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Mitch is a primary one student who demonstrates a set of unusual behavior. He has special educational needs and needs to see a speech therapist (Weybright, 2016). This essay will first analysis what special educational need he has, then find out the causes of his special educational need, and finally propose possible intervention strategies that can help Mitch in relieving the problem, with clear suggestions on what parties should what in the whole-school-approach implementation of the strategies.
Analysis on Mitch’s educational need
According to Tsang & Bong (2016), the characteristics of an autistic person can be grouped into 4 categories, namely ‘[difficulties in] social interaction and communication’, ‘social cognition deficits’, ‘repetitive patterns of behavior [or] interests or activities’, ‘hyper[sensitive] or hyposensitive to certain sensory stimuli’ (p.8-11). Mitch possesses autistic characteristics from all the above four realms. For example, Mitch has difficulty in using eye contact, which is a kind of difficulty in social interaction and communication. Mitch also has trouble understanding another person’s point of view, as he does not know that keep on talking about his own interests would make others feel bad. This is a kind of social cognition deficit. Another characteristic that Mitch possess is that he stays on conversational topic of own interest only, as he talks only about farm tractors and the carved images at Mt. Rushmore. This is a kind of repetitive pattern of interests. Mitch is able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time, such as the details about farm tractors, which qualifies as ‘hypersentivity to certain sensory stimuli’.
Cause of Mitch’s Conversation Monopoly: Theory of Mind Deficits
ASD children often only look at the surface of a behavior made by others rather than mentalizing it (Frith, 1989). They have disability in understanding what mental state a person is in by observing the others’ verbal or non-verbal language (Baron-Cohen, 1995). Even though the speech therapist Mitch was talking to may have more or less shown signs of bore or annoyance, Mitch continued to talk in his area of interests and failed listen to the words of the speech therapist because he cannot mentalize the signs. Without knowing that the person Mitch was talking is bored, he cannot realize that he was being rude by monopolizing the speech, thus making him fewer and fewer friends, and eventually do not like playing with children. This can also explain why Mitch has trouble making eye contact with others, as inability to read facial expressions renders him unable to realize that he is being rude by not making eye contact.
Cause of Mitch’s Conversation Monopoly and Attention Problem: Executive Functioning Deficits
ASD children often have deficits in Executive Functioning skills. Welsh and Pennington (1988) notes that there are three components in Executive Functioning, which is ‘an intention to inhibit a response or to defer it to a later more appropriate time’, ‘a strategic plan of action sequences’ and ‘a mental representation of the task, including the relevant stimulus information encoded in memory’. Without the ability to establish the intention to inhibit of defer an action, the self-regulatory competence of ASD patients is largely reduced. This explains why Mitch fails to control his impulse to talk continuously on his subjects of interest. Because of ASD students’ disability to encode relevant information needed for a task into short-term memory, without working memory, they can hardly be attentive to what is going on in a complex task. This explains why Mitch was described as ‘quite distractable’ (Weybright, 2016).
Cause of Mitch’s Speech Impairment: Information Processing Deficits
The reason why Mitch cannot use appropriate words can be explained in terms of information processing. ASD children can excel in acquiring procedural knowledge (how to do something) while they can be weak in acquiring declarative knowledge (knowing that something is the case) (Twachtman-Cullen, 2010; Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, 1985). This is because ASD patients are usually weak in abstract operations of thinking, a skill which understanding declarative knowledge often require (Twachtman-Cullen, 2010). Mitch is able to use right grammar and syntax but unable to use the right choice of words because the former is more a kind of procedural knowledge in forming a sentence, while the latter requires abstract thinking in understanding the social context, which is a kind of declarative knowledge.
Besides weakness in abstract thinking, ASD learners also encounter difficulties in assimilation. It is also difficult for ASD patients to accept the fact that one word may have more than one meaning (Twachtman-Cullen, 2010). When they encounter the same words again but with a different usage, they may not assimilate the new meaning into the existing knowledge of the word (Twachtman-Cullen, 2010). Mitch’s failure in using appropriate words can be due to learning disability in acquiring the second meaning of a word, which largely limits Mitch’s vocabulary bank and thus resort to using other not-as-appropriate words.
Intervention strategies: Social stories
Counsellor in schools can provide social story interventions to Mitch so that he would remember to listen to the others, keep eye contact with the person he is communicating with and keep being attentive to an activity for a long time. Such stories should be customized so that they are told from the perspective of Mitch, in order to make the stories more easily understood by Mitch (Gray, 1996). Such social stories should be told with visual cues such as illustrations and photos in order to enhance the effectiveness for Mitch to comprehend it. If it is too expensive to hire a counsellor, it is also feasible for the student to read the story on their own, given that there is computer technology that can display such stories. Hagiwara (1998) created a multimedia social story programme for ASD students that can be used in Mitch’s case.
Intervention strategies: Vocabulary Labels
Teaching assistants can help placing labels within the campus to help Mitch develop the vocabulary bank. Even though Mitch cannot use the appropriate words to indicate certain meanings, it would be very helpful in assisting Mitch’s vocabulary learning if teachers and schoolmates can help point at the correct word when Mitch use the wrong words again. This strategy can also be implemented in Mitch’s home, given that parental support is provided. Visual cues benefits autistic children a lot, as suggested by Friend (2005).
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