For the past week,  my brain has been completely occupied with autism education. What are we going to do with my kid with high functioning autism? Do I keep him in an autism programs or do I throw him in the deep-end? Ugh. I don’t know the right thing to do.

At the same time, asperger’s or high functioning autism, has been much in the press lately due to a boycott of the Autism Speaks and Susan Boyle’s announcement that she has Asperger’s. As a blogger, I should talk about it. But as a parent, I’m a little wrung out at the moment. Some links from Andrew Sullivan and Alyssa,

I love Parenthood.

25 thoughts on “Tenacious

    1. I wonder if J’s school is some sort of science magnet, because on second thought, Java programming is kind of exotic as a high school subject.

      You might want to check in with KB.


      1. Students study Java for AP Computer Science A. There is currently no AP Computer Science B.

        So, it’s not exotic. I guess any other computer science language would be exotic these days.


      2. Cranberry said:

        “Students study Java for AP Computer Science A. There is currently no AP Computer Science B.”

        That’s interesting. I had heard that there is way less programming and electronics taught in high school today than there was say 30 years ago.

        “U.S. students already significantly lag their global counterparts where math and science skills are concerned. But computer science is in even worse shape: Of 12 technical subjects examined in a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, computer science was the only one that declined in student popularity from 1990 to 2009 (p. 49).

        “Last year, just 1.4 percent of high school AP students took the computer science exam, compared to almost 40 percent that took exams in English. Far more students took AP exams in Spanish language,”



      3. AmyP: Is it a problem of student demand, or a problem of teacher supply? How many people who understand computer science well enough to teach it to students, who also have the great communication skills all teachers need, are willing to teach high school?

        I keep reading of college students who decide not to finish a college degree, because they don’t need a degree to work. So, a computer science major can find a job even before graduation; if he/she wants to teach, there are more hoops to jump through, including tuition for further coursework and licensing, the pay is potentially lower, if more secure, and the subject is not (yet) regarded as essential, thus it may be hard to find a school which needs a computer science teacher. This, although it would be in the nation’s best interest to provide high school students with an introduction to computer science, a vocational skill which doesn’t need specialized equipment.


  1. I’m intrigued by the idea that student council elections and middle school might have changed enough that Max could win a MS election.

    I’m dismiss it as convenient story-telling in Parenthood, except that I’ve recently heard of a real life kid, who does not fit the MS stereotype of popularity, especially for boys, who has had success in MS elections. I feel like it’s possible that middle-schoolers, at least in some communities (the real-life case I know of is in the Bay area) competence and well-thought out ideas are getting more play than the standard popularity & humor i associate with MS elections from my MS years.


  2. I teach Computer Science, and in fact, it’s Computer Science Education Week this week. Check out code.org for more info.

    While CS is a good place for kids on the autism spectrum, it’s increasingly becoming a more collaborative environment. Many of the upper level jobs require you to work in groups, be able to communicate effectively with people at varying levels of CS understanding, and often present work to those higher up. Entrepreneurship is popular among CS people, but you need good people skills for that. There are, of course, still quite a few programming jobs where you’re hammering out code, but that’s changing.

    There are many problems with CS education right now. One, it often doesn’t count toward grad requirements (as say, a math or science). Students are reluctant to use up an elective for something that’s harder than basket weaving. That leads to low demand for courses, which leads to low demand for teachers. Also, if you’re good at programming, you’re going to go get your near six figure starting salary rather than start at $40 or $50k for a teaching job where, due to lack of demand, you might be canned the following year. That leads to a lack of supply of teachers and we’re back in the circle again.

    I just did a study of the schools around me, both public and private, and most are offering at least on CS course, usually Java-based (because of the AP exam, which is changing in a couple of years to a more concept-based exam). But reports are that there is low enrollment in those classes, with many running as independent study classes for 1 or 2 students.

    My enrollment is also pretty low, but it’s up this year. I have 11 students in CS I and 10 in Physical Computing, which involves electronics as well as programming. That’s about what the Latin classes get.

    /stepping off podium


    1. I’ll just add to this that a lot of the coding is getting offshored. While I think there will be lots of jobs for entrepreneurs (think app development) and people who can interface between users/requirements and builders, the pure play programming jobs seem to be going to where labour is cheaper. Programming feels like the auto manufacturing of the future. Although I might just be particularly dark about it since my spouse is in IT and I’m in media and I feel like we’re both effectively typesetters at the dawn of computing.


    2. Geekymom said:

      “I teach Computer Science, and in fact, it’s Computer Science Education Week this week. Check out code.org for more info.”

      We (meaning my husband with moral support from me and Baby T) just did an Hour of Code event for 12 kids at school (primarily 5th and 6th graders, including about 5 girls, I think). The online tutorials went very well, although I’m really glad we managed to provide head phones for everybody, as it would otherwise have been loud.

      My husband used our kids as guinea pigs for the tutorials over Thanksgiving break to figure out pacing and which grades to invite (it was initially pretty rough on the 3rd grader when he was trying to work on it by himself).


  3. The comment about CS and the spectrum strikes me as something that’s important for any model and the spectrum (or actually any particular kid). Coding might be the right mental stimulation for one kid on the specturm while it’s a bad fit for another kid. And outsiders often make incorrect assumptions about what the work entails (back in my day, it was people saying “you like science? are you thinking of becoming a doctor?” without really understanding what science was or what a particular child might find rewarding about science. I think CS is being sold as the same kind of answer for a variety of types of people (without understanding what the work of CS actually entails these days and what kinds of jobs there are in the field and what skills they require).


  4. I think the more unique a child’s pattern of talents and weaknesses is, the less useful the general advice is. People with more even skills manage the skills they are weaker in, if they’re necessary for the job (as an example, a lot of doctors & patient interaction — more and more, doctors have to learn those skills, and I’ve seen a series of introverted science geeks learn them, methodically, when they were needed).

    if those individuals were significantly impaired in particular skills (and can’t pick them up as needed, if necessary), the fit between the work and the person is more specialized, making the general advice less useful.


  5. @JennG, coding work was getting offshored in great volumes ten years ago. These days, it’s often staying onshore because there are so many issues with responsiveness when working with an offshore team. It’s just slow going, and ripe for misinterpretation. Many Agile projects try to avoid offshored coding, and Agile is more popular than ever.

    My own consulting firm would probably hire 5-6 developers right now if we could find more kids whose college education included actual coding and DB fundamentals (as opposed to just the “cool” UI and entrepreneurship classes). And I absolutely agree with Geekymom about the robustness of the marketplace leading to difficulty in finding CS teachers. Honestly many people seem to go into CS teaching almost as an evangelism thing, vs. viewing it as one of many standard options for a programmer. They take a huge pay cut and often have worse working conditions. Although at least their weekend and evening schedules are more controllable.

    Put it all together and I continue to wonder why we don’t do overt apprenticeships with coding? Just imagine how much better a kid with Asperger’s would fare with an apprenticeship approach vs. classroom learning.


    1. jen said:

      “Put it all together and I continue to wonder why we don’t do overt apprenticeships with coding? Just imagine how much better a kid with Asperger’s would fare with an apprenticeship approach vs. classroom learning.”

      That is a very good idea.

      Remember that guy in Denmark?

      “German software giant SAP has partnered with Specialisterne to help it find, recruit and train people with autism to work as programmers, data quality assurance specialists and product testers.”

      “Specialisterne offer a five-month assessment program where candidates go through different exercises, tasks and work situations. Specialisterne Denmark also operates a three-year education program for young adults with autism and similar challenges, such as ADD, ADHD, OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome.”



  6. “Put it all together and I continue to wonder why we don’t do overt apprenticeships with coding?”

    why not? If you really need more programmers, why not start an apprenticeship program? Why aren’t the companies that need programmers doing that? The NY times had an article about factory apprenticeships based on the German model: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/business/where-factory-apprenticeship-is-latest-model-from-germany.html?_r=0.

    Why not coding apprenticeships? And, I think I mean that as an non-rhetorical question — why aren’t companies doing it?

    I can imagine a few barriers 1) training duties — factories might need 60 people, who can be a class at the factory; needing 5 coders might not provide the basis for cost-effective training 2) difficulty identifying the desired population of students, and preferring that colleges do the id’ing for them. 3) difficulty retaining trained apprentices — who jump ship once trained. 4) cost-benefit analysis — the incentives required to draw the talented population — say college scholarships and the like — too high for the payback.


  7. Yes, that guy in Denmark is fantastic. I’ve been keeping an eye on his firm closely.

    Right now, there is almost zero knowledge about how to integrate kids with high functioning autism into a traditional school. You want to know the options that they showed me this week? One was a classroom that was half the size of a traditional classroom. In it were squeezed six middle school boys and six adults. The boys were much lower functioning than Ian. Couldn’t tell time and were still working on basic math facts. Very sweet but not appropriate peers.

    The other classroom was in another school for kids with a huge variety of learning differences, so definitely no autistic-specific learning plan. This physical space was also depressing – dusty, small, cluttered. In a corner of the school. The teacher, for some reason, had hung up a six foot picture of herself in the room. There was no plan of how to integrate the special ed kids into the life of the school. No after school activities aimed at them. It was all about squeezing square pegs into round holes.

    The case manager basically told me that I had to take one of those two options, because the alternative was a private school where he would be endangered by kids with behavior problems.


    1. The man’s firm is going to be working with the Denmark guy to hire people on the spectrum at his firm. Met with him a few weeks ago. Supah cool idea.


    2. At this point, you might want to just find a small private school and hope for the best. It can’t be worse than what you’ve just described. My kid’s psychologist is a big fan of Montessori for autism spectrum children, but that’s probably harder to find at the upper grade levels. My oldest didn’t need as much intervention as Ian did when she was little, but she did need a lot of patience and forbearance, and we’ve done very well by keeping her in a small private school with classes of no more than about 14. Every adult in the building knows who she is and if all goes well, she’ll never have to be a little fish swimming in the vast middle school shoals.

      As I recall from reading Temple Grandin’s Emergence, small classes and small schools made a huge difference to her (as I recall, she did well in a small private elementary, poorly in a large private middle school, and best of all in a very small private boarding high school). The huge modern middle school is just so vast that it’s not a good scene for anybody, least of all a kid with disabilities.


  8. Our school district just opened a Math and Science Academy for high school and the word on the street is that it’s “spectrum-friendly.” (This applies to both the students and the staff, which makes life interesting.)
    Is there a specialized math/science program that might be appropriate for your son — if not for middle school than maybe for high school?


Comments are closed.