Besides, he is interested in the first place in things afterwards adults and rarely in peers. Kamil has moments during the day when he is reserved, he sometimes makes certain sounds while being in this state. However, generally he is rather responsive and he is definitely not listless and neutral to everything. Furthermore, Kamil speaks when he is motivated and has a good orientation in space. Boy has access to Therapy Dog, Therapeutic Horseback Riding, Music Therapy, Speech Therapy. He went to school at proper time. Kamil has individual tutorials and he attends lessons that he likes with his integrated class at school. Kamil likes Maths, English and he enjoys cut-outs, colours and numbers. He gets pleasure from taking to pieces watches as well. Kamil very quickly mastered the sequence of days, months, seasons and numbers, for example, he learnt multiplication-table in two days. He has a very good intuition of time and orientation in space. Among others Kamil has a good sight perception and manual skills. I must admit that despite of disabilities he can astonish.
It is said that autistic people do not show emotions and are indifferent to hugs and kisses. However, Kamil is rather affectionate whenever he wants a kiss, he raises his head up and shapes his lips in a typical way and waits for the kiss. Once he tried this with me and I had no choice but to kiss him. Moreover, Kamil holds hands while walking and sometimes while sitting. Whereas he rarely hugs somebody.
Whenever I came to him he was particularly interested in my watch. He took it off from my hand many times and exchanged it for his watch. Kamil has strong interest in electronic things that is why he liked the watch. I seized an opportunity to teach him the word ‘watch’. We can use fixations to motivate school work. Attachment to routine is one of the feature of people with ASD. On the contrary, I noticed that Kamil likes diversity in learning. Kamil was subjected to test of intelligence according to Wechsler Intelligence Scale. Most of his abilities are adequate to his age. Mathematical skills above average. Some problems with speech. He has consciousness of speech in his mind but he has some difficulties in expressing things.
I also had the opportunity to carry out a deeper analysis of Kamil’s abilities during our individual English lessons. I was coming to Kamil’s house and altogether we had ten, one- hour lessons. At times lessons lasted shorter because of Kamil’s unforeseen behaviour. At the beginning of every our meeting I was saying: ’hello’, ’How are you?’ to Kamil and I was trying to teach him how to reply to it. It took me quite a long time but I finally made it. Kamil got used to our greeting and was able to answer. First lesson we started by revising few things that he was previously taught at school. I tried to make our lessons colourful, vivid and joyful so that Kamil would associate learning English with pleasant experience. I quickly realised that Kamil likes to count things so we counted crayons and then the spots on the ladybirds in the pictures, etc. Kamil was telling me, for example, how many blue or red crayons he can see. The boy could not create the whole sentence: ’I can see three, green crayons or there are three, green crayons’ but he just answered: ’three’ ,two’, etc. What I also observed is that Kamil easily gets bored with certain things or when he is particularly interested in something he could do it all over again. Thus, I had to be prepared to precede quickly to another activity or else I would lose his attention or he would get a bit nervous and impatient. Sometimes I had little time to present something or carry on with something so I had to use my time effectively. I became aware that I could make Kamil focus on me for a while by showing a picture, some realia to him or use my body language and facial expression.. Something colourful, something that moves or something he could touch appeals to him. Some activities, of course, required much more of my assistance and some not.
I had the possibility of using computer during our lessons due to the fact that Kamil was really enthusiastic about it. During our lessons I also took advantage of ‘Bugs 1’ coursebook by Carol Read and Ana Soberon and the included CD and DVD. From my point of view, the book is great and so wonderfully created for kids. It also contains colourful stickers, flashcard and story cards that Kamil enjoyed as well.
Kamil was very happy to hear the rhymes and to see all those nice pictures that linked the language to the action, helped him to understand and reached into his imagination. We did a bit of drama as well .We listen and mime certain things :’I listen with my ears, I see with my eyes, I smell with my nose, I eat with my mouth’. Later on we watched DVD where funny monsters with five eyes, three noses, four hands, etc. were singing and dancing to the music. That was the best part of the lesson for Kamil. He wanted to watch it several times. Seeing that he participated in it with a smile on his face was rewarding.
Throughout our lessons I also used BBC English course for kids ‘Happy English’. For revising animals I used Happy English CD-ROM. When you click on the certain animal the written word appears above it and the voice says ‘a duck’. From time to time I asked Kamil about the name of the animal before he clicked on it. He was able to mention a few names. Kamil also played a game where after hearing a word he had to click on the appropriate picture. He was often successful in that one.
While we were learning clothes I showed him pictures of clothes with attached word for him to have a visual input together with the written word. The word was bended behind the picture so that Kamil could unfold it. Kamil is a kinesthetic learner that is why I was trying to include some motion into our activities, otherwise Kamil could lose interest with just looking at the pictures. Then Kamil got four posters with children wearing different clothes. Clothes were joined with the bodies by Blu-Tack so we could easily change clothes. Kamil was really absorbed in dressing the children from the poster. Every time we stuck on some new clothes I was saying aloud the name of it. It happened that I did not have to ask Kamil to repeat after me because he did it spontaneously. After that Kamil played clothes bingo. Here we had a problem. At first Kamil started crossing out all the squares at one time. He could not get the instruction. The last activity aims at Kamil telling me all the clothes he learnt at this lesson. He was given pictures to prompt him. I asked him ’What is it?’, ’What is the name of it?’. I was satisfied because Kamil mentioned quite a lot of clothes. He would forget some of them by the next day and he would need a revision but still he made progress.
Another lesson I began by asking a question: ’Kamil, what are you wearing today?’ I made an obvious gestures pointing at my clothes and Kamil’s clothes and translated the question into Polish. To help the boy more I said: ’I’m wearing jeans and blouse.’ Then Kamil replied:’ jumper’. I also wanted him to say trousers so to support him I pointed at his trousers, showed him a picture of one and said :’ trousers’. Kamil repeated that word after me. I taught Kamil the whole sentence: I’m wearing jumper and trousers. I asked the question once again and Kamil with little help was able to articulate the sentence. Later I provided a fruit vocabulary by showing pictures with a written word at the bottom or at the top. As usual Kamil was repeating fruit. Then we went through pictures once more but this time I was asking :’ What fruit can you see in the picture?’ Kamil was a bit distracted and querulous at this lesson. When teaching an autistic child you have to take into consideration mood that seemed to change. I brought my camera once to take some photos to my BA thesis but after this lesson I decided not to bring camera anymore because it completely distracted Kamil’s attention from the lesson and he was constantly taking the camera from me even when I put it in my bag. I let him play with it but later on hid it somewhere else.
For our next meeting. I brought some real fruit to revise with Kamil. This lesson went rather smoothly. Kamil was interested in fruit and happy to touch them. Whenever he held one he was rapidly saying its name. The boy was really absorbed in this activity. Our next activity included drawing fruit. Besides, I brought fruit stickers with names and Kamil had to stick it under appropriate fruit drawn by him. He did it well, however, he can be very stubborn and insisted on playing with the stickers for some time. I did not stop it because he enjoyed doing this and seeing pictures together with written word and moving it all the time could help him to remember it better.
Overall, I think Kamil benefited from our lessons. He did what he is fond of and at the same time learnt and had fun. He communicated with another person not related or close to him and still was able to take advantage of it. The very sense of it is in conveying your knowledge and giving your company to the child that needs it and develops thanks to it. Autistic learners need teachers who know how to be firm but gentle and show agreement with learner’s interests but use new things too. A good teacher puts emphasis on developing the child’s talents. It may be well to add that visual support is important while considering teaching an autistic child because there are many visual thinkers among autistic people. Pictures are their first language and words are their second language. Autistic learners should perceive the company as useful and fun (e.g. pair work, turn taking games). We should also find some quiet place or thing that will calm the child down when he or she is stressed out. Provide something relaxing and reduce stress. It is worth mentioning that we should keep a structured classroom, consider the need for individual space and get the child ready for changes in advance. It is also the teacher’s role to work out tolerance and acceptance for dissimilarity.
All in all, I am really glad that I could carry out such a fascinating research on the development of an autistic child. I got to know his abilities and limitations and I actually influenced his teaching. Kamil’s mother once said to me: ’You added colour to Kamil’s life, he really enjoys your company and reacts so positively to having English lessons with you.’ I must admit that one of the many good things about teaching this autistic boy was his enthusiasm. During this case study I not only gained some knowledge of autism but I also understood special needs children and their parents better. When I first met Kamil I was not sure what to expect. I was not expecting much. I knew that Kamil would not achieve a high level in English but even a small progress made me satisfied and proud of him. English lessons would be continued and I’m sure he would be able to achieve much more because with age his skills are developing too. It is proved that when the child is given a proper special teaching autism is not a huge obstacle in the way to become better at certain things. I realised that teaching English to such kids is not only providing knowledge but also a form of a very positive therapy. Through fun, colorful materials and suitable methods that English learning brings a teacher has a very powerful tool to reach into a child’s mind. Thanks to it an autistic person can benefit significantly and you have the opportunity to develop many important skills that can prove useful at later time. What is more, observing Kamil responding to my teaching makes it really worth trying for me, his mother and for every teacher with true vocation.
All learners deserve a success. A teacher with the responsibility for the achievements of every member of the class, must try to ensure success by setting realistic targets for all children. This means that different children require different learning experiences. If autistic children are to learn successfully, they must believe that the task is worth doing and that they are capable of doing it. Nothing succeeds like success, however modest and we as a teachers should bring up the best of this children. The teachers can use many techniques to succour their learners. Not every autistic child is the same and the teacher has to become familiar with all of them They also need to feel that there is a place for them in the word. Uta Frith (1991: Asperger and his syndrome) wrote that people with ASD have more than a touch of autism to them. ‘See the potential instead of a disability’(2003:Michael Alessandri, broadcast -‘Autism Among Us-Rising Concerns and the Public Health response’). In addition, despite abnormality, individuals are able to fit into their social role, particularly if they feel our sympathy, positive attitude and guidance.
What is more, it is a myth that all autistic children function only in a world of their own. Educators should give them a chance by keeping their brain connected to the world. What we also must remember is that although they are not socially responsive they are not ignoring us they are just autistic. Our smallest support in helping those children to fulfill their dreams and making they life more meaningful is crucial. Autistic children may also be creative and should not be omitted in terms of teaching and reaching for the stars. More importantly, the case study opened my mind to educational needs of those children and touched my heart. At the end I would like to include a poem by a Polish writer M. Zacharski which I translated into English. This poem reflects the message of my work:
Isn’t it so that ants carry mountains
though each one of them only feels the weight
of one grain of sand ?
If my grain
seems small to you
you may sneer at me.
But let me bring it
to the place chosen even though
you carry the rest of the mountain.
For isn’t it true that
a mountain without one grain
is not a mountain
like one grain
does not make a mountain.