School is full of situations where we are expecting much more of kids than we expect of ourselves, as adults. Successful adults are successful at least partially because they have learned to avoid what is difficult or unpleasant for them. Yet, so many adults tell kids they need to learn to do things they hate.
Learn stuff you don’t like.
Adults spend a lot of time doing what they like, and work hard to avoid everything else. Some people earn less money so they can have a job they like. Some people marry a breadwinner so they don’t have to earn money. Some people marry a caregiver so they don’t have to stay home with the kids.
Those choices are all reasonable trade-offs.
Yet we expect kids to ignore their own preferences. We tell them, “You have to learn to do stuff you don’t like.” Yet every adult I know with this attitude is unhappy and has a sense of helplessness. So the best education would be to tell kids to not do stuff they don’t like. That’s effective preparation for adult life.
Moreover, adults expect to be paid for doing things they don’t like. Yet we tell kids to do school work they don’t like all the time, often without giving any financial reward. At least if we are going to expect kids to do more terrible work than adults do, we should pay the kids.
Develop social skills just for the sake of it.
So many parents put kids with autism in school because, parents think, the kids will have to deal with those situations in real life.
But I have not seen this to be true at all. All the people I know with autism are great at avoiding rooms with 20 other people in them. Adults with autism don’t go to large meetings (unless they get to talk the whole time). And adults with autism don’t go to noisy places. (My friends won’t even go into a restaurant with me until I’ve checked to make sure the table is quiet enough.)
So there is no point making a kid with autism get used to eating in the cafeteria because he’ll never do anything like that again. (Also, people with autism are prone to eating disorders in part because it’s so painful to deal with eating when we’re anxious.) And kids with autism should not have to talk to a bathroom buddy in school because they are never going to talk to any randomly assigned friend in the real world.
We let adults with autism control their social exposure, yet parents think school kids with autism should learn to deal with someone else controlling it. Why?
No kid—neuro-typical or not—can perform at a higher level than their adult counterpart.
Sit still for more than twenty minutes.
We tell adults to stand up and walk around every 20 minutes. But kids don’t do that in high school. It would be chaos to have all those kids walking around every 20 minutes, structurally too difficult.
Offices all over the US are installing standing desks. Which means that cubicles must be reshaped, desks must be reorganized, and workplace attire must accommodate less formal footwear. Yet somehow businesses make the shift and schools do not. Which means we are asking kids to be more sedentary than they will ever have to be in real life.
Also, the kids who are worst at sitting still—those who are kinesthetic learners—almost never grow up to have office jobs, because they hate sitting still!
My husband reminds me of this every day. I always want him to sit on the couch with me and read, but he can only sit still for a little bit before he gets bored and antsy and wants to go outside and take care of the farm. In school he’d be labeled with ADHD. On the farm, he’s a hard worker.
Only play at proscribed times.
One of the first things I learned when I graduated from college and starting working in Chicago is that on beautiful summer days, people call in sick to work. I used to play volleyball at North Avenue Beach and I loved those weekdays when you could find or start a pickup game all day long.
My brother recently moved to Whitefish, MT. It’s a ski town (the local high school even has a ski team!) When the snow comes, perfectly for skiing, the slopes are full, no matter that it’s a workday for most locals.
Everywhere has its own version of a day when weather is better for fun than work. Yet when Washington DC got a huge snowstorm, and there were school kids who were getting their first glimpse of a big snow, teachers sent out a reminder that kids should use the snow days for study, not play.
I want to be better at learning how to play. I don’t ever remember adults in my family modeling this when I was a kid.
Something I love about my husband is that for him a break day is when it’s so hot it’s too hot to work. So he just makes sure the animals are cool enough.
And he’s always got an eye out for a willing water fight.