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Teaching writing to a teen on the spectrum--please advise


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I am tutoring writing and one of my students is a senior with some issues. His mother has referred to this only in passing to me. I *think* he is "on the spectrum" mildly, and I *think* he has mild auditory processing issues???? My dd was in a class with him and thought he was uncommunicative and remote, though she got along fine with him and liked him well enough.

 

Much of my tutoring is done through email. I am not sure if he's not reading my emails thoroughly or if he is having difficulty with that medium of communication. His responses to me and paragraph assignments are often quite minimal, and his assignments so far have missed important parts.

 

I have yet to meet with him face to face, but am doing so in a few days.

 

I have taught other SN kids before, but they were actually pretty good at writing, so it wasn't that big a deal. I had one student who is bipolar and NVLD--he and I got along really well, and email communications were easy between us. I had two other students whose mothers told me they had special needs but did not specifically tell me what. Both kids were warm and could connect with me, and I was able to figure out at what level to tutor them. I feel at more of a loss with this new student, though, as I feel our written communication isn't flowing as I'd like.

 

I'm looking for some general tips on interacting successfully with him. Thanks.

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Many ASD kids are very literal thinkers. Abstract just cannot be done. You may want to present him with concrete things. Things that he can see, perhaps touch, and read about. Then have him write. I would guess that creative writing would be extremely difficult for him. My son cannot even do imaginary play so coming up with a creative story on his own would be impossible.

 

Or you could ask her what he's learning in history or science or perhaps ask him a subject he likes and then write about that. Many ASD persons do have fine motor issues so I would not expect his actual writing to be neat. A computer seems to work very well instead. If you ever feel he isn't 'hearing' you show him pictures instead and then write a descriptive essay.

 

In addition, as an educator and caring person I would encourage you to speak to her about having him tested. There is therapy and treatment that can help in many different areas (auditory, OT, etc).

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Many ASD kids are very literal thinkers. Abstract just cannot be done. You may want to present him with concrete things. Things that he can see, perhaps touch, and read about. Then have him write. I would guess that creative writing would be extremely difficult for him. My son cannot even do imaginary play so coming up with a creative story on his own would be impossible.

 

Or you could ask her what he's learning in history or science or perhaps ask him a subject he likes and then write about that. Many ASD persons do have fine motor issues so I would not expect his actual writing to be neat. A computer seems to work very well instead. If you ever feel he isn't 'hearing' you show him pictures instead and then write a descriptive essay.

 

In addition, as an educator and caring person I would encourage you to speak to her about having him tested. There is therapy and treatment that can help in many different areas (auditory, OT, etc).

 

This is not a creative writing class. It's college prep essay writing. The assignments are not personal in any way but rather factual and argumentative.

 

All assignments are emailed to me, so they are all typed.

 

His assignments tend to be short with no capital letters at all. I think he doesn't bother with capitals because a lot of people emailing or on the internet do not bother with capital letters. However, my repeated instructions (via email) to use proper capitalization, punctuation, and grammar seem to be falling on deaf ears as the assignments all look the same when I get them.

 

His mom is really lovely, so I trust we'll figure this out one way or the other. I just feel somewhat at a loss because he is different from the other sn kids that have come across my path.

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This is not a creative writing class. It's college prep essay writing. The assignments are not personal in any way but rather factual and argumentative.

 

All assignments are emailed to me, so they are all typed.

 

His assignments tend to be short with no capital letters at all. I think he doesn't bother with capitals because a lot of people emailing or on the internet do not bother with capital letters. However, my repeated instructions (via email) to use proper capitalization, punctuation, and grammar seem to be falling on deaf ears as the assignments all look the same when I get them.

 

His mom is really lovely, so I trust we'll figure this out one way or the other. I just feel somewhat at a loss because he is different from the other sn kids that have come across my path.

Are you more specific than "proper capitalization, punctuation and grammar"? It can be very difficult to teach such concepts to persons with language processing problems. You might ask his mom to see if he's had problems with grammar and punctuation previously. The problem may not just be his e-mailing or texting "style"--he may really not know what you are asking him to do.

 

If the problems is that he doesn't know what proper capitalization etc. is, you could address the grammar problems in smaller chunks. "Read over your work and make sure each sentence starts with a capital and ends with punctuation." Next e-mail, compliment whatever errors he correctly identified and corrected, then help direct him to find more errors to correct, like capitalizing proper nouns, etc. If his problems are bad enough to keep him from progressing in the class, maybe you ask him to run his work through a grammar check program before submitting it.

 

Aside from poor punctuation and such, how are the ideas in his work? Can you offer him some type of encouragement with his writing and find something good to say by separating his poor grammar from his ideas?

Edited by merry gardens
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Are you more specific than "proper capitalization, punctuation and grammar"? It can be very difficult to teach such concepts to persons with language processing problems. You might ask his mom to see if he's had problems with grammar and punctuation previously. The problem may not just be his e-mailing or texting "style"--he may really not know what you are asking him to do.

 

If the problems is that he doesn't know what proper capitalization etc. is, you could address the grammar problems in smaller chunks. "Read over your work and make sure each sentence starts with a capital and ends with punctuation." Next e-mail, compliment whatever errors he correctly identified and corrected, then help direct him to find more errors to correct, like capitalizing proper nouns, etc. If his problems are bad enough to keep him from progressing in the class, maybe you ask him to run his work through a grammar check program before submitting it.

 

Aside from poor punctuation and such, how are the ideas in his work? Can you offer him some type of encouragement with his writing and find something good to say by separating his poor grammar from his ideas?

 

Thanks--definitely food for thought here. I'll talk to his mom.

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This is not a creative writing class. It's college prep essay writing. The assignments are not personal in any way but rather factual and argumentative.

 

 

This may not be on target but here are a few ideas...

 

Some students with ASD struggle with SAT type questions that are not personal but rather call for fact and argument. These students say it is very difficult for them to write on an assigned topic where they don't have strong feelings about. To take a position on something you don't really know or care about, feels fake or like lying. From a neurotypical perspective being asked to formulate an argument to support a position may not feel personal, but for some people with ASD it does feel very personal. This may not have come up yet, but I wanted to raise the possibility that this could be challenging for him.

 

One of the core challenges for people with ASD relates to theory of the mind. It can be hard to think from the perspective of another person. It can be hard to understand how another person may view your work. It can also be hard to hear information that is indirectly communicated. Some of the standard constructive criticism approaches I've used with students I've found can be too indirect for some people with ASD. So, the sandwich - compliment, criticism, compliment may not sink in well for a person with processing difficulties.

 

If he's struggling with capitalization and other core skills, I'm wondering if you need to back up and work on some of these skills first. That might involve working on single sentences or paragraphs first. I would also be very direct in communicating WHY this is important. It might seem obvious to all of us why capitalization is required, but he may need to understand that if he doesn't use it with teachers and adults they may get the mistaken idea he's not taking his work seriously or he's not trying.

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This may not be on target but here are a few ideas...

 

Some students with ASD struggle with SAT type questions that are not personal but rather call for fact and argument. These students say it is very difficult for them to write on an assigned topic where they don't have strong feelings about. To take a position on something you don't really know or care about, feels fake or like lying. From a neurotypical perspective being asked to formulate an argument to support a position may not feel personal, but for some people with ASD it does feel very personal. This may not have come up yet, but I wanted to raise the possibility that this could be challenging for him.

 

One of the core challenges for people with ASD relates to theory of the mind. It can be hard to think from the perspective of another person. It can be hard to understand how another person may view your work. It can also be hard to hear information that is indirectly communicated. Some of the standard constructive criticism approaches I've used with students I've found can be too indirect for some people with ASD. So, the sandwich - compliment, criticism, compliment may not sink in well for a person with processing difficulties.

 

If he's struggling with capitalization and other core skills, I'm wondering if you need to back up and work on some of these skills first. That might involve working on single sentences or paragraphs first. I would also be very direct in communicating WHY this is important. It might seem obvious to all of us why capitalization is required, but he may need to understand that if he doesn't use it with teachers and adults they may get the mistaken idea he's not taking his work seriously or he's not trying.

 

Thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate these thoughts.

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